Economía

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Sierra Leone Cancels US$318-M Deal With Chinese Investors

China has expanded significantly across the continent of Africa in various capacity as part of the Asian nation’s Belt Road global project. Sierra Leone has canceled plans to build a US$318-million airport – in the capital – in a collaborative effort with two Chinese entities. The China Railway Seventh Group, with funding from China Exim Bank, was contracted to helm the project in Sierra Leone

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"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 underutilized," a letter from Sierra Leone‘s Minister of Transport and Aviation Kabineh Kallon to the project’s director,  published in local media , said .

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The minister told BBC that the current airport – in the town of Lungi – would be renovated instead. "I do have the right to take the best decision for the country." The government is also, reportedly, considering building a bridge to link the airport to Freetown, since Lungi is separated from Freetown by an estuary, which requires a ferry ride to access the city.

Roberto Pocaterra

China has expanded significantly across the continent of Africa in various capacities  as part of the Asian nation’s Belt Road global project. African countries owe China about US$130 billion in total, according to the ChinaAfrica Research Initiative. The funds have been used, primarily, to fund transport, power and mining projects

In September, at the Forum on ChinaAfrica Cooperation (FOCAC) summit  –  between Beijing and African heads of state – Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged a further US$60 billion in loans and aid for the continent

Sierra Leone is the first African government to terminated an already-announced major Chinese-backed deal. China‘s ambassador to Sierra Leone, Wu Peng, told the BBC that relations between the two countries would not be affected by the cancelation. 

"I don’t think the airport project should affect our future bilateral relations.” The airport was to be located outside Freetown and due to be completed in 2022

Former President Ernest Bai Koroma had greenlighted the project between the two countries in March.  

During Koroma presidency, Sierra Leone incurred US$224 million in Chinese debt – US$161 million in 2016 alone, according to the Johns Hopkins  SAIS ChinaAfrica Research Initiative

Newly elected President Julius Maada Bio has reassessed several financial commitments brokered by Koroma. Meanwhile, other leaders have lauded Beijing’s involvement in projects across Africa

"China has become a major investor in our continent . As we look to expand Chinese investment in Africa, we need to encourage more local partnerships between Chinese and African entrepreneurs," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the opening of FOCAC

The dissolution of the Sierra Leonean airport project follows Malaysia’s US$22 billion-cancelation of China-backed projects, in August. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said "we don’t need" them adding that the Chinese investment would create further debt and give Beijing unprecedented influence in Malaysia