Never has there been so much excitement over mining like it is happening now in the tiny West African country of Sierra Leone. The rich endowment of all sorts of minerals exploited since colonial times has yet to prove beneficial to even the people who are dispossessed of their lands. We have seen the case of Kono, Tongo and Rutile. Check out these areas and you will find out what the mines have done.
Ever since it was discovered that the rebel war in Sierra Leone and indeed other civil wars the world over are often fueled by the availability of precious minerals in the countries the wars are fought. Civil society has been on its toes to ensure that mining remains to be beneficial to its poor populations uprooted from their lands where they carve some livelihood. It is however worth noting that things have improved a lot in the mining sector. This said, it is also true that governments in Sierra Leone have not been very compromising bed fellows on the issue. The gains made are often threatened by spectacularly new bottlenecks mainly found embedded in the laws that govern mines and minerals.
The latest seeming standoff between government and Civil society is the mining agreement with London Mining which has taken over the former Marampa mines. Suffice it to say that the London Mining company has so far been very proudly referred to by government as having very sound modus operandi. One may want to know why the present situation? With a new Mines and Mineral Act, one would think that the country has almost put its finger on a normally elusive problem. When you look at the 1994 Mineral Decree which was later converted into an Act of Parliament up to the latest 2009 Act, one sees tremendous Improvement.
Previously what had been at the center of controversy is the corporate social responsibility of companies. A lot have been said about this although compliance or adherence has yet to be totally satisfactory. In fact many companies even outside the mining sector do dabble with the expression corporate social responsibility without actually doing much.
Now let us look at the issues of controversy in the case of the Marampa Mines. NMJD and their Global Witness Partners’ main areas of contention are the royalty rate calculations and the fact that the agreement overrides the mines and mineral Act when the two conflict. According to the campaigners it is understood that the president had earlier already asked for some portions of the agreement to be reviewed but action seems not yet in sight.
As a nation which had gone through a horrendous war, partly fuelled by the mines and as a country still struggling to make life meaningful for its citizen and frantically yearning for a lasting peace, I think government should look into the issues raised by civil society. When you look at the Mines and minerals Act 2009 and the Agreement with London Mining, one sees that the campaigners are making very genuine points that need the attention it deserves. Let this not be a bad precedent that other companies can follow to the detriment of the people of Sierra Leone who have known suffering for most part of their hand-to-mouth lives. Let us learn from the lessons of Kono and Tongo where mining has left the areas worse off.
When we take a look at the history of mining in Africa, there are very few countries to smile about like Botswana. Why is it so? If soap cannot wash its own clothes, I wonder whose it will wash. Mining in Sierra Leone should be considered a very much national issue; it should go beyond politicking, regionalism and ethnicity. At the height of the war, the blood diamonds were used to destroy the whole country whether they had minerals or not. What is so clear is that issues of mining should not be swept under the carpet as they affect populations yet unborn. Remember that by some prospecting done years ago in 1956; over half of this nation’s landscape has mineral deposits. So any problem of mining has to be solved straight off before others rear up their ugly heads in future.
This reminds me of the Bagra Hills standoff between mining and the conservation of forests some two years ago or so. There was serious crisis and people already started been cut up on either side of the divide. It was the President himself who stepped in to quell the looming upheaval. I think in this current situation the President should also get the Ministry of Mines to look into the Civil Society concerns. I believe both the government and the civil Society have the same goal of making mining in this poverty beleaguered state just, transparent and beneficial to its people while maintaining a conducive investment environment bereft of the Niger delta style gangsterism.
It is interesting to note that number of mining companies in the country is increasing by the day and we should streamline and monitor the seeming scramble. Take Diang Chiefdom alone with over 10 Mining Companies. One difficult question to answer is to mine or not to mine? I used to think we can wake up one morning and just stop all mining activities… but now I think differently. We have to create the necessary jobs for our people. Employed populations may less likely cause upheavals as they have so much to lose. This was the state at which we were when the rebels struck and were able to recruit people who were actually ready for anything that got them into action. Sure nobody wants to replay the scenes that dragged the country some 30 years back. There could be an element of some sort of blackmail in all this job creation issue. But I really think this should not be the main drive for ensuring jobs. A mining law and agreement that best has the people at heart is one that is most required. Definitely posterity will hold us all responsible for allowing our minerals to be exploited in a manner in which we as a nation have so much to lose. If the SLST, NDMC, PMMC and a host of other mining outfits in the past had pro-poor policies followed in the interest of the people, we will not have been having serious concerns today. In fact our rebel war could not have escalated.
When you consider that the constitution of the land is supreme, then the issues raised by civil society need to be looked into so as not to undermine the very spirit of our legal standing. When you read the Agreement with the London Mining company, the issues raised by the civil Society are clearly stated there with no pretence of any legal ambiguity. Government should definitely look into the concerns before the Agreement comes into effect. The main question to be asked is what is the use of enacting laws, if they are not going to be enforced, to borrow from Pa Momo.s assessment of the situation? In a democratic dispensation, the minority will have their say, but the majority will have their way.
Like you might want to know there are currently little storms brewing in mining teacups in other parts of the country. One thing is certain… the awareness level of our people is at its highest and they will no more be dragged by their noses to any slaughter house without a good fight. Now, let us look at the political angle to all this? The revival of the Marampa Mines is very significant to today’s political players. Those mines were closed during the reign of president Stevens and it is interesting that it is reopened by the same party. One interesting joke of Pa Shaki in his hey days when Late President Doe closed his borders with Sierra Leone was… Doe lock Doe, Nar Doe go opin Doe. So you see, the reopening of the Marampa Mines is very critical in our political history, if not for anything but for the much needed job creation. This is why the government should bend over backwards to consider the genuine concerns of the Civil Society. After all the Civil Society has so far been a very strong partner on minerals and mining issues. Oh how proud we will all be if our mining follows the required standards in an era where accountability, good democracy and human rights are the hallmarks of modern governance. I am sure this issue is easier to solve than the recent Doctors and Nurses Strike. Civil Society and State actors Collaborative partnership should be respected and maintained by all means… let us demonstrate it here.
By S. Beny SAM