The government of Sierra Leone has cancelled the development of the controversial $317 Mamamah International Airport project financed by China’s EXIM Bank, arguing that the project is not “socioeconomically viable”.
On the 5th of October this year, the government, through the Ministry of Transport and Aviation in Sierra sent a letter to the manager of the Mamamah project, informing them of Sierra Leone’s government’s decision to cancel the Mamamah International Airport project. Economics factors may just be one reason why the Bio government has cancelled this project.
Hopes of the Mamamah Airport project reached an all-time high in 2013 when Sierra Leone’s former deputy minister of finance and economic development, Mabinty Daramy told the country the Bai government had secured a $315 million loan from China’s EXIM Bank for the construction of the new international airport at Mamamah. Former Sierra Leonean president, Ernest Bai Koroma inaugurated construction works for the airport in March this year.
However, even before ascending to power, current President Julius Maada Bio had told the public his government was going to cancel the project. While in office, during a visit at the Lungi International Airport, he told the airport management and workers that previous governments had already invested $100 million in Lungi Airport and it was misuse of government resources for the country of just 7 million people to be investing $317 million in another airport when the Lungi Airport was underutilized.
His predecessor, Ernest Bai had argued that the construction of the Mamamah Airport which was close to Bai’s political heartland will ‘open Sierra Leone for business, tourism, direct foreign investment and a regional aviation hub (West Africa); in the likes of Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya in East Africa. Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth will yield geometric dividend only when the country’s potential is show-cased to the world business investors’.
However, the World Bank and the IMF, who themselves have invested over $100 million in Lungi Airport, have argued the Mamamah project is not “economically viable”.
As President Julius Maada Bio seek to re-kindle ties with the western led financial agencies, it is likely that these agencies had double-down on their wish to see the Bio government cancel the Mamamah project which was going to affect their investment in Lungi Airport.
Chinese relations with Sierra Leone grew at an unexpected rate under former president Bia. According to the Standard Times ‘In 2010, bilateral trade reached $109 million, and total Chinese direct investment was $51.2 million. And, China has emerged as Sierra Leone’s second largest importer and exporter after the European Union (EU). China’s main exports to Sierra Leone include: mechanical and electrical products, textiles and other light industrial goods, cultural and educational materials, hardware and articles for daily use’.