Sierra Leone pens China airport deal despite opposition

Sierra Leone Aviation minister Balogun Koroma at the signing of a new airport agreement with Chinese officials in Beijing, February 2018. PHOTO | SIERRA LEONE GOVERNMENT 

The Sierra Leone government has signed a controversial loan agreement with China for the construction of a new airport.

The $318 million contract and loan agreement involves the construction of an airport and a new city, the government said.

The government says the project is meant to be a “farewell development gift” of the vision of President Ernest Bai Koroma, who steps down next month after the General Election.

Chinese firms Henan Guoji Industries and China Railway International Group will implement the project, which will be funded by the China Exim Bank.

A delegation

Transport and Aviation minister Leonard Balogun Koroma signed the agreements with representatives of the Chinese parties in Beijing.

Mr Koroma had led a delegation that included officials from the Finance ministry and the Office of the President to the Chinese capital.

He was quoted saying after the signing that the project would resolve a major development hurdle the country was facing.

“The construction of the new airport will address the longstanding problem of the often cumbersome estuary crossing between Lungi and Freetown,” he said, adding: “it will give Sierra Leone a much needed alternative airport on mainland.”

Lungi Airport is located outside Freetown, separated from the capital by a river estuary that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is mostly accessible by ferry. An alternative route involves a long distance drive through the northern part.

The proposed Mamamah International Airport, which will be located on the mainland, is also a few kilometers outside the capital. But the government says it was necessary as the location of the current airport made traveling cumbersome and affected investment.

Second phase

The project brief says the construction will last for four years, with some 4,000 jobs created during the period.

The government said the first phase entails the construction of the airport itself, which is expected to become operational in 2022. The second phase will involve the construction of an airport city and an exclusive economic zone.

President Koroma is expected to commission the airport construction alongside a private sector study of the New Koya City on March 1, six days before Sierra Leone votes for a new president.

While the president’s supporters say the project is one of his most important legacies, after 10 years in office, his opponents question the economic benefit and motive, coming on the eve of an election that may see a change in government.

The agreement is also strongly opposed by the World Bank and IMF, which say the project was not viable and that the country had more pressing priorities.

Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?

Read Story:Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?