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Think Change episode 22: On borrowed time? The sovereign debt crisis in the Global South

Written by Sara Pantuliano, Gregory Smith, Yunnan Chen, Bright Simons


In just over a week’s time, the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings will see the first formal session for a Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable.

The problem of debt, and debt sustainability, has become one of the most urgent issues facing many low- and middle-income countries around the world. The IMF estimates that 36 low-income countries are at high risk of, or are currently in, debt distress, with the highest proportion of these on the African continent.

Prior to the pandemic, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were already facing a high risk of debt distress. This has been compounded by the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, as well as rising interest rates from the US Federal Reserve. Just days ago, the Fed again raised its benchmark interest rate another quarter of a percentage point to 5%. We have yet to see how this will ripple out, but it will add even more pressure on indebted sovereign governments, their ability to service their existing debts, and their prospects for financing an economic recovery.

So how did we get here, and more importantly, what can be done about it? What does an insolvency crisis look like for different countries today, and how will it impact vulnerable populations and other citizens?

In this episode, we explore the challenges facing borrowing countries right now in managing their debt and look at the role different groups – including bilateral creditors, multilateral development banks and the private sector – can play.


  • Sara Pantuliano (host), Chief Executive, ODI
  • Gregory Smith, Emerging Markets Fund Manager, M&G Investments; Author, Where Credit is Due: How Africa's Debt Can Be a Benefit, Not a Burden
  • Yunnan Chen, ODI Research Fellow, Development and Public Finance  
  • Bright Simons, Honorary Vice President, IMANI Center for Policy and Education; President, mPedigree, Ghana

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