When I was a kid my Late Father gave me the option of either starting school in Kono Land or Mende land .i.e. in Gandorhun or Bunumbu respectively. I chose Bunumbu simply because my uncle was there. In those days an uncle was traditionally more powerful than even your father. When I say uncle here I mean your mother’s Brother. They even said that a child who had no uncle was a slave…it was from the uncle from whom one got the blessings. That’s why your uncle was always right in whatever he did to you and your immediate parents will never dare interface into his maltreatment of a nephew. Yes we were always proud of having an uncle. Why am I saying all this? Well I lost the chance of speaking the Kono language for the simple fact that I chose to stay with my uncle in Bunumbu .The Kono people are very interesting …they are my neighbors and I even have Kono relatives, a lot in fact. They have always been quite accommodating…so accommodating that at a point their boundary with the Mendes in northern Kailahun kept shifting into their land. They were okay especially as the diamonds were flowing. They used to so love their kith and kin that they will say Kono eh Kono Fa meaning A Kono will never kill another kono. I understand this has been abandoned. No one knows why but a good guess could be politics…it is only a guess though. They had another juicy tradition that said that if you marry the eldest daughter then the rest of the junior sisters were also your wives and you could actually have an affair with them and it was no taboo. This also I understand has changed.
Kono people used to derogatorily refer to their Mende neighbors as Kor teh Moi, planters of rice or farmers. Kono land used to be very attractive because of its diamond wealth. I can remember as a primary school boy, I used to walk up to 18 or so miles towards Koidu Town. Then board a vehicle to Koidu City because I did not have enough money. My aunty at Gbomgbo Street was married to a Fullah who was in the diamond business. Although I never really saw much of diamonds at the time but I felt proud that I stayed in a home where diamonds at least passed their way. Later in secondary school I started holding diamonds in my hand. I can remember I was on holidays at Motema- Bodorvulahun. One night the sand-sand boys convinced me to go out with them to get diamonds. Oh my God that was the time of the Lion Police. That night they chased us like mad. But trust me I showed them that I was not the best junior 100 meters in Bo School for nothing. On the night that I escaped the house in which I took refuge in Bondorvulahun belonged to a Lion Police. How did I know? Man! his long oversized red overall was hanging there like a mad threatening giant. I quickly split that scene. The Lion police were specially trained to traverse the mining jungles chasing people who went for the diamonds. They mostly chased Sand- Sand Boys from illicit mining. It was a very adventurous thing to go out at night collecting diamond like pebbles. That was the time women were allowed to collect the gems from the river sides from sands. The name Sand-Sand Boys actually came about because the diamonds were got from sand and guys will fetch the sand and search for diamonds illicitly.
Those days were Kono’s glorious days. When it rained heavily in kono at the time you’ll find people out on the streets and roads looking on the ground to find the precious stones.
Koidu Town which actually was originally known as Sefadu but when the Koidu-new Sembehun section was developed, the new Koidu Town was born and the old name Sefadu was slowly but surely abandoned.Koidu appeared to be a sexier name for that diamondiferous belt. 35 years on Kono land remains ravaged in the most disastrous way. Years of frivolous mining did not provide the necessary development befitting the abounding wealth. The diamonds killed education in that end of the country. Most of the ones that made it in those days did not attend secondary school in Koidu. Koidu was the place at the time where school girls used to invite their teachers to night clubs and lavished money on them as a way of gratitude. There was this pervasive yearning for money and money oh the girls loved it. Command and Control was in the hands of the rich. I felt so humiliated at one time when I had to be dropped off a taxi to make way for a very rich Maraka man who wanted to hire/charter the car. The poor driver begged me while I raved mad at the insult. The rich man offered to pay me three times my fare to Koidu Town…I think I was dropped around Bumpeh. Can you imagine I refused to take the money but dropped off. The rich man threw the money at me and sped off. I grudgingly took the money later from the roadside. Whether because I was just pretending not to need it or because I saw some kids coming towards my end, I don’t know! And don’t bother ask me. Can you imagine I had just started teaching on a hundred and eighty Leones a month…mind you I don’t mean Thousands. That is why up till today I respect the hundred Leones. When I find a 100 Leone coin on the floor/ground I pick it up. It reminds me of those slow and easy days when teachers were teachers and nurses were nurses.
Things have changed a lot in our country. The Mende- Temne domination and perhaps ridicule of minority tribes like the Kissy, Kono, Limba, Loko and Fullah had long ceased to be the order of the day. Now every tribe is proud to identify itself with its kith and kin. The politics of today might still be dominated by the Mende and Temne but other tribes have made great inroads into various spheres of life. Did you know that the Konos are at the top of lot things just now? They head the Catholic Church, they have the Vice Presidency, they have the First Lady, they head the University of Sierra Leone and some tough NGOs and Media Houses! H’m… now you see what I mean. These Kono elite knew that diamonds are not forever and as such achieved good education.
What is annoying about this whole link of diamonds and Kono land’s underdevelopment is that the Kono land is as fertile as Kailahun and the Koinadugu districts. Although according to a colonial era prospectus done over 65 percent of Sierra Leones’ land surface has diamonds. It definitely will not be surprising if Freetonians wake up one day and find diamonds at good old Kroo Bay!. Wow…at least when the city is undermined then perhaps it will perforce relocate and get something modern. Talking about Kroo Bay it is not enough to be enraged that our brothers and sisters there live in unacceptable squalor…conscious efforts need to be done to move them to better and more dignified location. As long as places like Kroo Bay exist not even IMATT area elite will sleep soundly. But back to Kono and their diamonds. Now my fellow countrymen what if we wake tomorrow and there are no diamonds? How will that critically affect you? Very few countries have benefited from diamonds; it has most times been one step forward and two steps backwards. The Kono people are today having a second thought. Many have now opted for farming for a livelihood. But indeed there are scars left behind by the diamond bruises.
Now let’s look at the race relations in Kono around the diamond business. Of course the Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) and later National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) created jobs for many. However in Fiscal terms Foreigners took the heavy share. In the time of Late Pa Abu Koroma much improvement took place in the recruitment of indigenes. Incidentally Mr. Abu Koroma was a Kono man.
He is the father of our present First Lady. However like today the mines did not benefit the poverty stricken Sierra Leoneans it has always benefited foreigners who will borrow money from our banks and make huge turnovers which some use to dehumanize Sierra Leoneans. There had been cases of torture, abuse and trafficking of Sierra Leoneans at the hands of foreigners whose crime is eking a living by working for them. Before the war the disparity between the Konos and their commercial masters that young Kono youths started to advocate, or can I say agitate, for their rights as citizens. But those were the days when the issue of citizenship was not discussed. There is the case of a very brave guy who was nicknamed Satkish in School. He was insulted, assaulted and called Black monkey in Koidu town. Satkish could not take it and all hell was let loose in Koidu.
The youth mobilized and started attacking Lebanese shops. Police had to intervene before calm was restored. There was a time Koidu was overshadowed by a section called Small Lebanon an area where the diamond magnates of Lebanese stock stayed. I don’t know whether Small Lebanon is still its former self after the war.
In later years especially the war period a radical group of Youths of Konos formed and organization called Movement Of Concerned Kono Youth ( MOCKY.) MOCKY became a very potent rights advocacy group that gave NGOs and Duty bearers no resting time.
At times it even became violent and became frequent visitors to the police. As the years wore on its hard line stance was tempered and it focused more on development. This earned the support of prominent Kono men and women. Since the 2000s MOCKY elements have dominated the Mining advocacy spearheaded by the Campaign For Just Mining facilitated by NMJD. The fight to give a human face to mining has been tough sometimes, but what is clear is government’s recognition of the civil society as a foremost partner in development.
Some Civil Society leaders are even placed on committees to help sanitize that industry. In fact it is the ministry where the partnership with the civil society has been enormous. The fight to make the average Sierra Leonean to benefit form the diamond is still on although the gems can now be got by very big investors. This is indeed a technical knock out for the Sierra Leone who cannot garner enough funds to match foreign investors. But it looks like things will improve for the country if mining is done from a rights based perspective where the demand and supply sectors are in mutual harmony. As Robert Kennedy once said:
‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current whish can sweep down the mightiest walls of repression and resistance’
Quite recently when the anti-Corruption acted real tough rumors spread that the Commissioner was going to be relieved or he was going to resign. The rumors coincided with his external trip … this seemingly gave flame to the rumors.
Now we know the Commissioner is still at the helm of that very strategic Commission. I really don’t understand why generally people do not support moves for the general good especially an issue like fighting corruption. African governments have over the years gained bad reputations for allowing corruption to flourish unbridled under their eyes. In these days when there is international clamor for good governance dealing with corruption becomes a center point. There had been many campaigns on the diamond industry with the view to making mining benefit the country. The fight is still on and I must say that there has been marked progress. Every Government, past and present has taken the fight to another step. What has been lacking has been the necessary political will. Take the state of the Mines Monitors, are they equipped enough to do their jobs? There has always been serious dichotomy between structure and function…there is no way people are going to function properly without their being capacitated and backed up to perform. Even with new Mining Companies come onboard agreeing to improve the lot of the people living on the lands around the mines, much more needs to be done. The journey might be long but perhaps it is as interesting as the destination itself. It is good that more attention now seems to be placed on other minerals other than Diamonds. Now we are realizing that after all diamonds are not forever…What do you think?
By S. Beny Sam