IMF HEAVY HAND HURTS SMALL COUNTRIES IN AFRICA:
The Case of the Mamamah Project in Sierra Leone
Melvin P. Foote
Constituency for Africa (CFA)
The International Monetary Fund’s track record of imposing unnecessary and often at
times unassailable and harmful conditions on developing economies is incomprehensible.
While the world is finally excited by the dramatically improving prospects for the
developing economies of Africa, it is unfortunate that institutions such as the IMF
continue to place dead weights around the necks of these emerging countries. These
countries are being absolutely smothered with unnecessary and inappropriate oversight.
Take the case of Sierra Leone.
Since he came to power in 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma has been working
tirelessly to transform the socioeconomic landscape of Sierra Leone. He met the economy
in a very parlous state.
Economic growth was at a standstill. Unemployment was high and with the downward
trend in the prices of her natural resources in the world international market, the country
was having problems in generating money and other resources to help rebuild the
economy and improve the lives of the people. Then this country was afflicted by the
Ebola virus. Something had to be done to unlock the economic potentials of the country
and President Koroma believes that the Mammamah International Airport Project holds
In an eye-opening paper entitled “AIRPORT AREA ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
MODEL”, the writers Glen Weisburd, John Reed and Roanne M. Neuwirth postulate that
as business markets become national and international in scale, airports are increasingly
being viewed as catalysts for local economic development. Their ability to generate jobs
and attract new business is being used in many locations as a justification for public
investments in new airport construction and expansion. ”
Additional empirical studies of U.S airports by the authors have shown that employment
growth within 6 kilometers of airports can be two to five times faster than the suburban
ring of the metropolitan area in which they are located.
The present international airport at Lungi is not ideally located and is dangerous for
travelling from and to the capital, with visitors and travellers faced with the ordeal of
having to cross the wide expanse of the Sierra Leone River onboard unsafe helicopters
and ferries, launches and boats which often fall preys to tempestuous weather and
turbulent waves at sea. Many lives have been lost in the process of trying to get to the
city or the airport by sea, the most pronounced misfortune being the helicopter accident
that claimed the lives of nearly a dozen members of the Togolese national football team
in 2002. These hazards and accidents have been affecting tourism and investment in the
The Mamammah Airport will make travelling to Sierra Leone much more safer and this
will attract tourists and investors . If Sierra Leone is able to boost tourism and
investment, the country will create industries that will spin millions of dollars a year and
provide abundant employment opportunities.
The new Airport, because of its ideal location and close proximity to the capital, will
open new opportunities for business and commerce and will also help to expand and
revitalize the private sector. The new Airport will stimulate the setting up of private
sector-airport related businesses like hotels, restaurants, public warehouses, travel
agencies and taxi and limo services and this will open abundant employment and
business opportunities for Sierra Leoneans.
Sierra Leoneans are getting to be enterprising and business -savvy and will be challenged
by the new airport to set up service sector businesses like duty free shops, restaurants,
travel agencies, warehouses, shipping and freight services , car rentals, computer data
Sierra Leone’s potential to contribute to the promotion of international trade and
commerce will be boosted by the new international airport.
The new international airport will not only open up the nation to business, tourism and
direct foreign investment but it will also make Sierra Leone a regional aviation hub in
West Africa , which will boost transnational socio-economic cooperation with her West
What is to be noted is that The Mamammah International Airport project is not a
vainglorious enterprise by President Ernest Koroma. Nor is it a prestige project, per se. It
is rather the economic game-changer that every Sierra Leonean is looking for that will
benefit the nation .
But alas both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are adamant that
government should not press ahead with the new airport project in Mamamah, few
kilometers outside Freetown.The Bretton Woods institutions reiterated that the timing for
the Mamamah Airport project was not right as government should focus on other
priorities, including the post-Ebola plan. He said he was not oblivious about the need for
a new airport, “but the timing is not now, maybe in the future.” We understand that the
IMF has even promised retaliation against Sierra Leone should this country go ahead
with the project.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) should consider more how this new international
airport will benefit the people of Sierra Leone . If the aim of the international partners
and donor agencies is to get Sierra Leone on a sound socio-economic footing, they should
take a more comprehensive look at the benefits that will be derived from the nation.
But the government, it seems, is determined to forge ahead, after reportedly securing
Chinese support to bankroll the multimillion dollar project, despite a projected 21.5%
contraction in the country’s economy this year, as a result of the Ebola outbreak.
“What IMF is saying that the country’s economy is not viable to take that loan is absurd;
will Sierra Leone remain the same in the next twenty years? The new airport is part of the
government’s ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ and it will be of immense economic benefit and it
will grow the country’s economy,” posited Amb. Zhao the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra
Melvin P. Foote is the President and CEO of the Constituency for Africa, a 25-year
old Washington, DC based education and advocacy organization focused on Africa.