The Journey So Far
In 2020, Zambia initially sought to freeze its debt payments under the G20-led Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, in May, the Zambian government, led by President Edgar Lungu, enlisted the services of French firm Lazard (NYSE: LAZ) to provide advice on restructuring the country’s staggering $11 billion foreign debt.
A significant setback occurred in November of the same year when the Zambian government defaulted on a $42.5 million payment, marking the first pandemic-era sovereign default on the African continent.
In 2021, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema secured a resounding victory over Lungu in the presidential elections held in August. This shift in leadership brought a glimmer of hope for a resolution to the country’s debt woes.
Formation of an Official Sector Creditor Committee
June of 2022 witnessed the establishment of an “official sector” creditor committee (OCC) comprising governments that have lent to Zambia over the years. This committee took on the responsibility of actively engaging in the restructuring process to address the loans they extended to the country.
Throughout 2022, negotiations continued with bondholders, with the aim of achieving debt relief and restructuring agreements.
In June 2023, the Zambian government made an announcement regarding the “Paris Club,” representing creditor nations, and its significant bilateral lender, China. The two entities reached an agreement to restructure a combined $6.3 billion worth of loans. The proposed arrangement involves consolidating the debt into two bonds with more favorable terms and extended payment deadlines. Additionally, if the country’s economy performs well, accelerated payments will be offered.
In November, however, this promising deal suffered a severe setback. The Zambian government revealed that its bilateral OCC creditors had effectively vetoed the agreement with bondholders, arguing that the proposed debt relief was insufficient.