Capital flight from sub-Saharan Africa: linkages with external borrowing and policy options

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Even as African countries became increasingly indebted, they experienced largescale capital flight. Some of this was legitimately acquired capital fleeing economic and political uncertainties; some was illegitimately acquired wealth spirited to safer havens abroad. This paper presents new estimates of the magnitude and timing of capital flight from 33 sub-Saharan African countries from 1970 to 2004. We then analyze its determinants, including linkages to external borrowing. Our results confirm that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world, in that the subcontinent’s private external assets exceed its public external liabilities: total capital flight amounted to $443 billion (in 2004 dollars), compared to the external debt of $195 billion. Econometric analysis indicates that for every dollar in external loans to Africa in this period, roughly 60 cents flowed back out as capital flight in the same year, a finding that suggests the existence of widespread debt-fueled capital flight. The results also show a debtoverhang effect, as increases in the debt stock spur additional capital flight in later years. In addition to policies for recovery of looted wealth and repatriation of externally held assets, we discuss the need for policies to differentiate between legitimate and odious debts, both to ease current burdens on African countries and to improve international financial governance in the future.