12.27.2011

New Airport to be Built in Sierra Leone by the Chinese

Current Remodel of the Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone

It's no secret that the airport in Sierra Leone is in disrepair. The airport itself resembles more of a warehouse than an international airport servicing at least a dozen or more flights a week. Security at the airport is lax, the location is inconvenient, and the infrastructure is dilapidated. But all this is soon about to change. 

When I arrived at the Lungi airport in Sierra Leone in mid-November, I was surprised that the airport looked in even worse shape than two years ago. I was told that this is because the Sierra Leoneans are attempting to remodel the building (about time!). But all this comes almost too late. 

President Koroma of Sierra Leone has forged a close friendship with China during his presidency. The Chinese have been involved in many projects in Sierra Leone since the end of the civil war, ranging from building roads, stadiums, and medical clinics. But in addition to all of this, the Chinese have agreed to fund the building of an entirely new airport in Sierra Leone (perhaps because so many Chinese are having to fly to Sierra Leone and they complain of the bad conditions). 

The Currently No Longer Existing Sign at the Airport
In addition to the poor condition of the current airport at Lungi, it is also severely inconveniently located. Lungi is a small town on a peninsula that is a several hours drive or one hours long ferry ride from the capital of Freetown. The ferry from Lungi to Freetown is affordable, but it takes an hour (or more if it fails to leave on time, which frequently happens), it's crowded, and not to mention unreliable. Alternatives to the ferry include expensive speedboats, a hovercraft, or Soviet-era helicopters that have a better reputation of crashing than making successful trips. 

The new location of the Chinese-built airport would be in Freetown proper - specifically in Mamamah Town, Freetown. In addition to the airport, it is also rumored that a bridge will be built connecting Lungi to Freetown. I'm not entirely sure what the benefit of linking Lungi to Freetown would be if a new airport was built on mainland Freetown, but perhaps the existing airport at Lungi would be used for trading and business; in that case a bridge would be beneficial. 

A new airport, in my opinion, would be very much welcome and needed. I for one am sick and tired of landing in a dilapidated airport that is located painfully far from the capital. However, as this article in AllAfrica points out, a new airport might not be the most needed thing in Sierra Leone. The Chinese are involved in many development projects in the country and have offered to pay for the new airport - and I understand that beggars can't be choosers - but I believe that better paved roads, improved healthcare facilities, more schools, and a country-wide electricity system are more needed and would better help with development.

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