US Vice President Kamala Harris, on a week-long tour of Africa, on Friday urged Zambia’s bilateral creditors to expedite the restructuring of its debts.
Harris said the government in Lusaka had put in place measures to strengthen its economy and should be supported with debt relief. She was speaking at the start of a two-day visit to Zambia.
Zambia has been looking to restructure its debt since becoming the first African country to default during the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020.
Its debts crept higher at the end of last year, figures published by the finance ministry this week showed. China is its largest bilateral creditor.
“We are continuing to reiterate our call on official bilateral creditors to provide meaningful debt reduction to Zambia,” Harris said at a press briefing when asked what the United States was doing to push China to restructure Zambia’s debt.
Africa has emerged as a focus for Washington as it aims to position itself as a partner to countries in the region amid competition with China, which has sought to expand its influence by funding infrastructure projects on the continent.
Harris said her visit to Zambia was intended to strengthen existing relations between the two countries and not to counter the Chinese presence in Africa.
“Let me be clear. Our presence here is not about China. It’s about our independent understanding of intertwined histories of our nations,” said Harris, who also spoke warmly of visiting her grandfather while he was working in Zambia when she was a child.
Speaking at the same briefing, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema said delays to debt restructuring were hurting the economic gains that Zambia had made. Good relations with the United States did not preclude good relations with China and vice versa, he added.
“When I’m in Washington, I’m not against Beijing. Equally, when I’m in Beijing, I’m not against Washington,” he said.