The phenomenon of neo-colonialism will continue to take regrettable angles as China is relentless in its African conquest. In this regard, Africa is caught between a rock and a hard place – the citizens just look on as African leaders are spineless in the face of advances from both the West and the East. The rate at which Africa is sinking to Chinese overtures is not only alarming but outright scandalous.
The Sierra Leonean government recently sold 100 hectares (250 acres) of beach and protected rainforest to China for $55 million so that the latter can construct an industrial fishing harbor. In a move that has been rightly derided as a “catastrophic ecological disaster” by environmentalists and conservationists, China will take over an area with endangered biodiversity.
Construction will take place at the Black Johnson Beach off the Atlantic Coast, and it borders Western Area Peninsular National Park. This is an area filled with “lush rainforest and biodiversity.” The Western Area Peninsular National Park is a haven for endangered species that include the duiker antelope and pangolins, while the waters are rich in sardines, barracuda, and grouper – these provide a source of livelihood to local fishermen who produce 70% of the fish to satisfy the domestic market demand.
The clandestine nature of the bilateral agreement has made matters worse. Activist groups claim that the Chinese want to build a new fish meal factory at the site. Both Sierra Leone and China assert that the deal is meant to build a fish harbor. But one cannot be mistaken in the view that whatever is being planned, will significantly deplete fish stocks along Black Johnson Beach all because of a desire for privatization and profits. 80% of the country’s protein supply comes from fish supplied through artisanal fishing by coastal families and such plans will thrust the country’s food security into perilous times.
The government of Sierra Leone in its defence says that it had always planned to build a fish harbor at the site since 1970 but had been forestalled by financial constraints. A press statement from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources read, “With the new shift in government policy for the development of the fisheries sector, the Chinese government has given a grant of $55 million to build this platform. For technical reasons, Black Johnson was the most suitable place for the construction of the facility in terms of bathymetry, social safeguards (minimum resettlement cost), and environmental issues.”
Two legal campaign groups, the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone, have demanded to see environmental impact assessment reports from the government. They say that everything about this deal is vague and unsatisfactory. With the global demand for fish supplies on the surge, foreign-run companies have proliferated on West African shorelines to meet the ballooning demand in America, Europe, and Asia. And this is where Chinese state capitalism becomes more pronounced – it is ferocious and has zero regards for the welfare of local people.
This calls for African leaders to be wary in their dealings with both the West and the East. The concerns of local people should triumph over foreign interests. It is pointless and self-defeating to placate foreign interests while putting hunger at the doorsteps of local people. Neo-colonialism should be fought with the contempt it deserves. Public resources should never be privatized.