‘Catastrophic’: Sierra Leone Sells Protected Rainforest for Chinese Harbor

Flag of Sierra Leone

Hundred years after the “signing” of all these lands in Africa to Europeans (we all know it was not a consensual signing as there were threats of war, aggression from other tribes, sometimes bombings, etc), the scramble for Africa, colonization, and more, a new scramble has started again, with lands yet again being “signed” off to foreigners to the detriment of the locals. Below is the recent signing of hundreds of acres of protected land in Whale Bay, in Sierra Leone to Chinese companies. This is a catastrophic story, especially as it will cause an ecological disaster. This is not the only area where it is happening, it is not just in Sierra Leone, and it is not just Chinese companies, but many more … reminiscent of the 999 year land treaty in Kenya [Did You Know about the 999-year Lease granted to Europeans in Kenya ?]… We, Africans, need better laws, better governance, love of our own selves, patriotism, and less corruption. True, we need development, but it cannot be at the expense of ourselves. There are also several questions: is this a land sell, a lease, or what? Can it be overturned? Excerpts below are from The Guardian


A $55m (£39m) deal struck by the government of Sierra Leone with China to build an industrial fishing harbour on 100 hectares (250 acres) of beach and protected rainforest has been criticised as “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster” by conservationists, landowners and rights groups.

The gold and black sands of Black Johnson beach fringe the African nation’s Western Area Peninsula national park, home to endangered species including the duiker antelope and pangolins. The waters are rich in sardines, barracuda and grouper, caught by local fishermen who produce 70% of the fish for the domestic market.

After reports of a Chinese-backed fishmeal plant began circulating on social media, A statement that appeared to be from the Sierra Leonean fisheries ministry confirmed the deal, but denied the planned construction was a “fish mill”. The facility would be a harbour for tuna and “other bigger fishing” vessels exporting to international markets, it said. It would include a “waste-management component” to “recycle marine and other wastes into useful products”.

The beach earmarked for development fringes the Western Area Peninsula national park, home to endangered species including pangolins. (Source The Guardian: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty)

The government said the beach, one of many along the nation’s 250-mile (400km) coastline, was the “most suitable place” for construction, and revealed the finance ministry had set aside a compensation package of 13.76bn leone (£950,000) for affected landowners. But the statement leaves more questions than answers, say those objecting to the plan.

… “Under the constitution, the government can sequester land if it is in the public interest,” Tonner said. “Even if this just a deep-water harbour, it is not in the public interest because it’s not a suitable site. There are fish breeding sites in the lagoon. It will wipe out the local fish people live on.”

… James Tonner, who owns land at Black Johnson with his mother, Jane Aspden Gbandewa, has written an open letter to the president, Julius Maada Bio, calling for him to intervene and stop the construction, which Tonner said would be “disastrous for the country and the planet”.

It would destroy pristine rainforest, plunder fish stocks and pollute fish breeding grounds and several ecosystems, Tonner said. The beach is on Whale Bay, so-named because whales and dolphins are seen there.

… “Under the constitution, the government can sequester land if it is in the public interest,” Tonner said. “Even if this just a deep-water harbour, it is not in the public interest because it’s not a suitable site. There are fish breeding sites in the lagoon. It will wipe out the local fish people live on.”

… “Our own fishermen won’t have a place to fish. Everything will be spoiled. Tourism will be finished.”

Dr Sama Banya, president emeritus of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, echoed Gbandewa’s comments, saying the proposed development would have a “disastrous” impact on tourism and “the very fish industry that it’s supposed to support”. …

Chinese presence in Africa in the 13th century and before

Zheng He
Zheng He

I always thought that since the Chinese invented the compass and the gunpowder, they should have been great navigators and explorers. I also always thought that they should have been among the first to navigate around the globe. What an amazing surprise when I learned that the most venerated Chinese maritime admiral Zheng He had reached the horn of Africa before Vasco da Gama, challenging the claim that VdG had been the first on the Eastern side of Africa. Indeed, Zheng He’s great armada rich of more than 300 ships and as many as 30,000 troops entered the coastal town of Malindi in modern day Kenya in 1418. He also visited Mogadishu and Barawa in present-day Somalia, and went as far as the coast Mozambique. It is said that he brought a giraffe from Somalia back to Emperor Yongle (1415).

Giraffe brought from Somalia (AD 1415) painting by Shen Du

There are tribes in Kenya which have clear Chinese ancestry… they descent probably from some of Zheng He’s crew members.  In 1999, a journalist for the New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof, reported a surprising encounter with the Shanga people on Pate island, just off the coast of Kenya. There, in a village of stone huts set amongst dense mangrove trees, Kristof met a number of elderly men who told him that they were descendants of Chinese sailors, shipwrecked on Pate many centuries ago. Their ancestors had traded with the local Africans, who had given them giraffes to take back to China; then their boat was driven onto the nearby reef. Kristof noted many clues that seemed to confirm the islanders’ tale, including their vaguely Asian appearance and the presence of antique porcelain heirlooms in their homes. You can read his account entitled: 1492: The Prequel on the New York Times website.

Lamu island, in Kenya
Lamu island, in Kenya

It is also reported that 7 centuries before the great admiral Zheng He, another Chinese, Du Huan, an officer of the Tang dynasty (618-907) visited the kingdoms of Nubia and Abyssinia (modern Sudan and Ethiopia respectively). He called these countries Molin-guo and Laobosa respectively. A full account of his trip can be found on Chroniques Yemenites. Check out the blog Curiosity killed the Eccentric Yoruba where the author did an outstanding job relating the Chinese presence in Africa, as well as African presence in China.  Trade flourished between East Africa and China. As such, many African products could be found in Chinese courts such as ivory, giraffes, myrrh, zebras, camels, powdered rhinocerous horn (used as prized aphrodisiac), tortoise shell (used to treat consumption) and frankincense and ambergris (used as a tonic to stimulate circulation). Similarly, as said earlier, Chinese artefacts such as porcelain have been found in coastal villages along East Africa. Chinese coins from the Song and Tang dynasties have been found in Zanzibar, and a huge amount were found in the town of Kajengwa in Zanzibar, illustrating trade between China and early East African kingdoms (some from the Song period have also been found in Mogadishu as well as in Kenya).  Chinese archaeologists arrived in July of 2010 to the beaches of Lamu and Malindi in Kenya, in search for a shipwreck from admiral Zheng He’s flotilla. Please watch this great video on the BBC website about the discovery of Chinese ancient coins in Kenya.

The video below tells of Admiral Zheng He’s travel and the size of his armada.