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China is loaning billions of dollars to African Countries – Here’s Why the U.S. should be worried

China is loaning billions of dollars to African Countries – Here’s Why the U.S. should be worried

By Grant T. Harris

China will host leaders from across Africa for a summit in Beijing. The last summit was held in December 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Chinese President Xi Jinping announced US$60 billion in funding support for infrastructure development in Africa.

The upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation is sure to include an eye-popping announcement of billions of dollars more in Chinese financing to build infrastructure across the continent. But these massive loans can come with steep and opaque conditions.

It’s tempting for Americans to think this is not our problem. But as African countries sink deeper and deeper into Beijing’s carefully laid debt trap, the United States could pay a steep cost in reduced cooperation on counterterrorism and job creation.

Chinese debt has become the methamphetamines of infrastructure finance: highly addictive, readily available, and with long-term negative effects that far outweigh any temporary high. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where China has become the largest provider of bilateral loans. Forty percent of sub-Saharan African countries are already at high risk of debt distress; by having so much debt concentrated in the hands of a single lender, they are dangerously beholden to their supplier.

Why does this matter? Because in Africa and elsewhere, governments have secured massive loans from Beijing using strategic assets—such as oil, minerals, and land rights— as collateral. If borrower nations find themselves unable to repay the loan, China can claim the strategic asset. Sri Lanka recently learned this the hard way and handed over control of the port of Hambantota, giving China a strategic foothold along a busy trade waterway. According to Professor Brahma Chellaney at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, “several other countries, from Argentina to Namibia to Laos, have been ensnared in a Chinese debt trap, forcing them to confront agonizing choices in order to stave off default.”

While Chinese debt diplomacy may not seem relevant to most Americans, it is a serious threat to U.S. national security. Most directly, China’s crafty negotiations and seizure of strategic assets can limit U.S. influence and access overseas. For instance, the tiny country of Djibouti is home to the most significant American military base in Africa. Thanks to Chinese loans, Djibouti’s debt-to-GDP ratio surged from 50 to 85% between 2014 and 2016. If Djibouti were to default and relinquish the port that resupplies the U.S. base, American military capability in Africa and the Middle East could be seriously threatened.

More broadly, unsustainable levels of debt can destabilize African states, which also compromises American security interests. Over-leveraged governments can get caught in a downward spiral of credit downgrades, reckless economic policies, and reduced spending on social services. With economic stagnation comes fewer opportunities for Africa’s fast-growing and young population. And the toxic brew of economic hopelessness and political disillusionment can drive disaffected youth toward violent extremism. That can threaten Americans abroad and, potentially, even at home.

Finally, China’s debt diplomacy shuts out opportunities for U.S. businesses. Not only do Beijing’s cheap infrastructure loans come with conditions to employ Chinese companies, they also set out technical specifications for projects like high-speed railways and wireless networks in a manner that favors Chinese firms. The combined effect of these efforts “would push the United States away from its current position in the global economy and move China toward the center,” according to Jonathan Hillman, a fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. China already earns US$180 billion annually from its investments in Africa; if its debt diplomacy remains uncontested, it’s likely that even more revenues and jobs will flow to China, instead of the U.S.

But this outcome is far from inevitable. The U.S. has plenty of good options, but it needs to dramatically step up its game and support alternatives to Beijing’s aggressive finance initiatives. Perhaps most fundamentally, the U.S. needs to focus on boosting African economic growth. Helping African states to strengthen investment climates and economic governance will help them attract more private sector capital and provide more entry points for U.S. companies. A key component is assisting African efforts to increase transparency, so that all the costs and benefits of project finance options are openly known. Fully staffing U.S. embassies and offering more technical assistance to evaluate loan agreements and investment contracts would be a good start.

To date, the Trump Administration’s Africa policy has been adrift, defined more by racial epithets than any cohesive strategy or results. By comparison, China has a clear vision that will yield long-term benefits. In Africa and around the world, much more needs to be done to confront Chinese debt diplomacy. If not, the U.S. will pay a heavy price in its commercial and national security interests.


Caption: Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners LLC and advises companies on investing in Africa. He was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011-2015.


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A Guest Contributor is any of a number of experts who contribute articles and columns under their own respective names. They are regarded as authorities in their disciplines, and their work is usually published with limited editing only. They may also contribute to other publications. - Ed.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia

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20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.