Concerned Sierra Leonean: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 October 2023:
Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative, roads, railways, bridges, hospitals, schools and airports have been constructed in Africa. The Belt and Road Initiative was launched by the Chinese Leader Xi Jinping in 2013.
When the SLPP came to power in April 2018, they decided to cancel the US$350 Million loan that the APC had negotiated with the Chinese Government for the construction of the Mamamah Airport.
The SLPP Government argued that US$350Million Chinese loan meant to construct the Mamamah Airport was not value for money.
It is now being rumoured that the SLPP Government is secretly negotiating a US$1.5Billion loan with the Chinese Government for the construction of the Lungi Bridge.
The Chinese are using the Lungi Bridge loan negotiation to pressurize the Government of Sierra Leone into agreeing to lease the Pepel Rail and Port to the Chinese company Kingho.
The Government of Sierra Leone already has a signed agreement with ARISE IIP for the management of the Pepel Rail and Port. That agreement was approved by the Cabinet in January 2023 after the Kingho agreement had been lawfully terminated in the same month.
Currently, Sierra Leone owes China US$67M for financing several fibre-optic and telecoms projects including the National Fibre Backbone Phase 2 Project.
The IMF has classified Sierra Leone as a high-risk country in debt distress. The country’s borrowing space is very limited, according to an IMF official in Freetown.
Recently, the African Development Bank (AfDB) sent a technical team to Freetown to conduct an options study to advice the Government on the financing model for the Lungi Bridge. The team is yet to produce its report.
Sierra Leone’s external debt is unmanageable. It is putting pressure on the Government’s meagre domestic revenue meant to pay for social services like healthcare, electricity and free quality education.
A Professor of International Relations in the US recently warned African Governments to be very wary of Chinese loans in the name of financing infrastructure projects.
The Chinese Government is now giving soft loans to some poor African countries in order to force them to comply with their demands.
The Chinese Government is now using the loan for the Lungi Bridge to arm-twist the Government of Sierra Leone to hand over control of the Pepel Rail and Port to the Chinese company Kingho against the interest of the people of this country.
The Sierra Leone Government has decided to turn to China for help, because, the US Government has decided “to put on hold” disbursements under the MCC.
It has been confirmed that, President Julius Maada Bio is planning a state visit to China before the end of the year.
Western diplomats in Freetown believe that President Julius Maada Bio cannot leave for China if the Kingho Pepel Rail and Port agreement is not concluded and signed.
The Chinese are aggressively pursuing their policy of debt diplomacy in poor African countries like Sierra Leone.
May common sense prevail.