[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March 2005, 13:55 GMT
Chinese cash targets Sierra Leone
By Kashif Anwar
BBC News Online

Lumley Beach
Lumley Beach was highly sought after before the civil war
A stretch of land at a large-scale tourist resort outside Freetown in Sierra Leone is set to become the scene of the largest ever direct foreign investment in the country - and the money is coming from China.

A Chinese company, Henan Guoji, is proposing to invest $200m in Lumley Beach - one of the most beautiful beaches in West Africa - in a project which could see the construction of hotels, conference centres, sports facilities, a casino and nightclub, and a promenade.

"The Chinese have seen an opportunity," Cecil Williams, the director of Sierra Leone's National Tourist Board, told the BBC World Service.

"The Chinese are moving very fast in Africa... regardless of whether it is stable or not, they are taking a risk.

"You have to take a risk in Africa if you want to succeed."

As in many places, China's rapid growth and economic expansion mean it is heading into a great number of markets worldwide.

Africa - and even Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world according to the UN - is no exception.

Councillor Rachid Davis said the project would benefit the whole country.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
They not only showed interest in investment in Sierra Leone after the war, but they did during the war and before
Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
"This is the biggest fish we have caught in our net. We will use every opportunity to make it a success for the nation," he said.

Councillor Davis said he believed that the investment would provide a huge number of jobs.

This positive outlook is generally shared by the people in the Lumley Beach area. High, long-term unemployment means the prospect of jobs is generally received warmly.

However, some have been told they must move to make way for the development.

"If it happens, I will be out on the street - nowhere to sleep, nowhere to rest," one resident said

Post-war reconstruction in Sierra Leone has been swift. While the Lumley Beach project is still at an early stage, another project, this time funded by a Chinese state-owned company, is already up and running - the complete restoration Sierra Leone's largest hotel, the Bintumani.

During the war, the hotel was forcefully occupied by rebels. It was then stripped and looted, with every removable item taken and sold - including the windows and doors.

But the Beijing Urban Construction Group bought the hotel and restored it, spending $10m on refurbishment.

"The Chinese and Sierra Leone governments have a very good relationship," said Mr Wong, the Chinese manager of the hotel.

"We wanted to further the friendship, so that was one reason why our company came here and investment."

He also stressed the opportunities in Africa, and said that the approach of China was "high-risk is high-profit."

"We will make money here," he added.

Commercial motivation

China's interest in Africa is not entirely new.

During the Cold War, when African countries were often used as proxy states in the battle between East and West, China paid for stadiums, dams, and most famously the Tanzam railway between Zambia and Tanzania.

Bintumani hotel management
The Bintumani hotel is run by Chinese management
What is new is that China's motivation is now commercial rather than ideological.

"During the past few years, China's economy developed so fast - as people have seen - and as well as this development, the Chinese government is encouraging companies to go outside to invest," Henan Guoji's deputy manager Chu Mingren said.

Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said that he saw China as a "key partner".

"They not only showed interest in investment in Sierra Leone after the war, but they did during the war and before," he said.

"This we appreciate very much."

He also pointed out that Sierra Leone's backing of China's admission into the United Nations in 1971 had been a key moment in the countries' relationship.

"I think the Chinese are aware of this - so they're just being grateful to us for what we did."

'Economic disaster'

But he added that he also believed China was looking for places for its "surplus population" to go.

"The size of their country is limited - it cannot be expanded," he said.

"There is no more room... that is one of the reasons why they are looking outside for some expansion. That's my judgement of the situation."

Chinese construction workers
There are fears China will distort Sierra Leone's labour market
And others have warned of different pitfalls in the Chinese investment.

One is that China might bring its own workers into the country, rather than using domestic labour - as it has already done in Algeria and Sudan.

Sam King, a Freetown businessman, said this would be an "economic disaster."

"If you have to import labour in the face of poverty and unemployment... it is not going to help the country," he said.

"It will have a negative impact on the people."

And he also said he believed there were less benign motives behind China's investment in so many parts of the world.

"I believe it is a strategy to make their presence felt," he added.

"They now consider they are building themselves as a world power... I believe it is both strategic and economic," he said.


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific