The Al-Aqsa of Africa
Sierra Leone’s Israeli-built parliament building is a symbol of the Jewish state’s long-running engagement in Africa
R.L. Armstrong, Sierra Leone’s director of public works, contacted the Israeli company Solel Boneh to get to the heart of the matter. The constructor forwarded the diligent bureaucrat an ambiguous reply that led him to fire off a confidential memo to his colleagues stating, “The government is now in a position where it has no control over the contractor who is in fact carrying out [a] cost-plus contract without supervision.”
After eight months of bureaucratic intrigues, money squabbles, and construction circumventions, the Israeli contractors completed the assembly hall in the nick of time for the Independence Day Ceremony on April 27, 1961. On the eve of independence, the Duke of Kent gave a speech and presented a plaque at the opening ceremony of the assembly hall. The next day it rained and water leaked through the building’s unfinished areas; the parliament still experiences leaks.
There was an opportunity for a proper refurbishment in 1996 when President Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah discussed completing Phase 2 of the parliament’s construction. A company from Côte d’Ivoire, claiming to be subsidiary of Solel Boneh, was given a tour of the complex. But before plans could materialize, a coup d’état erupted in Sierra Leone a year later. In 2004 a Chinese company was commissioned to refurbish the parliament and repair corroded pipes. But they couldn’t figure out certain aspects of the original engineering. A local supervisor assigned to monitor their work was allegedly fired after he asked too many questions. The original chairs in the assembly hall—still in excellent condition after nearly five decades—were plucked out, carted off in a truck to be sold, and shoddier replacements was brought in.
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