STORY: Chinese sovereign lending to Africa fell to the lowest level in nearly two decades, according to data from Boston University's Global China Initiative. The figures underscore Beijing's shift away from a decades-long big ticket infrastructure spree on the continent.The drop in lending comes as several African nations struggle with debt crises. China's own economy is also facing headwinds. Africa has been a focus of President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. It was launched in 2013 to recreate the ancient Silk Road and extend China's geopolitical and economic influence through a global infrastructure development push. Boston University's Chinese Loans to Africa Database estimates Chinese lenders provided $170 billion to Africa from 2000 to 2022.But lending has declined sharply since a 2016 peak. Nine loans totalling $994 million were agreed last year, marking the lowest level of Chinese lending since 2004.African governments largely welcomed Chinese lending and infrastructure projects. But Western critics have accused Beijing of saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt. Zambia - a major Chinese borrower - became the first African country to default during the global health crisis in late 2020. Other governments, including Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia, are also struggling.China, meanwhile, is facing its own problems at home. Policymakers are struggling to revive growth amid persistent weakness in the crucial property industry, a faltering currency and flagging global demand for its manufactured goods.However, the decline in loans does not necessarily mean an end of Chinese engagement in Africa. The Boston University analysis found trends including fewer loans over $500 million and more focus on social and environmental impacts. That appeared to reflect China's stated push towards a more high-quality, greener Belt and Road Initiative.