By KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Tuesday, October 23 2012 at 17:55
(Front L-R) Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Guinea President Alpha Conde, and Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a meeting of the four-nation Mano River Union on June 15, 2012, in Conakry. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are pushing to take advantage of China`s recent windfall pledge to the continent with the establishment of a joint development project on a neglected border region of the three countries.
At the last China-Africa summit in July Beijing pledged $20 billion for Africa. The Chinese will spend this money in the form of loans on projects carved out at sub regional levels.
The three neighbouring West African countries intend to put up the Makona River Free Zone Project, covering a historically thriving cross-border region linking the communities of Guekedou in Guinea, Koindu in Sierra Leone, and Foya in Liberia, along the Makona River.
The area, prior to the civil unrests that rocked the three countries recently, used to be a major economic hub.
The project entails land development, including industrial facilities such as a rubber processing plant, an industrial park, urban infrastructure facilities, social service facilities, and hydro power stations.
It will also include the construction of railways and seaport linking the free zone to the three countries which will facilitate the development of their natural resources.
Through this the three countries stand a chance of gaining improvement in their mining and related infrastructural development, as well as promotion of manufacturing and urbanisation.
Officials say the project has the potential to contribute in “perennial challenge of turning the natural resource advantage within the three countries into development advantage.”
“The objectives of the project are to achieve maximum socio-economic development in the Makona River area and to develop industrial, urban infrastructure, commodities trade, commerce, services, and real estate and properties within the Free Zone area, among others,” said Ambassador Mamadi Diare, the Guinean envoy to China.
Mr Diare and his Sierra Leonean and Liberian counterparts, Abubakarr Multi-Kamara and Jarjar Kamara repectively, were in Freetown on the first leg of what s supposed to be a three-nation tour to seek political endorsement for the project whose cost is yet to be disclosed.
The Makona River Free Zone Development Project is in tandem with the Makona River Union created in 2005 by parliamentarians from the three countries who hail from the region.
The three countries are also part of the larger Mano River Union (MRU) that also includes Cote d’Ivoire as an associate member.
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma described the project as timely considering the MRU countries have been thinking of areas of regional cooperation away from usual cooperation at governmental levels.
“This project will give practical effect to Mano River Union cooperation,” he said.
No loan quota
The three countries will jointly own and implement the project under the Makona River Free Zone Authority as the “social, civil and administrative authority” that will comprise representatives from the three countries, and China.
The Sierra Leonean leader will now have to discuss the issue with his MRU counterparts as major prerequisites for submission of proposals include approval of the three heads of states and the setting of an interim management authority as the Makona Free Zone Authority.
Chinese officials say no quota is allocated to any African country as per the $20 billion pledge. Therefore consideration for funding is on a first-come first-serve basis.
Also, according to officials, over 40 projects have been forwarded to the Export-Import Bank (EXIM-BANK) of China by several sub regional groups for funding so far, hence the need for speedy work on the part of the West African nations.
But Sierra Leone`s Beijing representative believes their project stand a unique chance.
“China’s enormous financial and industrial capacity backed up by its huge global demand for West Africa’s natural and mineral resources makes a strong compelling case for heightened cooperation with the three countries that constitute the Makona River Free Zone Development Project,” Multi-Kamara said.
Ken D. Johnson
Cross Cultural Management