A project for the extension of Sierra Leone’s only airport has been launched in the absence of a much-trumpeted Lungi Bridge. The extension project runs into USD270, and government says it would not cause debts for a country with a broken economy.
Government is also of the opinion that the Lungi Airport Project is a suitable alternative to the relocation of the airport at Mamamah village in the Koya Chiefdom in PortLoko district.
To the government, the relocation is costly than the extension. In a launching ceremony last week, President Julius Maada Bio thrilled the audience that the project would create 2,000 for youths in the country.
It is unclear which model government would use to employ those fit for work. Sierra Leoneans who witnessed the launching ceremony were sent into a frenzy considering the miserable economic hardship into which the country has been permanently trapped.
Hopes ran high that with the promise of 2,000 jobs, hardship would be eased although not enough. The launching of the project, government officials say, is not only to accord the airport a facelift but also to increase its capacity.
The extension project which has come to be seen as the start of a campaign gimmick is also widely questioned for the absence of a bridge for which many promises have been made.
As early as 2019, The President promised the people of Sierra Leone that a bridge that would soon connect Freetown and Lungi is set to be constructed to ease transportation difficulties between the two communities.
The Lungi Bridge project under the theme: ‘Land That We Love’ is championed by Dr john Tambie, an accomplished academic who is Head of Presidential Initiative on Infrastructure. Dr Tambie takes credit for a quality blend of academic credentials in Aerospace technology, Aeronautics, Engineering and transport and planning.
With these wonderful qualifications, Sierra Leone have reasonable grounds to expect positive result in the realisation of the presidential promise.
But, the project runs into approximately USD2Bn causing Sierra Leoneans to later see it as a castle in the air.
No Sierra Leonean cent would form part of the said sum as it is purely money from foreign investors. The bridge, if constructed, Government says has the potential to raise an estimated revenue of USD11.2Bn within 25 years.
It also hoped that the project would create 5, 350 jobs for Sierra Leoneans. Authorities see the project as the transformation of Freetown for which 60-acre of land would be reclaimed from squatters along coastal communities.
The Lungi Bridge is set to be run as a toll implying that the project will be financed by the people’s meagre earnings.
Most Sierra Leoneans have insistently enquired about the years investors would take to get back their money in light of low trade and economic activities in Freetown and Lungi.
The investors did attend an important ceremony at State House for e briefing on bidding as part of their feasibility studies. After the briefing, they returned home and have never come back to continue business talks for the bridge.
The perceived impossibility is based on the contracted and stagnated nature of the country’s economy with a small capacity to pay back. The promise of the launching of the Lungi Bridge in September this year also made headlines in newspapers.
September has gone, and the construction promise bears the semblance of a project dead in the waters.
The proposed construction of Lungi Bridge by the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) seems to have relegated to a campaign rhetoric for the pending 2022 and 2023 local council and presidential elections.
Some well-informed Sierra Leoneans are of the conviction that the Lungi Bride project would hardly save SLPP in the polls. It is seen as a sinister cover up of the apparent weaknesses and failings of the government.
The Lungi Bridge project started with late Ahmed Tejan Kabba who successfully governed the country twice. The late President endeared the project to Sierra Leoneans by referring to it as part of a poverty reduction strategy.
The Tejan Kabbah Government first started to stumble as he did not show how the project would be funded. Ecstatic Sierra Leoneans who were hopeful that the promise would be transformed into reality anxiously waited for it.
After many years of unsuccessful waiting, Sierra Leoneans lost hope as the President rode into the sunset in 2007.
Former President appeared on the political stage, but without a promise of the Lungi Bridge. He however spoke faintly about it towards the end of his tenure but with no definite promise and plan.
Former President Koroma was much more focused on the tollgate between Freetown and Masiaka as well as the Mamamah International Airport in the North-west region and other infrastructural projects in different parts of the country.
With these two projects, the former President was highly hopeful of a sound economy with visible improvements on livelihoods.
In 2018, President Julius Maada Bio took over state command also without the promise of a Lungi Bridge.
In years that followed, the President who hoped for a strong cooperation and financial support from outside made the promise public, but has remained unfulfilled.