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Project April 21, 2014

Zambia: Twilight of the Vulture Funds?


Media file: mdg-vulture-funds-vultu-007.jpg
Vultures, sitting in a tree. Image by Radu Sigheti/Reuters, Kenya.

The story of vulture funds can be simple: Investors buy decades-old debt for pennies on the dollar, and then sue the debtor to make the full face value. It's a story that's been told about what happened to Zambia, Liberia, Republic of Congo and its more famous neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo—African countries so poor that they've been specially designated for debt relief.

But the real story of vulture funds is more complicated, and it's harder to tell. It's a story that recognizes that even if African countries are cash-poor, they are resource-rich. It's a story that implicates Western powers—political and financial—for shoring up dictators famous for their fiscal irresponsibility (and, often, their human rights violations). And it's a story in which the so-called bad guys—the vulture investors—sometimes become the good guys, uncovering corruption that global watchdogs have been content to ignore.

That's not to say there aren't questionable motives and shady deals all around. This project brings key Zambian voices forward for the first time, deconstructing the most infamous vulture fund lawsuit of all time—and finding quite a few surprises.