Sierra Leone has nixed plans to build a controversial, $318 million airport outside the capital of Freetown with a Chinese company and funded by Chinese loans.The mega project, which was due to be completed in 2022, had been commissioned by the previous president Ernest Bai Koroma in March this year.
Its cancellation comes amid cooling enthusiasm in both Pakistan and Malaysia for Chinese loans backing large-scale infrastructure projects in recent months. But Sierra Leone’s decision is the first time an African government has cancelled an already announced, major China-backed deal.
“After serious consideration and diligence, it is the Government’s view that (it) is uneconomical to proceed with the construction of the new airport when the existing one is grossly under utilized,” said a letter from the country’s Minister of Transport and Aviation to the project’s director, published in local media. Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday 10th October, Sierra Leone’s Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon said the current airport would be renovated instead.
The Mamamah International Airport deal had been controversial for years, partly due to the “lack of transparency” about its terms.
Sierra Leone will now upgrade its current airport in the town of Lungi, which has been criticised for its poor connectivity to the capital. Lungi is separated from Freetown by an estuary, which means a ferry ride is necessary to reach the city.The government is reportedly considering building a bridge to link the airport to Freetown.
Collectively, African countries owe China about $130 billion, according to the China-Africa Research Initiative, money which has mainly been used to fund transport, power and mining projects.
In August, 16 United States senators warned their government, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that “predatory Chinese infrastructure financing” was creating unsustainable levels of debt in the developing world, which the IMF was having to bail out.