Needed: New Thinking about Africa’s Debt Burden / Bright Simons

Mar 23, 2023

Debt and mismanagement are hindering Africa’s enormous potential despite its young, optimistic population and growing middle class. Hear from researcher and policy activist Bright Simons on why debt cancellation is not the solution and what new approaches may be needed.


Africa might finally be on the verge of realizing its enormous potential. A booming, young, optimistic population. Vast reserves of the metals needed to power the clean energy transition worldwide. Widespread popular demands to end corruption. A growing middle class. Taken together, these assets could produce the prosperity and peace Africans deserve.

What stands in the way? 

One of the most important blockages is too much debt, compounded by too much history of mismanaging past borrowings. Of the 54 countries identified by the United Nations as having severe debt problems, 24 are located in Sub-Saharan Africa today. Many are heading towards default, restructuring or cancellation. Unfortunately, growth and development are likely to suffer as a result.

Bright Simons, a researcher and policy activist in Ghana, thinks it’s time to do something different. He recently published an article in The Financial Timesarguing that debt cancellation is not the solution Africa needs now. Some critics responded that cancellation is as urgent today as it was 20 years ago. But, is rinse and repeat any more likely to work this time? 

What do you think?

Listen to the episode here or find the New Thininkg for a New World podcast on a platform of your choice (Apple podcastSpotifyStitcherGoogle podcastYoutube, etc).


Bright Simons is a policy analyst affiliated with IMANI, a think tank based in Accra, where he served as Vice President for more than a decade in charge of research. He has been an active researcher, analyst, advocate and activist for more than 15 years focusing on good governance, development, social innovation, and political reform. He has published extensively and participated in working and expert groups at Brookings, Center for Global Development, The Lancet, and other prominent development-focused organisations. His work and views have been shared by the BBC, Harvard Business Review, Project Syndicate, Financial Times and INET-Oxford, among various others. He sits on the Boards of Care International, Salzburg Global Seminar, and Africa Population Health Research Center. He is on the Advisory Committees of UCB (a Belgian biopharma specialist), Ashesi University, and Last Mile Health. He was a member of the African Strategy Group at the World Economic Forum and on the inaugural Microsoft Africa Advisory Council. He holds several fellowships affiliated with the Aspen Institute, Harvard, the African Leadership Institute and others. In 2016, Fortune Magazine named him on a list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, and in 2017, he was announced as a Tallberg-SNF-Eliasson Prize Laureate.


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