By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Sept 6 (Reuters) - China has agreed to restructure some of Ethiopia’s debt, including a loan for a $4 billion railway linking its capital Addis Ababa with neighbouring Djibouti, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday.
Abiy described the rescheduling as limited, but added that repayment of the railway debt has been extended by 20 years.
Landlocked Ethiopia and the Red Sea state inaugurated the railway in January, with 70 percent of the total cost covered through a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM).
Ethiopia has been a top destination for Chinese loans in Africa, with state policy banks extending it more than $12.1 billion since 2000, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University of the United States.
Speaking upon his return from a China-Africa forum for cooperation in Beijing, Abiy told reporters he held successful talks with Chinese government officials over his country’s debt.
“During our stay, we had the opportunity to enact limited restructuring of some of our loans,” he said in Addis Ababa. “In particular, the loan for the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway which was meant to be paid over 10 years has now been extended to 30 years.”
The deal was made amid rising concerns over debt distress, with the Ethiopian government’s debt reaching 59 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product, according to official figures.
The country’s ruling EPRDF coalition, in power since ousting a military junta in 1991, aims for Ethiopia to reach middle income status by 2025. It is pursuing ambitious manufacturing-led industrialisation that has involved building roads, railways and industrial parks - as well as mounting debt.
Though the Addis Ababa link with Djibouti, which handles roughly 95 percent of all inbound trade for Ethiopia, is complete, the line’s extension to its north has faced delays owing to a lack of funding.
In addition to Djibouti, Ethiopia is also in discussions with neighbouring Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia to expand its options for sea access. It has negotiated deals with Djibouti and Sudan to hold equity in their ports. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by George Obulutsa and David Stamp)