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Research: Chinese Loans to Africa

Chinese loans to Africa

The rise of Chinese engagement in Africa is both highly visible and often misunderstood. The Chinese government does not release official data on Chinese loan finance, export credits, or official development assistance on a regional or country basis. Although some projects and in-kind flows are financed as grants, the vast majority of Chinese non-equity finance in Africa takes the form of loans. The SAIS-CARI Loan Database, supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, was developed in order to build a highly reliable source of data that can be used to better understand the scope, nature, and modalities of China’s loan finance.

The database is maintained by SAIS-CARI researchers who regularly collect, clean, and analyze data from multiple sources. All of the researchers on this project are master’s level or Ph.D. students with strong backgrounds in international development. They understand finance and foreign aid, and have experience living in Africa or China. They all speak and read more than one relevant languages. Each country team spends considerable time drawing on this background to check claims of Chinese project finance. As it relies on experienced judgment and contacts, we do not expect that our methodology can be easily replicated.

Key findings from our analysis include:

  • From 2000 to 2017, the Chinese government, banks and contractors extended US $143 billion in loans to African governments and their state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

  • Angola is the top recipient of Chinese loans, with $42.8 billion disbursed over 17 years.

  • Chinese loan finance is varied. Some government loans qualify as "official development aid." But other Chinese loans are export credits, suppliers' credits, or commercial, not concessional in nature. China is not Africa's largest "donor". That honor still belongs to the United States.

Click here to access the SAIS-CARI Loan Database.