Zambia eyes default as debt deadline looms

Noel Sichalwe and Rodney Muhumuza
·1-min read

Zambia faces a Friday deadline to clear debt owed to external investors who have rejected the country's request for deferral of an overdue $US42.5 million ($A58.6 million) interest payment.

Unless the southern African country pays up by the end of the day, it will become the first African sovereign to default amid the coronavirus pandemic after repeatedly failing to win a six-month holiday from eurobond holders who account for about $US3 billion of Zambia's sovereign debt.

"While government regrets that the bondholders did not approve the requests made by Zambia in good faith, we remain committed to finding a consensual and collaborative resolution to debt sustainability issues," Zambia's Ministry of Finance said in a statement.

How Zambia navigates the situation will be closely monitored by others in the region.

African authorities have said they need debt relief in order to focus on urgent public services, including health care.

Cash-strapped Zambia has long been seen as example of unsustainable debt.

A joint analysis by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund reported last year that the country was at high risk of external debt distress.