On this episode of China Uncensored: Sierra Leone is the first country in Africa to sidestep a debt trap set by China! Will others follow? Hi. Welcome to China Uncensored. I’m your host, Chris Chappell. Sierra Leone. A country in West Africa more or less the size of South Carolina. In fact, it’s kind of what South Carolina
sees when it looks in the mirror. But unlike South Carolina, where the average life expectancy is 77 years, people in Sierra Leone live to an average
of just 52. Still, that’s a LOT better than in 1995, when Sierra Leone was in the middle of a bloody
10-year civil war a nd people barely made it to age 35. “We were coming through town, searching for food, when they got all of us. T hey captured us in an ambush. They captured all of us. They assembled seven of us. Six were killed.” Luckily that’s all in the past. Still, to this day Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. More than half the population lives below
the poverty line of one dollar twenty five cents a day. But recently, things seem to be looking up
for Sierra Leone. “We are a successful modern, stable democracy. One that has evolved and matured over 20 years from chaos and lawlessness of civil conflict.” That was the country’s new president, Julius Maada Bio, elected in April. Here he is in China… …at the recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion dollars of loans to Africa. But President Bio made headlines last week when he overturned a huge deal with China hat his predecessor Ernest Bai Koroma… …signed a few years back. The plan was for a Chinese company to build the Mamamah International Airport… …with funding from a Chinese state-owned
bank to the tune of 312 million dollars. A third of that was to be from a loan that
Sierra Leone would have to pay back. Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and
Aviation announced the project’s cancellation in
a letter, part of which was published in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper. So instead of taking out a massive loan to
build a brand new airport that it doesn’t need, Sierra Leone is going to fix up the one it
already has. That seems like a prudent choice, given that a recent IMF mission to Sierra
Leone found that “the economic environment remains
challenging” and hailed the new government’s efforts
to “stabilize public debt and reduce it to
sustainable levels, and prioritize public investment aimed at reducing social and infrastructure gaps.” It also turns out that an earlier 200 million
loan from China for the same proposed new airport was cancelled when the IMF and World Bank did a debt sustainability analysis of Sierra
Leone, and expressed “strong concerns” about
the deal. And when a formal organization like the IMF says it has “strong concerns”, in normal language that means “run!” The risk of taking a loan from China is, let’s say, different from taking an IMF loan. If you can’t afford to pay back an IMF loan, they may impose some conditions before bailing you out with another loan. Those conditions might include making you adopt free market reforms, clamp down on corruption, or strengthen rule-of-law
institutions. But those are generally things that make a
country better, and can attract future investment. But if you owe China money and can’t afford
to pay up, well, they take their pound of flesh. Like Djibouti. The African country of Djibouti. China recently set up a military base there— likely through political pressure. China is also helping finance the main seaport
in Djibouti. But if it can’t pay off its debt— and that seems likely— it may be forced to hand over its port to
China. And this means China would control the key access point in and out of Djibouti. The big fear is that as China hands out loans for huge infrastructure projects around the
world as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, it will use the loans that countries can’t
afford t o pay back as a way to take resources or territory. But by bucking that trend, Sierra Leone has just become the first African country
to sidestep one of China’s potential debt traps. Some experts even say that Sierra Leone may
be the first of a series of dominos that are
about to fall. A professor at a college in North Carolina
says this cancellation is a sign that African countries are are starting
to wise up when it comes to the threat of Chinese
loans. Now after the Mamamah airport deal was axed, China was quick to say “nothing to see here,
folks.” “I don’t think this particular project
should be overblown as an indication of problems between the Chinese and Sierra Leone governments,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu
Kang… …and then between the lines expressed hope other African countries wouldn’t develop any hangups about taking Chinese money. “When cooperating with African countries that include Sierra Leone, China has always adhered to the principles of equality-based consultations and win-win
cooperation.” Of course when you see headlines like this
about Sri Lanka… or this about Zambia… …you wonder if the Chinese regime has a slightly different definition of win-win. I think it means, if you repay the loan, China wins. If you can’t repay, China also wins. Win-win. So what do you think about Sierra Leone canceling its loan from China? Leave your comments below. And before we go, it’s time to answer a
question from a fan of China Uncensored who contributes to us through the crowdfunding
website Patreon. David Michael White asks: “Chris, do you have a favorite creature
from Chinese mythology?” Let’s see, I’m going to say a qilin. It’s kind of like if you combined a dragon
head, the body of an ox, but with the skin of snake. Sometimes they have two horns. Other times one horn, which has led some people to call it a Chinese
unicorn. Please. Qilin are way more majestic than unicorns. Oh, and sometimes they’re on fire. But not
always. They may look fearsome, but they only punish
the wicked. In Buddhist thought they’re vegetarian and fly because they don’t want to step
on even a single blade of grass. If a qilin showed up, it meant that there was a wise and benevolent
ruler. So I’m sure you won’t be surprised to
learn that a lot of Chinese emperors said they showed up during their reign. But my favorite story about qilins involved
the Chinese. He was the Chinese admiral in the Ming Dynasty who sailed all the way to Africa in his fleet of Chinese treasure ships. For a guy who was a eunuch, that took a lot of…guts. Anyway, he brought back two giraffes to the
emperor, who by the way was very benevolent, and everyone was like, oh yeah, those are qilin, totally qilin. If you’d like to learn more about Chinese mythological creatures, I’d recommend a book called the Classic of Mountains and Seas. You won’t find a crazier collection of strange beasts and monsters. Unless you read a book about the Politburo. Thanks for your question, David. And remember, you too can have your question answered on China Uncensored when you become a Patreon supporter. Join us at Patreon.com/ChinaUncensored and contribute a dollar or more per episode. Once again, I’m Chris Chappell. See you
next time. Want to know more about how the US is reacting to Chinese investment in Africa? Well, on our spin-off show America Uncovered… We just did an entire episode about that. So click here to check it out. It’s great.