President Koroma gives support to Makona Free Zone Development Project
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma said that the decision by Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, to work towards the formation of a Makona River Free Zone came at the right time, given the fact the MRU countries have been thinking of areas of regional cooperation, as most often, cooperation’s have been at governmental levels. He spoke on Friday, 12th October at State Lodge whilst receiving the three ambassadors of the above mentioned countries accredited to the People’s Republic of China, who are in Sierra Leone to solicit the political support of the President ahead of the formation of the Makona Free Zone Project.
The Makona River Free Zone Development Project is in tandem with the Makona River Union that was created in 2005 at Koindu (Sierra Leone) by Members of Parliament of the three countries having origins in the region, as well as the Kissi ethnic community living along the Makona River from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Receiving the delegation from China, including Ambassadors of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, accredited to China and representatives from Blue Seafronts Group in China, President Koroma stated that the project is in line with government’s desire to move the country forward, especially in line with the Agenda for Prosperity and that taking into account the peaceful manner in which the Yenga issue was resolved between Guinea and Sierra Leone, “the move is very timely, having resolved the Yenga issue, and it, being a free place now and we are thinking of activating the long existing activities… ”like the Koindu Trading Centre that used to exist in that part of the country.
According to President Koroma, countries in the Mano River Union sub region should now work towards transforming “our negatives in the past to something positive.” He referred to China as a good example in terms of utilizing economic free zone in their development imitative and he therefore called on the stakeholders involved to work on the project as quick as possible to be able to access funds from China. “This project will give practical effect to Mano River Union cooperation”, he stated. On calls for him to spearhead the leadership of the project, he promised to discuss it with the MRU Leadership, taking into account the structures within MRU and give the fact the President of Liberia is the current Chair of the MRU.
Speaking earlier, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Abubakarr Multi-Kamara expressed delight for the audience granted the delegation by President Koroma and informed the President that he was “humbled that the two other Ambassadors, from Guinea and Liberia reposed on me the confidence for you as President of Sierra Leone to take leadership for this sub regional initiative.” On the strategic consideration of the project, Ambassador Multi-Kamara informed the President that the Makona River Free Zone Development Project, conceived by the three ambassadors is “based on the historically thriving cross-border transnational market trading and peaceful co-existence between the communities of Guekedou in Guinea, Koindu in Sierra Leone, and Foya in Liberia, along the Makona River.” He further spoke on the commitment of the three countries to jointly and equally own the project, especially in terms of its components , including seaport, the railways, industrial parks, mining, and other infrastructural projects. He explained further that all concessions and reserves required for the execution and implementation of these projects shall also be jointly and equally owned by the three countries.
On the potentials of the project, Ambassador Multi-Kamara informed President Koroma that it can “contribute greatly in perennial challenge of turning the natural resource advantage within the three countries into development advantage,” achieving multiplier effects in the mining and related infrastructural sectors, promoting manufacturing and urbanization, as well as commercialization in the wider economy within the three countries. He also highlighted the need for cooperation with China on this project, making reference to the Sino-Africa relations, further arguing that “China’s enormous financial and industrial capacity backed up by its huge global demand for West Africa’s natural and mineral resources makes a strong compelling case for heightened cooperation, with the three countries that constitute the Makona River Free Zone Development Project.”
Also making a statement was Ambassador Jarjar Kamara, Liberia’s Ambassador to China, who spoke on the concept and vision of the project. He explained, that along the Foya, Koindu and Guekedou Free Zone, what will be taken into account includes land development, industrial facilities to build rubber processing plants in Liberia, urban infrastructure facilities, social service facilities and institutions and hydro power stations and development of natural resource. That the Sulima Sea Port/Railway, will take into account the construction of Sulima Sea Port, railway from Sulima to the Free Zone to allow the three countries to develop their natural resources; and ) Free Zone to Siguiri, including construction of railway from Free Zone (Foya, Koindu and Guekedou) to Siguiri and development of industrial park in Siguiri area.
Ambassador Mamadi Diare of Guinea, accredited to China spoke on the political philosophical underpinnings of the project. He also called on President Koroma to spearhead the leadership of the Makona economic free zone. On the financial aspect of the project, he explained that following the announcement of China of a 20 billion dollar support to Africa , the three countries came together with the idea of having a sub regional project given China’s desire to support sub regional projects and also informed President Koroma that, given that over forty projects have been forwarded to the Export-Import Bank(EXIM-BANK) of China by several sub regional groups for funding, there is the need for the three countries to work speedily towards applying for funding support. The objectives of the project he said, are to achieve maximum socio-economic development in the Makona River area and to develop industrial, urban infrastructure, commodities trade, commerce, services, and real estate and properties within the Free Zone area among others.
Mr. Peng Xiaohua, President of the Blue Seafronts Group in China, whilst speaking on the pre-requisite and major requirements of the project explained that following a meeting held in August this year with the three ambassadors and his group, the Chairman and President of EXIM Bank of China, Li Ruogu expressed interest in the project, to which he recommended that the ambassadors should play an important role in coordinating the project with regard to their understanding of FOCAC policies since other regional and sub-regional projects will be submitted for financing. Peng Xiaohua also informed President Koroma that Mr. Li during the said meeting indicated that no quota is allocated to any African country, but that the US$20 billion loan of FOCAC will be committed to relevant projects on first-come first-serve basis.
He also informed, that, the success of the project will be based upon the establishment of a Free Zone, based on cross-border areas, selected from the three countries, setting up a Makona River Free Zone Authority “as the social, civil and administrative authority, comprising representatives of the three countries, BSF Group and other Chinese investors, among other pre-requisite of the Makona River Free Zone Development Project. It is also required for an approval of a draft letter to be signed by the Heads of States of the three countries, as well as approval to the setting up of a an interim Makona Free Zone Authority.”
The delegation, which arrived in Sierra Leone on the 10th October, also held meetings with the Mano River Union Secretariat, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It is also expected to visit the Heads of States of Liberia and Guinea, with the aim of also seeking their political support to the proposal.
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