Sierra Leone has canceled a controversial China-funded airport project.

The government of Sierra Leone has terminated all contract services with a Chinese construction firm for the construction of an airport. Sierra Leone has canceled a $400m (£304m) Chinese-funded project to build a new airport outside the capital Freetown.

Sierra Leone local media cited a letter from the aviation ministry which said it was “uneconomical to proceed with the construction of a new airport when the existing one is grossly underutilized.”

THE BIG PICTURE: The construction of the $318 million airport, which began earlier this year, was being funded by a Chinese loan, which the government says it cannot afford to repay.

The proposed Mamamah International Airport is located just outside Freetown, designed to replace the current one in the town of Lungi, which is said to be an obstacle to the country’s development due to connectivity difficulties associated with it.

Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon told the BBC that the project, which was due to have been completed in 2022, wasn’t necessary and its current international airport would be renovated instead.

He said the current president, Julius Maada Bio, “didn’t see any need for Mamamah [the proposed airport]” and was considering building a bridge from the capital to Lungi airport – the only international airport in the country. Currently, passengers need to get a boat or helicopter to reach Freetown.

WHY IT MATTERS: China has been criticized by some Western countries such as the United States by lending huge debts to poor african countries where these latter are forced to handle some of their the national assets to the Chinese when these countries default on loan repaymenyts.

On August, 16 American senators voiced their concern about ‘predatory Chinese infrastructure lending to some poor countries’ in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The details of the letter encompassed the Chinese ‘debt trap diplomacy‘ where poor countries are forced to live under the shadow of the huge Chinese so-called debts whereas actually, they are huge debts.

China denies these claims by saying that its diplomacy towards African investment is ‘no string-attached’. China says that it is not the main creditor of the African countries, according to a report by Reuters.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Some African countries are somehow realizing the underlying issue behind the huge lendings by the Chinese. Some may call it a ‘modern African renaissance’ and independence from the Chinese huge loans which sometimes are left to be a challenge to pay back.

 

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