Special Report: engaging Chinese Business Communities in Sierra Leone

As the primary trading partner and with rapidly growing business and investment interests in Sierra Leone, Chinese businesses play a significant and expanding role in Sierra Leone’s economic future, making it important that a deeper understanding and stronger engagement is developed between the Sierra Leonean and Chinese business communities.

Engaging Chinese business communities opens up opportunities for local entrepreneurs and businesses, when the challenges are properly navigated. This article aims to highlight opportunities for business-business engagement that could improve the terms of doing business in Sierra Leone for all.

The landscape of Chinese stakeholders in Sierra Leone

The Chinese businesses active in Sierra Leone can be classified into two groups:

State-owned enterprises

1: These are coordinated by the China Chamber of Commerce in Sierra Leone (Zhong Guo Shang Hui). These typically concentrate on large infrastructure projects, such as the proposed new airport and the Wilkinson Road Construction Project. These projects are either the outcome of high-level government meetings between the Chinese and Sierra Leonean government, or are awarded following a competitive tender process. They are financed by a range of sources - the Government of Sierra Leone, China’s development financiers, or international development finance institutions like the World Bank.

The main state-owned enterprises in Sierra Leone include:

  • Shandong Steel, which manages the iron ore mine in Tonkolili • China Railway Seventh Group, which is constructing the Wellington-Masiaka Highway project as well as a series of municipal roads in Freetown. Beijing Urban Construction Group, which manages the Bintumani Hotel

  • China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, which developed the Atlantic Gardens Real Estate Complex

  • China National Fishery Corp, a state-owned fishing company

  • Sinohydro, which is building a hydropower plant

Private Chinese Enterprises:

These have no direct political ties, and most are members of the Sierra Leone Chinese Chamber of Commerce (Hua Shang Hui).

Prominent private enterprises include Henan Guoji, which is active in real estate and construction. Henan Guoji also manages the Cline Town industrial complex which houses multiple Chinese private enterprises including an oxygen factory, a slippers factory, an agricultural equipment trader etc. Grand Leone Casino, which operates a restaurant, a casino, a spa and a small supermarket, has over 10 years of experience in service and hospitality. Huawei, one of the top telecom companies in China, is servicing multiple telecom providers in Sierra Leone.

A few private fishing companies are active in Sierra Leone’s waters and mainly serve the local and regional market. Other companies are active in construction, have set up private clinics, supermarkets, and trading companies for consumer goods, etc.

Aside from the active business community, other Chinese actors who have important roles in the Chinese-Sierra Leone business ecosystem include:

  • The Chinese Ambassador who overlooks all aspects of China-Sierra Leone interactions.

  • The Economic and Commercial Counsellor to the Ambassador who helps facilitate and assist Chinese business activities in the country.

  • The Confucius institute, based at Fourah Bay College since 2012, which provides free Chinese language and culture classes in schools and colleges across Freetown. It also offers Chinese language training to employees of Chinese companies such as Shandong Steel.

  • China Chamber of Commerce in Sierra Leone (Zhong Guo Shang Hui) organises the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Sierra Leone.

  • Sierra Leone Chinese Chamber of Commerce (Hua Shang Hui) organizes the private enterprises in Sierra Leone and has over 500 members.

  • The Association of Chinese Fishing Companies in Sierra Leone, recently set up to better coordinate and manage Chinese fishing companies in Sierra Leone.

  • Medical and Agricultural Aid: There is a medical corps team who is actively working at the Jui Youyi hospital, donated by China to Sierra Leone, and a medical team from the Chinese Military that works closely with military doctors in Sierra Leone. A small team from the Centre for Disease Control works with local technicians at the state-of-art medical laboratory donated by China. • Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centres in Bo and near Waterloo support local capacity-building.

There are a number of opportunities for collaborating and engaging with the Chinese business community in Sierra Leone in ways that advance local business interests and/or result in wider economic and social benefit. Other African contexts, particularly Nigeria, offer a blueprint for Sierra Leone-Chinese business community engagement.

To read the rest of this special report on engaging with the Chinese business community in Sierra Leone please click on the link below and turn to page 17.


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