Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 November 2015
Over the last month or so, there have been several discussions on the proposed Mamamah airport project, which has been brought to the public’s attention. (Photo: Lungi airport president Koroma no longer wants).
The Mamamah airport project is one that the government of Sierra Leone has been doggedly seeking finance to embark on, well before August 2013.
And it is important at this time, to examine and explore the reasons why embarking on this debt laden airport venture will be most detrimental for Sierra Leoneans.
CAPA the centre for aviation tells us that China had agreed to partially finance the venture through a loan from Exim bank, as far back as in October 2011.
The other contributor to the project at that time was said to be the government of Sierra Leone, according to a 2011-2015 government budget annex.
In September 2013, the deputy minister for finance and economic development said that the country had secured a loan for $315 million from the Chinese government to pursue the project.
And Sierra Leone being one of the hardest hit countries, the discussions were temporarily shelved – in public at least.
Now that Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola free, the discussions about the new airport have re-surfaced with ferocious intensity.
These discussions underline the strong reservations that the World Bank have, regarding the appropriateness of the airport project.
SwitSalone reports that Henry Kerali – World Bank country director, has said that the timing for the construction of the proposed new airport at Mamamah is far from being on cue.
The position of the World Bank is that the government should focus on those priority areas which are important for post Ebola recovery.
Africa Confidential reports in Vol 56 No 23 that: “President Ernest Bai Koroma informed the International Monetary fund that the flagship project had been abandoned. Ten days later the president told the local media that he had secured a pledge that the project would now go ahead.”
The priorities for any government in Sierra Leone must be focussed on human development, particularly in the areas of healthcare, education, and agriculture, for the following reasons:
Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and does not have the human capital or the need to pursue a new, luxurious airport project at this time.
Simply put, borrowing money will galvanise Sierra Leone even further into debt and poverty.
Repayment of the loan would be an astronomical burden for the country for many, many years to come.
Sierra Leone ranks 180th out of 187 countries in the human development index. An airport project is not likely to impact this in any significant way.
The population is 6.316 million, and GDP is $4.892 billion (2014); life expectancy at birth is 46; 70% of Sierra Leoneans live below the poverty line.
According to UNICEF, Sierra Leone has the highest rate of mortality among children under 5 in the world. Only 41% of adults in Sierra Leone are literate.
In 2008, Sierra Leone ranked 84 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index. Simply put, it means that Sierra Leoneans do not have enough food to eat.
An airport project will not produce food for the people of Sierra Leone to eat.
The recent Ebola virus disease outbreak that has devastated the Mano river countries, exposed the stark non-existent nature of healthcare availability in Sierra Leone.
In conclusion, we hope that the Koroma government would be able to consider that the best legacy to leave behind after 2018, is to increase and maintain investment in the people of Sierra Leone, rather than taking huge loans to construct a white elephant project that will not increase the prosperity of the people of Sierra Leone.