US VP Harris calls for 'speedy' Zambia debt resolution

US VP Harris calls for 'speedy' Zambia debt resolution

Zambia is the last stop in Harris's three-nation trip to Africa
Zambia is the last stop in Harris's three-nation trip to Africa

LUSAKA - US Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated calls for a "speedy finalization" of Zambia's debt restructuring on Friday, as she visited the country in the last stop of a continental tour.

The United States has been pushing for creditors, which prominently include China, to provide relief to Zambia, which in 2020 became the first African country to default on its foreign debt -- estimated at $17.3 billion -- since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We will continue to advocate for a speedy finalization of Zambia's debt treatment and restructuring," Harris told a press conference in Lusaka, after a meeting with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema.

"The international community needs to help countries such as Zambia regain their footing. So I will reiterate a call that we have made now many times for all bilateral official creditors to provide a meaningful debt reduction."

Harris is the second top US official to visit the country in a few months. Treasury chief Janet Yellen toured the nation in January.

The United States has accused China -- the main creditor to many African nations -- of dragging its feet after Lusaka sought help with its debt through a G20 mechanism.

"Our priority for us as a country now is to rebuild our economy. What is keeping us behind is the debt," said Hichilema.

Zambia is the last stop in Harris's three-nation trip to Africa -- the latest push by the United States to deepen its engagement with the continent to counter the growing influence of China and Russia.

The US vice president previously travelled to Ghana and Tanzania.

Harris's visit has a special poignancy, as she is the first Black person and woman ever in the White House number two job and visited Zambia as a young girl, when her maternal grandfather, who was from India, worked there.

In Lusaka, Harris made a brief stop at a site where a house inhabited by her grandfather in the 1960s once stood.

"My grandfather was one of my favourite people," she told reporters.

"I was the eldest grandchild and so I got the benefit and the blessing of a lot of time with him."

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