The World’s Poorest Countries Buckle Under $3.5 Trillion in Debt

At Manhattan’s luxe Pierre hotel on a late September morning, Adebayo Olawale Edun, the finance minister of Nigeria, tried to soothe the jitters of Wall Street bankers. Over croissants and fresh-squeezed orange juice, he pledged that his country would cut spending and collect more in taxes to make the crushing debt payments owed to foreign investors. For Edun, a former investment banker and World Bank economist, it could hardly have been a more important audience: a presentation sponsored by Citigroup Inc., one of the world’s biggest underwriters of international bonds.

Tucked inside the materials distributed to the crowd, one item suggested the challenge of his task, according to people who were there but requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting. The document showed that Nigeria’s 2022 debt payments, the equivalent of $7.5 billion, surpassed its revenue by $900 million. In other words, it had been borrowing more just to keep paying what it already owed.

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