An Emerging Menace to our Society
It takes a little foresight and effort to envision that should things continue in the current vein much longer, Kono is going to experience a major eruption. The rate at which things are degenerating in the district seriously borders on the frightening. In recent times, the district has manifested a seeming willingness to swap its legendary and much revered reputation of being the ‘bread basket of Sierra Leone’ for a more demeaning and worrying one-the trouble basket of Sierra Leone. Since the 1930s, Kono district has established itself as one that is very crucial to the economic development of this country. 78 years down the line, its diamonds have contributed immensely to the enhancement and attainment of our economic aspirations, though it has to be mentioned that these diamonds have also exposed the district to despicable devastation and plundering over the years. The 11-year civil war in the country remains the highlight of such ravaging. Evidently, in the past months, indigenes of the district have been forced to constantly reminisce the nightmarish days this nation went through not long ago, as Kono assumes a Gaza reputation. And as powder keg after powder keg sparks one skirmish after the other, self styled situational analysts have been quick to jump to conclusions, postulating baseless theories in a bid to explain this litany of unpleasantries. However, realising the danger there is in missing the point, I have taken some time out to zero in on the deluge of dramatic episodes that have garnished Kono with an array of diabolical colours, with a view to establishing their antecedents. Whilst concepts as to what has led to the sudden eruption of violence in Kono abound, I present you my take:
Sowing the Seeds of Violence
A flitting retrospection into the budding days of the APC government will reveal that this lingering spate of lawlessness and violence in Kono was cultivated just after the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in October 2007. It commenced with sporadic attacks on the persons and property of people deemed to be anti-APC. This episode featured acts ranging from stabbing to molestation of religious people to the burning of houses. With that introduction, the hooliganism graduated into the invasion of mining concession. First to be visited was the Sierra Leone Diamond Company’s (SLDC) concession in Tefeya. These hoodlum of youth, using their all too familiar password; “den bin promise wi say wae den win den go gi wi di san san” besieged the SLDC concession and waged a ferocious war on their sand. For reasons not far removed from politics, not even a finger was raised by anyone. And so it went until the youth thought they had had enough. This obviously had some serious financial implications on the company and as a result they had to retrench about 500 of their workers.
Just as the dust was settling down at SLDC, the marauders diverted their attentions to Koidu Holdings. They literarily annexed the whole perimeter of the company’s concession, mining it with impunity, and reacting with an unbelievable degree of violence at any attempt to stop them. Clearly revelling in their newly found immunity, the youth even revisited reclaimed mining sites and relived the Kaisambo days. If SLDC suffered political victimisation, Koidu Holdings suffered worse. It took a reverberating uproar from the media and ceaseless complaints from the company for government to somehow get them off the company’s concession. What followed after that was a demonstration supposedly organised by a ’13-Man Committee’ against Koidu Holdings but actuated by disgruntled illicit miners, which resulted into two deaths and several injuries. In the wake of the demonstration, a clearly uninformed jury came out on Koidu Holdings and did all it could to unjustly shift the blame on it for all that happened. However, in their own account, the company took exception to the varying indictment levelled against it. It was its position that the demonstration was the machination of disgruntled illicit miners.
Koidu Holdings noted that even though it might be true that some of the demonstrators were affected property owners, the greater majority of them were people who were chased from their concession. They even mentioned names of people they positively identified. For government, all of that was balderdash. They have gotten Koidu Holdings where they wanted them. It is pay back time. Their claims were later validated when it was discovered that the two people who died during the demonstration lived several kilometres away from the company’s concession. In spite of this, the next thing that happened was the suspension of the company’s operation and a commission of enquiry set up. A state of being that has dragged to date and has resulted into the retrenchment of almost 500 workers. And notwithstanding the delay in completing its work, the Jenkins Johnston Commission of Enquiry could not find anything tangible on the company. Consequently, to keep themselves busy for the duration of the enquiry, the youth paid a brief visit to the African Mineral Mining Company, where they ransacked claiming the company is not doing anything for the chiefdom.
Power to the Youth
After an agonisingly long wait, the Commission’s report came out along side government’s White Paper. Whilst the informed minds were aghast at what they saw in the White Paper, there was a general air of clairvoyance amongst the youth in Koidu as they perceived the White Paper, which is largely a reflection of their demands and an endorsement of their actions, a personal victory. So, unsurprisingly, the publication of the White Paper is brought with it renewed impetus and a sudden reinvigoration for the youth. They celebrated their achievement by firstly attacking SLPP Parliamentarians and supporters at the Kumba Satta Amara Resource Centre. The show they put up is something you will want to forget quickly; women stripping bare in a show of support to the Vice President and men pelting the SLPP gathering with stones and motherly invectives in a show of support to the APC. The police had to intervene before the SLPP supporters could get some respite.
In less than a week after that, the evil train this time decided to make a stop at No. 11 Plant, a concession owned by Kariba Mining Company. After announcing themselves as APC youth who had ‘orders from above to wash the sand,’ they unsuccessfully attempted to force their way into the concession. They left promising to come back. And come back they did. This time they came in their thousands and easily gained control of the sand. As the demoralised Police Officers deployed at the concession stood by, they carted trip after trip of the sand comprehensively and with an out of this world peace of mind. Apparently, the youth, having seen decision No. 1 of the White Paper; the prosecution of the Police Officers, who allegedly fired at the protesters, assumed rightly that no Police Officer would want to suffer the same fate. For three days therefore, the Police, the company and the district authorities stood by as over 2,000 youth turned the Kariba concession topsy-turvy.
When government finally decided to sacrifice some votes by ordering the police to chase them away from the concession, the youth felt betrayed and hard done by their allies who had promised them during the elections campaign that once they are in office, the sand is going to be theirs. Overwhelmed with fury, they stormed the town. Once again Kono is under siege. The youth went on the rampage, attacking people, destroying property and looting what they could. Their main objective, it was learnt, was to raze the Tankoro Police Station as they did the one around Morta Theatre during the Koidu Holdings saga. On their way, they disarmed one Police Sergeant and allegedly used the pistol and some other guns they had to fire shots in the air. With the Military around, they were halted. And once more a curfew was declared to restore amity.
As the serenity was beginning to take hold, news broke out that there was an uprising at Tefeya as youths again have run riot against the Milestone Mining Company venturing to wreak havoc on their personnel and machines. The people had barely absorbed this information, when it emerged again that the youth were demonstrating against Swanfield Mining Company. They said they wanted the company out of their chiefdom because it does not employ them. Obviously, the violence and lawlessness was becoming contagious. And there was no doubt that the youth were in control-immune to prosecution and immune to condemnation.
Why the Lawlessness and Violence in Kono?
Of course, pseudo analysts will conveniently tell you it is the result of strained relationship between the companies and the community. Or that it is a consequence of the companies’ lack of effective Public and or community relations strategies. But if you say the lawlessness is induced by the relationship factor, then one cannot help but ask; in this case who has got the problem, the companies or the people? I find it very hard to believe that all the companies will have bad relationships with the Kono people at the same time. So if it is not the companies, then it goes without saying that some thing is fundamentally wrong with the people themselves. Rightly or wrongly, I think people just wanted to take a chance and see how far they can impose themselves.
However, having painstakingly studied the situation, I see just two fault lines as the catalysts of the problems in Kono; Politics and Diamonds. The level of politics in this country at the moment is shocking. Much as they come across as teetotallers and dumbbells, the youth are not complete dunces. They have seen in the over politicisation of things in the country an avenue to exploit and they are doing just that. The youth, be it APC, SLPP, PMDC or NDA supporters, have detected that the fear of a return to the political wilderness has seen the APC hustling for votes even before the President was inaugurated and therefore is inclined to embrace anything politically viable at the expense of economic development and stability. This, certain officials in the government have demonstrated by ordering the release of youth arrested in demonstrations and other lawless acts. Hence the sudden ship jumping by the youth, even if temporarily. Allied to the fore-going is the realisation that the Vice President is very keen on making Kono his stronghold, especially after his lacklustre performance in the Parliamentary election. And with the Local Council Elections beckoning, there could be no better opportunity to ascertain the progress they have made in this direction, if there is any, than the July showdown. Thus, they are wary of the fact that pushing the youth will rob them of valuable votes, which is why almost everything the youth have done to date has been tacitly endorsed by government. A fact they seem oblivious of though is that if they are not careful, in their hunt for votes, they will lose more votes in the process. In essence, what we have here is a situation where the government lacks the political will to make crucial decisions even when the fundamental rights of the human person are threatened.
The role diamonds have played in most of the skirmishes in Kono are often missed or ignored. As a matter of fact, they are the underlying factor of all the chaos in the district. Prior to the advent of all of the current mining companies, mining was more or less a free for all activity in Kono, where every Tom, Dick and Harry will carve a niche for him/herself. In other words, people mined where they wanted and wasted money with reckless abandon knowing a trip to the mining site the next day will make up for that. However, ever since the arrival of these mining companies, which seem to occupy all of the remaining diamondiferous areas, the rest of mankind have been left to languish in mined out areas, where it is even easier to find manna than to find diamonds. So, with easy diamonds disappearing, all the frustrations and antagonisms are directed towards the companies that supposedly monopolise the lucrative areas. As a result, with the prompting of diamond dealers, some of whom have been identified, these youth are always ready to jump at any opportunity of illicitly mining these concessions. And when one does not present itself, they will create the situation, as they have expertly done in the past months. It is therefore clear that no matter what these companies do, they will never be able to endear themselves to especially the unemployed youth. They will always find something to demonstrate about against these companies. Therefore, contrary to postulations from the poor relationship school of thought, what is happening has got nothing to do with poor public and or community relations.
The Looming Doom
Whilst this government has busied itself politicking, this country is heading for doom. Their decision to turn a blind eye to the anarchical and chaotic activities of particularly Kono youth is going to create a situation that will endanger the lives of our citizenry. To address the impasse between Koidu Holdings and the Koidu community, they published a White Paper that overly endorsed the lawlessness of the youth and motivated them to do more. It is unbelievable that no one, not even the local authorities condemned the behaviours of the youth. Even the way the local media reported their exploits, they did so as if they just exercised their rights. Now, we are face to face with reality and I am afraid what it holds is not pleasing to the heart. In less than nine months in office, over 1,000 youths have lost their jobs under the APC governance, and many more are set to miss out on employment. By every indication, the sequence the retrenchments are taking in the mining companies is very much in agreement with the sequence of their woes. First it was SLDC with 500, and then Koidu Holdings with almost the same figure plus another 120 from Group Securicor, the security company contracted by Koidu Holdings. By the end of this month, African Minerals is going to retrench over 100, Milestone, 80% of its staff, Kariba is gradually folding up whilst Sierra Rutile is set to lay off over 100. All of these companies are taking this decision not because they want to, but because they have been forced by the prevailing situation. The environment is no longer conducive for especially companies in Kono, they cannot vouch for the safety of their staff and equipment and financially, they are running at a loss. At a time when such a destructive whirlwind is being unleashed, all our government talks about is symbols allocation and the Local Councils Election.
The implications of such a state of being are massive. Aside the huge loss of finances on the part of government, it also poses a security threat. Kono is one district that is home to a large percentage of ex-combatants and companies like Koidu Holdings had almost 30% of its staff comprising them, just as the other companies have employed a good number of them. With all these people losing their jobs, there is going to be an astronomical increase in crime rate. Already, they have started killing each other over gravels at night. Admittedly, it is hard to understand how a government could be so oblivious to the economic and security realities of its country that they completely downplay the significance of the current state of things in Kono. However, whilst they continue to politik and bask in their newly found bliss, let them pay heed to the fact that Kono is on the verge of eruption if they do not act now. Understandably, people have been erroneously comforting themselves with the illusion that even if the current companies in Kono fold up, other companies are going to come. Not in their Nelly. No sober minded investor is going to look at this situation and put his hard earned money in it. What has happened has seriously dented investor confidence and we are even lucky that none of these companies is yet to declare Force Majeure.