Bridging the Gap Between Knowledge and Policy
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Voices & Views of Local Fishing and Road Construction Communities

This paper assesses China’s sweeping engagement in the economic life of a West African state with the view to unravel the effects of Chinese foreign policy on local institutions, and by extension, the standard of living of Sierra Leoneans. Using case studies in two sectors, fishing/marine resources and road infrastructure, the paper examines whether Sierra Leone is reaping benefits from its long history of China’s exploitation of natural resources; or whether the ‘Sierra-Sino’ relations is reinforcing institutional behaviors in the local bureaucracy, including the weak legal system, or abusing the rights of a poorly paid domestic workforce. We argue that China’s presence in Sierra Leone is rooted in its desire to secure vital resources and raw materials to feed its enormous domestic population. Despite China’s insistence that it promotes win-win trade relations with bilateral partners, local communities complain that at the losing end and poverty levels are rising. Step by step, this paper reveals evidence of how overpriced road infrastructure contracts to going Chinese companies are contributing to the country’s growing debt burden; and how China’s dominance in the fishing sector undermines local revenue generation and exacerbates economic hardship in local fishing communities. We conclude Sierra Leone needs a national conversation on ways of reconstructing a mutually beneficial and accountable relationship with Chinese businesses.

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