Sierra Leone Mamamah airport and emerging geo-political issues – an opinion

John Baimba Sesay – Information Attache, Sierra Leone Embassy – CHINA

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 June 2016

samura kamara and vice president Foh in china1

I have had the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Samura Kamara twice as Sierra Leone’s Foreign Affairs Minister. I must admit he has always proven to be an intellect, one with a sound resume of performance, with outstanding local and international reputation, but extremely unassuming on all fronts. (Photo: Dr. Samura Kamara – left, and vice president Foh – right, in China).

This didn’t come as a surprise, given his excellent pedigree and strapping underpinning in diplomacy, macroeconomics, public finance and financial sector policy analysis and reforms.

As former Financial Secretary, Bank Governor, Finance Minister and now Foreign Minister, he has, over the years, earned himself tremendous respect both within and out of the country especially within the context of development cooperation institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the EXIM Bank, a key Chinese development cooperation mechanism.

China visit amidst 45 years of ties

On the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, Dr. Kamara was in China from the 13th to the 16th of June, for discussions on bilateral and multilateral cooperation as both countries mark 45 years of ties at the diplomatic level.

Dr Samura Kamara and his Chinese counterpartForty-five years of relations have, in the words of the Foreign Minister, “proven to be mutually beneficial and based on mutual respect”, a statement corroborated by his Chinese counterpart, who said his country attaches “great importance to the bilateral relations with Sierra Leone.”

Sierra Leone and China have come a long way in terms of cooperation. The need to further these ties at the diplomatic and people-to-people levels is crucial.

Sierra Leone views “China as a trusted and reliable partner”, said Dr. Samura Kamara, Making specific reference to how China intervened and supported Sierra Leone defeat the Ebola virus.

In 45 years, China’s intervention in Sierra Leone, “is clearly visible in particularly all sectors of the economy”, underscored Dr. Kamara during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

Sierra Leone continues to provide the enabling environment for the growing number of Chinese investors in the country. The Chinese, on their side, have explicitly made clear their commitment to supporting Sierra Leone’s drive to a developed nation.

Mamamah Airport – IMF/World Bank

Dr. Samura Kamara has been at the centre of this project since he first signed the initial MOU six years ago as Finance Minister. Government sees the Mamamah Airport Project as being very important, with great potentials for the country’s future growth.

Ernest Bai Koroma, Hu JintaoAs said by Dr. Samura Kamara, the President – Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has never hidden the fact that the project holds the future of Sierra Leone.

The airport’s transformational impact on the country’s economy should not be downplayed, also taking into account the high expectations among Sierra Leoneans that the construction will soon commence and completed as early as possible.

Funding for this project comes from China, through EXIM Bank. Exim-Bank is the world’s third largest export credit agency, with a mandate to “implement state policies in industry, foreign trade and economy, finance and foreign affairs.”

The IMF/World Bank have had few concerns. But I am pretty certain those concerns have been clarified following the visit to China by Dr. Samura. Contrary to local media reports, the Government did not go against the advice of the World Bank and IMF.

The Government continues to work with them and have all come to terms with the need for such a laudable project.

As institutions, they have a responsibility to help countries develop “but to develop in a way that protects their fiscal exposure and their capacity to be able to harmonize any borrowing…they agreed that the new airport project is a national project”, said Dr. Samura Kamara, in a recent interview.

Sierra Leone only needed to be clear about its economic viability as well as its stability within the context of the country’s debt sustainability analysis.

The visit provided the platform for further negotiations. The initial loan provided by the Chinese, Dr. Samura Kamara explained, was not concessional, meaning it did not meet the 31% grant elements.

Government had to impress on the Chinese side that “based on Sierra Leone’s debt sustainability analysis, we have to negotiate to make the loan concessional at the minimum level and that was achieved. There also was the issue of Net Present Value, which defines the ability to repay.

Negotiations have been completed for the loan to be as concessional as possible, so as not to undermine the country’s ability to repay after the grace period.

In essence, construction of the airport is expected to commence before end of this year and to be seen in an advanced stage before end of term of President Koroma.

Geo-political emerging issues

At the multilateral level, Sierra Leone notes the ongoing tensions between China and her sister nations along the South East Asian Pacific, primarily around the South China Sea.

Sierra Leone has made clear its position, which gives support to China, also “urging for space to allow the parties to settle their disputes through bilateral and regional mechanisms.”

The country advocates the need to support all parties directly concerned “to solve the evolving territorial and maritime disputes peacefully, through friendly consultations and negotiations in accordance with international law, bilateral agreement and provisions of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea”.

Sierra Leone is Coordinator of the AU Committee of Ten Heads of State and Governments on the reform of the United Nations Security Council. China has continued to give both “proactive and invaluable support” to Sierra Leone for the common African Position and to the work of the C10. It is hoped, this will continue, given China’s special ties with the continent.

Outcomes and expectations

The visit by the Foreign Chief has helped accentuate further areas of development cooperation between the two Republics. As Dr Samura Kamara said, “the combined effect of Chinese public and private sector enterprise engagement in Sierra Leone has helped lay a solid foundation on which the country can achieve the development and prosperity it is yearning for in the ensuing years.”

The ties of cooperation in 45 years have also been of outstanding help. The Chinese have demonstrated their admiration for Sierra Leone’s growth trajectory, through the Agenda for Prosperity. They have made clear their will to always stand by the country.

The explicit commitment to further enhance Sierra Leone’s human resource development is gleaming, since practical cooperation is very important in the field of diplomacy.

Victor Foh and President Xi Jinping of ChinaThat President Xi Jinping (Photo – Right) takes the construction of the new airport as key to his government, is touching.

Interventions in areas of water and rice/tuber cooperation are also strategic.

That more attention would be given to capacity building in the health sector, comes at the right time, given our recent past experience and challenge we went through.

There is the aspect of youth development and the Chinese intervention. The South Africa FOCAC Summit was a comprehensive strategic partnership, both nations have agreed, through recent bilateral talks in Beijing.

The need to now inject more energy into strengthening the relations between Africa and China with the FOCAC framework cannot be overemphasized.

Overall, the visit helped in opening more windows of opportunities and further cooperation between the two nations. Dr. Samura Kamara has made an impact again.

About the author:

John Baimba Sesay is the Information Attache at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Beijing, China.

7 Comments

  1. President Ernest Koroma,

    CNN’s Jenni Marsh just published an article stating that “The African migrants giving up on the Chinese dream.” It says that:

    “China is losing competitive edge. One reason the Chinese dream is today failing Africans is the maturing Chinese economy.

    Firstly, as China’s profile rose globally, African consumers realized they were buying bootleg not bona fide goods, and naturally wanted to pay less, says Dieng.

    Furthermore, under mounting international pressure, the Chinese authorities have ‘vowed’ to protect the intellectual property rights of global brands, imposing tougher penalties on trademark infringement.”

    You could access the article online and read it by yourself.

    My concern is that with the present global financial uncertainties, I advise that you please slow down on the construction of the Mamamah International Airport for the time being.

    QUICK QUESTIONS

    If the Mamamah Airport is constructed what happens to Lungi Airport? By the way, why not just build an overpass bridge across the Atlantic Ocean to connect the two towns, Freetown and Lungi?

    Please rethink over this beautiful project proposal before it’s too late to reverse and do otherwise. Amen.

  2. Mohamed Koroma, thank you for your commendation. All commentators of the news pertaining Sierra Leone who contribute objectively with commentaries free from bias, putting the interest of the country at the core, regardless of what party affiliation or regional descent they belong, are worthy of commendation.

    Sierra Leoneans for too long have always been conformist with the wrongs of our governors, with little or no reaction against it; instead, the malpractices of our government authorities are appraised with admiration for their ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the poor masses.

    Furthermore, most government officials in top positions of administration are paid handsome salaries, whose poor performance does not measure up with the salary scale, but still continue holding office, as they enjoy unconditional support by the governing party stalwarts. These officials are a liability to the country and not productive to the nation at all.

    We shouldn’t keep quiet and be indifferent to this kind of mediocrity; it is our responsibility as concerned Sierra Leoneans to disagree with the status quo, raise our voices to demand a change in the culture of governance in the country.

  3. Let me hasten to commend Abdul Kabia for his well thought out comments, which I have no doubt will not only bring the author of this article that we are now commenting on to his toes, but also Dr. Samura Kamara the Economist who has failed this country in every respect as an economist, that the APC and many past governments had relied on.

    I want to believe that Dr. Samura is just an economist on paper (Theory) but not in practice. He has never been able to prove to us that he is a true economist. I think Dr. Kamara need to go to the classroom again to learn a bit more on how to deliver results.

    I want to refer him to the issues Abdul has made references to in his comments and to encourage him to actually convince the people of this country that he is truly an Economist who can deliver. Let him tell us the economic viability of the proposed Mamamah Airport. Thank you.

    For Mr. Ibrahim I really want to know the level of your knowledge about the Chinese. Have you ever been to China or lived in China. Do you really know the mortals that we refer to as ‘The Chinese’?

    If your answers to the above are in the negative, then you must withdraw your ill-informed statements. Chinese are thieves, they come to our countries pretending they are in sympathy with our conditions, but in the end they take away everything that we have. Is this what you admire about the Chinese?

  4. Actually, one gets baffled and ecstatic after reading through this piece. This fine gentleman Dr Samura Kamara, lauded by high international institutions with excellent references as portrayed by the author, was called in by his government to salvage the country from economic calamity, put to work his expertise and professional know-how, but failed woefully to deliver result.

    He went through all the offices of economic responsibility, but couldn’t fetch any solutions. Yet again, he has been sent to represent the country to negotiate a huge loan of $400 million for the construction of an airport which Sierra Leone doesn’t need just now. And he believes his is a success story.

    What the author didn’t mention though in his laudable article is an outline of what Dr Samura Kamara’s achievements have been in the positions of responsibility he had occupied in government. Readers will be pleased to get updated with this.

    Another question is why is this airport so important against other areas of development of pressing needs, sufficiency in power supply, running water provision across the country. These are resources of economic stimulus needed in the country.

    A country where the tourist industry is dilapidated, no proper infrastructure to attract tourism, prospects for foreign investments are bleak, how many Sierra Leoneans will be able to fly from this airport for business trips.

    Not even ten percent of the population could do. And where will the huge cost for running and managing the airport comes from? Has the government and Dr Samura Kamara got clear answers to these questions. The people need answers to these questions.

    Can Dr Samura Kamara as an economics and financial expert, explain to the Sierra Leone people in clear and simple language, free from technical jargons, what will be the use of the airport, and the economic benefit it will fetch to the nation?

  5. I agree with Mr. Sesay that Dr. Samura Kamara, Sierra Leone’s foreign minister is a learned, accomplished and respectable individual, someone who deserve accolades for what he has done for our country in both his personal as well as professional life. He is therefore one of the few people who deserve respect in this government.

    I however disagree with him on the value he is attaching to this Airport project, because he is not doing it based on the intrinsic value of the project, but to be a good team player. This is the reason why economists, particularly financial economists avoid using value or normative judgments to assess economic issues, but instead prefer positive judgments.

    As such, if Dr. Samura Kamara was to take off the team and partisan lens with which he is looking at this project and put on his financial economics lens, he will be the first person to confess that the project does not pass the financial and economic muster that all projects must live or die by, which is the time value of money and the financial tools used to make such decisions.

    I will mention two of these financial tools or rubrics that should be used to assess the viability of any economic project, not to talk about a huge one like this, that is going to cost the poor people of Sierra Leone $400 million dollars and counting.

    Thus, the project should be measured based on the net present value or (NPV). If one was to discount this project based on 15 percent or even twenty percent interest payment, the project will end up with a negative net present value, because the Sierra Leone economy in both the short and long-term will not be able to sustain a project of this magnitude when the country does not have the logistics, physical infrastructure, and macroeconomic environment to pay out a decent return on such a project.

    A similar measure using the internal rate of return (IRR) method will leave one with the same result. If an IRR was to be calculated for this project, it will be in the range of 25 -30 percent interest rate, a rate of return for a project like this, located within the perimeter of Sierra Leone will not be able to generate enough revenue to make it viable.

    So Mr. John Baimba Sesay, nice try, but the Mamamah Airport project by all measure is a white elephant that our country does not need and cannot afford at this time.

  6. It seems buffoons and a gang of thieves are ruling our country.

    Samura Kamara is just being giving posts to boost up his ego, but he is a failure as far as I am concerned.

    This man did nothing for Sierra Leone when he was Finance Minister- he was clueless and the country slid into further decline during his tenure in office. He even went live on television to say that they the government had failed and that Britain should take over the running of Sierra Leone. Shameful, pathetic and stupid.

    This is the same Samura Kamara who is now deciding and telling us that the airport will be good for us.

    ‘Mutually beneficial and full of mutual respect’ – he says of 45 years of Chino – Sierra Leonean ties. The Chinese have gained from this relationship more than we did.

    They have not established factories to provide work, they have not stopped their trawlers from invading our marine space and thereby depriving local fisherman of a decent living……and the list goes on.

    So please spare us the speeches. You want an airport near to your hometown and that is all that matters to you. You have no care or thought about what the majority of the people think. How disrespectful of you.

    But wan fine day fire go bus pan una nar net – keep scratching the matches!!

    • My friend you are just talking without reflecting. Tell me what Britain left with 600 years of occupation in Sierra Leone?

      China did more than every other nation in the world. You talk of factories, but what about the sugar factory, roads and major bridges? Stadium, etc, to name but a few.

      Show me what Britain left or the USA or any western powers? What about the western fishing boats along the West African coast?

      My friend respect china.

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