Mamamah Airport, a National Priority Project

John Baimba Sesay-CHINA

 

With relish, I could actually come to terms with the shining performance of the country in the last eight years of governance under President Koroma. From energy generation and distribution, to infrastructure, promotion of gender based issues, etc; President Koroma will go down positively in the country’s record for his exemplary performance.

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In the area of energy generation and distribution, the country has seen some much progress, not ignoring the challenges. In fact by 2009, the President spoke of how he was convinced “the multiplier effect of adequate and reliable energy will impact on all sectors of the country and revitalize the economy and improve the standard of living of our people.” What he did then as a government was to “set out to achieve the supply of reliable power to Freetown, the completion of the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project, the development of new power sources throughout the country and enhanced transmission and distribution networks.” [President Ernest Bai Koroma, Regent Station Commissioning, 2009]

Infrastructure growth plays a fundamental aspect in a country’s development efforts. The country, since 2007, placed greater prominence on economic growth through the infrastructural expansion as seen in road networks across the country. Today, with good road network, cities, towns and villages are linked across the country. This is same with social infrastructure, thus meeting basic needs of people.

By 2007, Sierra Leone’s air travelling system was not only in a bad shape, the country’s only international Airport at Lungi was in a declining state with sub-standard facilities. And it was in line with Government’s drive for a better facelift of the country that it pursued the rehabilitation of the Airport so as to meet international standards. By 2010, work was commenced, including overlaying of the runway, widening of the taxi way and relocation of ground lighting system.

There came the need for an airport on the mainland that will help address a number of challenges posed to travelling from Lungi to Freetown-this called for the Mamamah Airport on the mainland in the Port Loko District. We cannot overemphasize the need for a new airport. Glen Weisburd et el submit, in a work titled, “Airport Area Economic Development Model”, 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. ” (Mamamah International Airport Will Be An Economic Game-Changer In Sierra Leone-http://cocorioko.net)

A new airport on the mainland will help put the country in a valuable position to compete positively in International Trade and Commerce. My view, is relocating the Freetown International Airport from Lungi across the estuary of the Sierra Leone River to Mamamah on the mainland will bring with it benefits to the country in every sector of the economy. It will give us the opportunity to expand our capital city, as well as bringing about needed development as in new “hotel facility, new settlement, new public sector investment and this will improve the economy” (Morlai Buya Kamara-Project Director-Mamamah Airport-Interview with Awoko Newspaper, 4th February 2014.)

Now, ignore the argument based on job creation, investment and infrastructural growth and look at that of geographical proximity. From Lungi to Freetown, one would have to cross via ferry and spend hours and there are times, when the ferries would disappoint would be travelers. The proposed site for the new airport is just few minutes’ drive to the country’s capital, with less hours, given the completion of the Grafton-Regent Road(if you are going west of the capital). China’s current envoy to Sierra Leone shared same view, when in December 2015, he told newsmen in Freetown, his first arrival in Sierra Leone was, according to Awoko newspaper, “a nightmare for him and his wife as they had to use a yacht to cross into the city” We are, (kindly correct me if am wrong) the ONLY COUNTRY where one would have to cross a river into its capital. No good way of welcoming first time visitors-be they Tourist or Investors.

The argument has been put forward by some that the funds to be used on the airport could be used to tackle other country – health care needs given as example. Good! But in development and especially for a third world country like ours, we cannot trade one growth indicator at the detriment of another when they all apparently are of immense value to the chances of that country reaching the zenith of socio-economic development. We could also now work on seeking more resources to fix our health care system but should not, in my view do away with proposed projects with development partners like China having made clear their preparedness to be part of such. This is not about who does what, but about country needs. Needs that will impact us in the long term. This is all about development. It is high time we begun think big.

We keep talking about timeframe-if it is not timely to use such funds now on infrastructure (airport), how timely would it appear using such on other country needs? And if we divert the funds to other projects, aren’t we also obliged to meet whatever obligations we should, in years to come? Yes, Sierra Leone is faced with challenges but I am sounding optimistic, and bold to state that we are at a point where bold decisions that will impact us positively in few decades to come, should be taken. No matter what the challenges we now face, it should be noted, we do stand the chance of reaching a peak not expected in the coming decades, from the framework of economic growth. China should be a better example, we discuss nations that are today world giants but decades ago, were never imagined could be where they are today.

Mamamah Airport is part of the Government’s Agenda for Prosperity that is expected to contribute to country growth. The President’s determination should be supported by all and sundry devoid of political colors. A government/person that prioritizes development would come to accept the fact that the pending Mamamah Airport is indeed a national priority that goes beyond the realm of party politics. Calling it a non priority project is wicked!

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