Chinese African loan takeaway – will Koroma get his new prestigious airport?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 June 2016

president koroma in china - briefing

It is disheartening and a crying shame to read that; president Koroma of Sierra Leone is still determined to have his new prestigious international airport, built by the Chinese at a cost of $400 million, only to serve as his legacy, despite the country’s rising debt and poverty. (Photo: President Koroma dozing off at a meeting in China).  

This is what the government’s newspaper Cocorioko reported yesterday: “The State House Communications Unit wrote also that; ‘….during a stopover meeting with traditional leaders at Masiaka, Port Loko district, President Koroma assured the nation that the Mamamah International Airport project is not dead as being perceived by detractors, but is still very much alive and will soon be transformed into reality’.”

So, While the World Bank is struggling to feed millions of people across the country, through its unsustainable ‘safety net – cash distribution scheme’, Koroma is busy discussing his prestigious vanity project with the Chinese. How duplicitous and dishonourable?

The Chinese are awash with ‘dirty cash’ from exploiting the natural resources of poor African countries.

China Jin ping in ZimbabweAnd they have set up a takeway loan shop with a capital of $60 billion, for daft, gullible and undiscerning African leaders like president Koroma, who are willing to put their country into debt for vanity projects, rather than tackle poverty.

This is what the Chinese Economic Counselor to Sierra Leone – Shen Xiaokai told local reporters in Freetown last week (Source: Awoko):

“With this link road, directly connecting to the Regent Youyi Road and the Wellington-Masiaka Highway, it will only take around half an hour to travel from Mamamah New Airport to Hill Station in Freetown.

“This road is one project Sierra Leone will benefit from the $60 Billion announced by President Xi Jinping during the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in South Africa in December 2015.

“On behalf of the Chinese government, President Xi Jinping announced at the summit to upgrade the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership and to implement ten cooperation plans on industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure development and public health with African countries.

“To ensure the successful implementation of these ten cooperation plans, China decided to provide a total of USD60 billion funding support, which includes USD5 billion of grant and interest-free loans; USD35 billion of loans of preferential nature with more favorable terms and export credit line; an increase of USD5 billion to the China-Africa Development Fund; the special loan for the development of African SMEs respectively; and establishing the China-Africa Fund for Production Capacity Cooperation with an initial contribution of USD10 billion.

“Sierra Leone could benefit from the USD60 billion loan funding support.”

Poverty in salonePresident Koroma has less than two years before he leaves office and he is desperate to get his name into the country’s history books by all means necessary, despite failing woefully to look after the interests and needs of his people.

Two years ago, he vainly wanted the new Freetown peninsular road to be named the Ernest Bai Koroma Highway. But this proposal was pooh-poohed by the opposition, who claimed that all of the road construction projects in the country had been their brainchild, before being ousted from power in 2007.

President Koroma is now desperately looking for his own personal legacy capital project, at the expense of the poor tax payer and future generations who will have to repay the Chinese.

salone poverty2He is determined to have his prestigious international airport, built by the Chinese who are just too happy to give him the $400 million loan, despite over 4 million people living without access to clean drinking water, electricity, healthcare, and proper sanitation.

Every level headed economist, including the World Bank and the IMF, have warned president Koroma not to go ahead with his prestige project.

But egged on by the Chinese  –  the ‘new paymaster’ in Africa, it seems Koroma will after all get his brand new “Ernest Koroma International Airport”, financed, designed, managed and built by the Chinese.

That’s what in it for president Koroma – prestigious legacy. But what about the Chinese?

Ebola dead buried in disused waste dump site at kingtom freetownHow are they going to benefit from this massive capital project, in one of the world’s poorest countries that has just seen more than 4,000 of its citizens needlessly killed by a preventable disease, simply because of a broken healthcare system that desperately needs fixing?

Firstly, the Chinese regard Sierra Leone as part of their wider African geo-political and economic conglomerate, through which they can exert their global power and influence at the UN.

china2Secondly, China is desperate for cheap raw materials to continue to build its industrial success, amid falling GDP.

Thirdly, African countries like Sierra Leone represent safe haven for the Chinese to launder their dirty cash, generated from exploiting African natural resources.

Fourthly, the new Ernest Bai Koroma International airport will not come cheap at $400 million. But with the Chinese waving a $60 billion loan at gullible African heads of State, such as Koroma, they will be charging a whopping 40% interest on the loan – possibly repayable over 25 years – long after president Koroma would be dead and gone.

china in AfricaFifthly, the Chinese will use their own labour force imported to Sierra Leone to build the airport.

Few Sierra Leoneans would be employed as labourers for peanuts.

Hence, the bogus economic argument by the Koroma government that the project will significantly increase the circular flow of income in Sierra Leone, does not add up.

Not even local businesses will benefit from the presence of the massive influx of Chinese construction workers into the country. They do not eat the country’s local produce or use locally made goods. They will import their own from China.

Sixth, By designing, building and managing the project themselves, the Chinese will be paid millions of dollars in management fee by the poor Sierra Leonean tax payer for the next one hundred years.

Seventh, the Chinese will be using the new international airport as a duty free import and export zone, through which they will bring into the country, their cheap and shoddy manufactured consumer goods, which will flood the local markets, adding more pressure on the falling value of the Leone.

They will use the airport to fly out precious high value-low volume minerals – like gold and diamonds out of Sierra Leone, without declaring these to the Sierra Leonean authorities.

Last but not least, the Chinese built Mamamah airport will serve the Chinese as their new military base in Africa.

China’s political and economic grip on Africa is growing. One day, there would be a local uprising against Chinese domination by Africans, yearning to be free from their new colonial masters.

The Chinese would need the military capability present locally in Africa to quickly respond to any such upheaval on their turf.

Senior members of the ruling APC party of Sierra Leone, do not hide their Chinese communist credentials, despite their corrupt pursuit of western lifestyles.

Many are investing their ill gotten wealth in Chinese enterprises to launder their dirty cash, instead of spending public money on developing the country’s healthcare system.

children lined up for water in Freetown April 2016Millions of Sierra Leoneans are without electricity and water, simply because the government itself has failed to borrow and invest in improving these vital services.

Four hundred million dollars could pay for the rehabilitation of the capital’s only source of safe drinking water – the Guma dam, which is shrinking at an alarming rate, and is now looking like a pond.

So why borrow $400 million from the Chinese to build a new prestige international airport, only so that president Koroma can have his name written boldly on the entrance of the airport?

Let common sense and the voice of the international community – especially the IMF, the World Bank, and the British international development agency – DFID prevail, because the poor people of Sierra Leone and the media, are incapable of preventing this bogus vanity project from going ahead.

There is nothing wrong with the existing Lungi International Airport. What it needs is good management – not corruptly micro-managed by State House. It needs improved road network, from the airport to the Lungi Ferry Terminal; and a reliable ferry service.

Even better, why not invest the $400 million on building a bridge across the river from Lungi to Kissy or Cline town in Freetown? This will be far more cost-effective than constructing a new airport.

Millions of poor people including farmers, will then be able to take their fresh produce to market to earn their living, as well as serve the needs of commuters and airport arrivals.

What the Sierra Leone Telegraph says to those ‘who see no evil and hear no devil’, is that they should leave economics to those who know the subject; and save their bogus and faulty economic development sermon and platitude for the pulpit.

President Koroma promotes his Agenda for povertyThis is how the government’s own newspaper – Cocorioko reported this story yesterday:

“Nothing Will Stop President Koroma From Signing Off With Success

“Those who want to see socio-economic and political progress in the nation will be delighted this morning to hear that a Chinese delegation is in Sierra Leone to negotiate with the government on the construction of the Mamamah International Airport and that President Ernest Koroma has reiterated his commitment to continue the project.

“For detractors of the government and the nation who do not want to see progress because they do not want President Koroma and the All People’s Congress(  APC ) Government to eternally enjoy the credit being the ones who developed the country, this is bad news.

“They thought all along that the project was dead and some may have even  been even gloating.

“For partisan politics and negative competitive spirit, some opposition zealots and their journalists  do not mind seeing their whole country overtaken by backwardness, sterility,  stagnation and even disaster , just so that the APC  does not enjoy any credit. Well, they will be disappointed this morning.

“The State House Communications Unit wrote also that “….during a stopover meeting with traditional leaders at Masiaka, Port Loko district, President Koroma assured the nation that the Mamamah International Airport project is not dead as being perceived by detractors, but is still very much alive and will soon be transformed into reality.”

“When a man knows where he is going and is determined to get there, nobody can stop him, except God. President Ernest Koroma, the crusading reformer, who in only eight years has transformed Sierra Leone from a stone age country to a modern nation through his massive infrastructural developments ( Never mind the discouraging attacks by the stone age men in our midst who want our country to continue wallowing in backwardness ) knows where he is going and is determined to get there and so nobody can and nobody will stop him, by the grace of God.

“President Koroma will sign off with tremendous success and will hand over to his successor a Sierra Leone that everybody will be proud of, by the grace of God.

“The new Mamamah International Airport plan is not a prestige project. Rather, as we at COCORIOKO  and the experts have all said, Mamamah will be an economic game-changer for Sierra Leone.

“We therefore commend President Koroma for his resilience and determination in pursuing the project and may God crown his efforts with success.”


  1. There is no possibility that Sierra Leone’s new airport will be built by President Earnest Bai Koroma. For me, I think it a good idea to have or build an international airport in Sierra Leone, but it will depend also on how it will affect the poor people; and how the government intends to generate the money to build the said airport.

    Its nice for any president to set his legacy. But we don’t want a legacy like the one we have already that has set Sierra Leone backwards after hosting the O.A.U conference in 1980.

    The government of Sierra Leone needs to know that we have more pressing beneficial projects in Sierra Leone that will generate money for the country and directly benefit the poor people.

    Lastly I say thanks to the government that has been in power since 2007. I do appreciate it because some of their projects directly benefit the poor people in the country.

    I pray we have a president that will continue the development in the entire nation, and try to put our natural resources to good use; or learn from other nations that have developed their countries by using their natural resources.

  2. We all have different opinions on this; whether a new Airport is good for us or not, only the future can tell, but is good for us as a people and our fledging democracy. We cannot have the same opinion on issues bordering our country for obvious reasons. bBut what I do know is that, the new mainland Airport will be built because the people we elected to rule us have made that decision and the majority of us trust their argument.

    Ernest Koroma and his APC government have genuine plans to continue transforming Sierra Leone. Some of you making these vague comments and opinions on the proposed new airport, please, take a look at the current state of Lungi International Airport and compare it before 2007 when APC came to power.

    I don’t know what your answers will be, but mine is, a lot has been done in terms of compliance with European standards. It is a complete transformation to restore our dignity as a nation.

    The people who are against this vital project, which if completed as planned, will put us on the road to recovering our lost glory, do so because they don’t support the APC party. Otherwise, how can you say building an Airport of such magnitude is economically pointless?

    It is because you are looking at short term economic prospect. The new Airport will provide significant boost to our local economy, it will also spread economic benefit and extend significantly our local tax base, in terms of new settlements, new hotels, bars and restaurants. Because of its close proximity to South American countries, it will also be a transit hub.

    The road to opportunity lies openly before us and we have to stop playing the kind of politics that is inimical to development and support our leaders on vital economic projects like this to achieved our national goals.

  3. Alim, you are myopic and biased as stated above. During the reign of the SLPP Party in government from 1996, we were at the height of the civil war in Sierra Leone.

    In May 1997 the Sierra Leone Armed Forces forces overthrew the civilian government of the SLPP and joined the rebel forces who were the enemies of the people, that they (the soldiers) had taken an oath to defend.

    With external help, the Junta forces were eliminated and the civilian government of the SLPP was reinstated, to undo the undo the mass created by the previous APC government.

    Alim, you seem like is one of those people who are only interested in luxurious items including your new Airport, without thinking of the economic benefits, and the impact on the masses.

  4. Thanks to the author of this article. Besides being well written, it is also quite informative. As a Sierra Leonean American, it saddens me that priorities have been misplaced.

    I agree with the author that the amount mentioned in the article could better serve my countrymen and women where it to be invested in education, agriculture, and healthcare.

    What good is a so called modern airport to people who are eternally hungry and laden with healthcare issues that cannot be cured because of chronic lack of good healthcare facilities?

    What good is one’s legacy, if the citizenry that you serve or is supposed to serve see no value in that legacy? Mr. Siaka Stevens and ministers of his time sort to promote their legacy by building big mansions and the like.

    Present citizens see no value in them and, sadly, they lie in ruins. Could someone learn from this? If one does not learn from history, one will live to repeat it.

    May God bless our motherland and help current leaders to see beyond themselves and their needs.
    Samuel King

  5. Please Mr President let’s use some of that money to extend Lungi Airport, buy new ferries and make the road safe from Port Loko to Freetown. Make coaches and buses available so that they ca go round. Or build a bridge called EBK than a new airport – from the Terminal across to Kissy and also government wharf.

    The rest of the money should be spent on providing clean water, electricity, pay people to keep the country clean, health and schooling. Some schools need to be painted, change their windows, provide more toilets and clean water.

    Wilkinson road needs doing up again. It is a bad job. When rainy season comes, cars cannot go through if they are low.

    Yet you want to build a new airport. Let us open up the one we have. There is enough space for that or move some houses and rebuild their houses elsewhere. Lungi has enough space.

  6. Thank you Alim, I hope these SLPP fanatics get it in their brains. You people are always comparing Europe or America to Sierra Leone. Let me tell you today that it takes over 300 years for these Europeans to get things correct the way they are today.

    President Koroma is trying. We just need the next coming president to continue.

  7. As we know about the APC strategy, they are much more interested in building the road network when ever they are in power in Sierra Leone, because that is the area where they make their deals in over charging cost of buying materials and workmanship in completing the road building project.

    Even if the Mamamah International Airport is planted in Kailahun, the regional issue mentioned in the last comment is not our concern. Our concern of having a new Airport in Sierra Leone on the Chinese loan at $400 million is not fair on the economy of our country.

    People must remember that “a loan is a loan and payable at a later date”. President Ernest Bai Koroma is not getting into such loan deal as an individual. But he is putting Sierra Leone as being held responsible for paying the loan back to the Chinese whenever they want payment, and this remain contracted even when President Ernest Bai Koroma is dead.

    Now let us look at this issue here: we already have the Lungi International Airport and it is functioning very well. Why will the Sierra Leone government not improve on the ferry system of transportation at this acute time of economic stress, rather than going into debt for a new airport on the mainland?

    Why will President Ernest Bai Koroma not go into building a bridge to cross and establish connection from Lungi to the mainland? Will this not be a fair deal to get Sierra Leone involved in such a project, rather than building a new international airport? Think about this.

  8. I believe most of the negative comments being said about the proposed Mamamah International airport are based on regional take rather than what is really important for our nation S/L. Most of the contributors including the writer of the above article know how strategic this Airport will be for both Sierra Leone, China and the sub-region as a whole.

    To me, I believe the new airport will relieve us the citizens and our visitors from the strain of crossing the river with the unreliable ferry transport system.

    It will also create another new settlement with better planning, but above all, it will unlock our economic development.

    • Foday Conteh,

      Who cares about the strategic interests of China or any other country for that matter in Sierra Leone? Let the Chinese go elsewhere and ply their trade.

      Most important are the needs of the Sierra Leonean people. They are suffering from lack of water and other basic essentials.

      If the Chinese really care, they can help us with restoring our dams and hence provide water for all. If they do that, I can assure you ‘we go tell them plenty tenki’.

      There is no reliable electricity in 90% of the country. Because of this we cannot even establish factories, manufacture products that will help create jobs and create wealth.

      The Chinese produce everything from pens to space technology. If they are so interested in helping us, let them assist us with establishing industrial units and building factories all over the country. I assure you that we ‘go tell dem plenty tenki’. This will create jobs and promote economic growth. This is how middle income countries are created.

      But they are not interested in these kinds of development ventures that will make us become less dependent on their so called benevolence. They are not even interested in building a bridge across from Lungi to Kissy, as it is not close to the mineral resources of the country.

      So please, we are not interested in China’s strategic interests as a reason for a new international airport. What we need is for that $400 million to be spent on providing good access to water, electricity, education, workforce skills, health and sanitation.

      The country is filthy, and yet you talk about a new international airport on top of ‘dorty box’? Bigful talk.

    • Let’s have a plane of our own first. We struggle to fly in and out of our country. Our neighbours have national airlines – their people travel cheaper and it’s the same time zone.

      Forget about politics. Not everybody is against APC. If even SLPP is in power, if they do what is not right for the people and country they will tell them the same. No government can finish the work of his or her country. The job will continue whatever you do and you will have opposition.

      People are born and die everyday, and that will not stop. Life still carries on. Let APC continue their good job, but they must also listen to the cries of the people. It is too much money to spend on an airport, when there is no food, electricity, water, education; and there are health problems.

      How many visitors will want to come and do business without all these basic facilities? Extend the airport we have and build bridges. Provide reliable ferries and continue the good road works.

      God bless our country. Things are getting better, but Rome was not built in a day. Let’s use the money wisely. We will never be like Europe but should live a good, affordable life, with Water, light, education and hospitals; pay the doctors and nurses; and buy machines for the hospitals.

      Some people have money to fly out for treatment, but not all can even afford to go to Ghana, let alone Europe or USA. I hope some of the top people that are running the country or want to govern, are reading and taking our points and views.

      Everyone of us is a contributor to the country’s development. You don’t have to be a politician before you can help, if you are financially fit to do so.

  9. This is a proof that you can’t put a matches box in the hand of a”MUNKU “, unintelligent person because he will think it’s just a toy to play with and will keep on scratching without knowing the consequences of playing with fire.

    To build an airport without owning even a used national airline is like building a garage without owning a car.

    The last time I saw the corrupt transport minister Logus Koroma on a photo op fooling the nation with a fake airline “fly salone” lasted for only few months due to poor planning and mismanagement.

    I can even count the number of airlines that land at the Lungi airport (which I believe is decent and big enough) with my fingers and that does not include any Chinese airline.

    So Mr President, I know you want to prove that Emerson is right to call you “ADEBAYOR” but please not this time because purchasing an airport with an interest rate as high as 40 percent, is insane.

    • You are right – no plane to land. We can count how many planes come and go. There are not many people who can afford to leave the country. The only time the airport is full is during holidays when people come from abroad to Sierra Leone.

  10. Alim the anger and frustration of those who are opposed to the government’s lack of idea about how to prioritise and the president’s inability to put the needs of the poor people of this country above his vain interests, has nothing to do with party politics.

    This is purely humanitarian. And if you cannot see that then perhaps you are one of those sharing the loot.

    There is no economic justification for a new international airport in Sierra Leone at this time. The chinese know it but they are not bothered because all they want is an airport that is absolutely under their control.

    Koroma should stop his foolish ways. He is a grown up man with a brain. Let him use it wisely or else the Chinese will soon own the whole country.

  11. This so-called vanity project has nothing to do with development and everything to do with EBK and company scoring one last huge payday. This airport project he is proposing will never happen in the lifetime of those Sierra Leoneans living today. This money will be chopped and the people will have nothing to show for the debt but broken promises.

    Not too long ago, it was reported that Ernest Koroma was so overwhelmed by the sight of his citizens waiting for public transport that he immediately demanded that they take on a $12 million debt to alleviate their suffering. What has happened with the 100 new buses?

    What industries are clamoring to do business in Sierra Leone? How many jobs will this venture create? How much tax revenue will be generated from this development? How long would it take to repay this debt and what are the terms of this financing? How much more new traffic will a new airport create?

    Is the demand even great enough to justify incurring this level of debt? It seems this should be a joint public/private venture, since this has been advertised as something that will benefit the wealthy corporations that are interested in doing business in Sierra Leone. Why should the people of Sierra Leone alone take on this incredible amount of debt?

    How can a new airport be the top priority in a country that cannot provide water, electricity, or basic health services to its people? This defies logic and shows clearly that this really is about Ernest Koroma and the APC getting their hands on a large sum of money before he exits office.

    How can a new airport have a greater priority than addressing the dilapidated state of Fourah Bay College? How can a new airport have a greater priority than addressing the overwhelming number of women and children under 5 years old who die in Sierra Leone every day?

    How can a new airport have priority over addressing the lack of basic sanitation in the country? How can a new airport take priority over addressing the educational system that is in shambles?

    All well-meaning Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad must help fight against this last EBK heist. This will leave the people in even more debt with nothing to show for it. Just because Ernest Koroma has recently started wearing the Madiba style shirts, that does mean he will ever measure up to the Mandela type legacy.

    You cannot wait until the eleventh hour and start spoon feeding the people your scripted version of who you say you are.

    History will not judge Ernest Koroma or his ungodly praise singers well. The people cannot and should not be arm wrestled into his failed agendas or his doomed legacy. He has had ample time to show his concern for the people, but squandered the opportunities.

    Let EBK go in peace and without causing additional suffering by leaving the people indebted beyond what they can pay for generations to come.

  12. The President is sleeping in the meeting. He is not even interested in the deliberations. All he cares about is the dishing of the $400 million so that he can have a lion share out of it.

  13. They are just finding another way to get money for the forthcoming elections. The airport cannot be a priority for us. The recently refurbished airport should be improved upon, instead of putting the country under debt for their own selfish interest.

    The project is more political, as this is another campaign strategy to continue to stay in power, even when the country is going down the drain. May God help mama Salone from the nemesis of a failed group of people, parading the corridors of power as a Government.

  14. History is simply repeating itself when a government or say its leader is bent on doing what they see as right in their own eyes. Remember Siaka Stevens and the OAU

    Is building a new airport really a priority for this nation? The obvious answer is NO. We have an airport that is currently underused though recently improved. Your analysis of what Lungi airport need is spot on.

    It is annoying when all of a sudden people with views that possibly the majority of the nation holds are labelled detractors because of myopic and selfish disposition of praise singers.

    These people really do not love the country. They are selling us to the Chinese who will one day turn out to be the worst neo-colonialist.

    • I can figure out the feeling of being opposition, it’s hard but please be patient.The APC is at work and they are in hurry to complete their work before election. May God help them.

      The development we have seen in eight years of president Koroma, I wish the SLPP should have done a quarter of that, probably they should be in power today. They ignored us and treating us badly as if we were not human beings.

      Even places they regarded as their stronghold were badly neglected until president Koroma came and improved those places and now talking as if you’re a patriot. What a shame. Look at the way you guys are killing each other in the SLPP just for the name of peace and unity .

      You guys lack respect for the people of Sierra Leone and all you do is lie lie. Yes, president Koroma cannot get everything done, but we appreciate where he has taken. God bless him. The next president will solve another problem, possibly APC president again.

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