So what are disbursements? Disbursements are simply the amount of a loan commitment (the total amount of new loans to borrowers for which contracts were signed) that actually enter the borrower's account, in a given year. The reason I’ve decided to focus on disbursements is that this indicator offers a clear picture of developments in a given year while an indicator like external debt stock (which tell us how much a country owes its creditors – the entities that lend a country money) is a more cumulative measure as it is influenced by what happened in previous years.
In the analysis that follows, I’ve used 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa. Why? Simply because the size of South Africa’s external debt would mask the trends in the rest of the region. For some perspective, consider that the biggest economy in Africa (in terms of 2013 GDP), Nigeria, had an external debt stock of 14 billion USD in 2013 while South Africa (the second biggest African economy in terms of 2013 GDP) had one of 140 billion USD in the same year – ten times more.
Despite this exclusion, I think it’s important to note how huge this unit of analysis is. The 45 countries that I’ve used represent almost the whole African continent, with the exception of a handful of countries in the north of the continent. Therefore, I ask you to take these trends with a grain of salt, as they are aggregate trends and therefore some of the national differences are blurred out.
Disbursements to the region have doubled
First, the big picture: disbursements to Sub-Saharan Africa have increased sharply in the last few years. Between 2010 and 2013 they more than doubled (increased by 121%), while in the rest of the developing world disbursements went up by 42% (see figure 1). The increase in the region is particularly strong in the case of disbursements from private creditors (entities like bond holders and commercial banks), which increased almost sixfold (489%) since 2010 (compared to a rise of 52% in the rest of the developing world). In the same period, disbursements from official creditors (governments or other bilateral/multilateral entities) grew by 35% in the region (while they fell 13% in the rest of the developing world).