Sierra Leone Cancels Controversial Airport Deal With China
PUBLISHED: May 19, 2019
Sierra Leone, one of Africa’s poorest countries, made a deal with China to build a new airport for 318 million dollars. The large-scale project was commissioned by former President Ernest Bai Koroma in March 2017 and was expected to be completed in 2022.
However, the current President Julius Maada Bio along with the country’s Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon decided to cancel the deal.
Kallon spoke with BBC on Wednesday and said that the current airport will be renovated instead. “I do have the right to take the best decision for the country,” he said. It is unclear if there will be financial penalties for canceling the deal.
It doesn’t appear that there was any bad blood between the two nations as the project was still in the early stages.
This airport deal was very controversial. It came after former Koroma, who served in office for over ten years, took on $224 million of Chinese debt.
China has been accused of operating a policy of debt-trap diplomacy. In other words, China is known for persuading poor countries to enter into deals they will never be able to pay back. When countries are unable to pay said debt, they must sign over the rights to the Chinese business that funded the deal.
In 2010, Beijing invested $1.5 billion in a Sri Lankan port. When the country defaulted on the loan, they were forced to sign over the facility to a Chinese-state owned company under a 99-year lease term.
To date, African countries collectively owe China about $130 billion. Some African leaders have been grateful for the investments the Chinese government has been providing.
“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 in September.