Exactly one month ago that Sierra-Leone President Julius Maada Bio attends the China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, the country’s president has cancelled $400 million China-funded airport deal.
In April, Julius Maada Bio was sworn-in as the country president, and he canceled a loan deal signed by his predecessor for China to build a new $400 million international airport at Mamamah.
The government now says the project is “uneconomical” given its only existing international airport is “grossly under-utilized.” The new airport was supposed to be completed by 2022.
Sierra Leone’s aviation minister says the country’s sole international airport will be renovated instead. The government is also considering building a bridge to connect Freetown, its capital city, to Lungi, the town where its only international airport is located. Travelers currently have to travel by boat from Freetown to Lungi.
Sierra Leone’s decision to cancel the project tails earlier warnings by the World Bank that the airport loan would increase its debt burden. It also comes at a time when China’s so-called “debt-trap diplomacy” in Africa is increasingly under scrutiny. In March, Rex Tillerson, former US secretary of state, criticized China’s economic model in Africa saying it “endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.”
It’s a sentiment China has been keen to rail against. During the FOCAC summit last month—while pledging an additional $60 billion funding to African nations—president Xi Jinping claimed China’s “win-win” co-operation policy with Africa ”follows the principle of giving more and taking less, giving before taking and giving without asking for return.”