The ripest fruit is the saddest, according to Nigeria’s Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka. In Nigeria, the deprivation endured by the people of Ogoniland where oil has meant spoil for the people is akin to what obtains in Kono. Kono, the perfect example of that ripe fruit with everybody wanting to jump to get it or use any other, mostly foul, means to do so. Consequently, not only is the ripe fruit sad because it will soon be plucked pluckily, but also because unripe fruits will be ravaged with rave. The ripest fruit, indeed the saddest!
Kono is the maladroitness of maladministration at its peak Sierra Leone’s real ilk with so much milk yet most are sick. A district that is very rich yet so poor; Endowed by nature like a rain pour. Blessed with diamond and gold; Cursed by its sell-out chiefs and successive stupid central government policies that have left its people to companies sold. Mining companies interested only in making profits. Mining concessions given mala fide! Leaving the place in a state of decrepit, with pits and tailings towering over the land. Lagoons and lakes put lives at stake, as uncontrolled mining by artisanal miners tears the environment apart. Kono looks on course to being cursed, because of its rich mineral resources. The ripest fruit, indeed the saddest!
In this north eastern district, diamonds were first discovered in 1930. Ever since, all sorts of diamonds of all sizes and sparks and sparkles have followed. But what have also followed have been agony, poverty, deprivation and destitution, laying waste to Kono. Even before the war which ravaged the district for the reason it should have been protected its diamonds Kono had no donor. Its people have always been fed by politicians with an increasingly fragile bubble of self-delusion that may pop very soon if sense does not pop up in the heads of our leaders. The ripest fruit, indeed the saddest!
From Malians to Senegalese, Gambians and now South Africans and even Europeans, all but Kono have prospered on account of Kono. Its children can hardly afford quality education, good drinking water or a proper health care; not to mention its roads that are among the worst in the country. Kono, that ripe fruit, is indeed sad!
Recent happenings in the district are ominous. Even though not well organised, save that some elements are apparently involved in it for some political but also financial gains, these incidents can degenerate into something sinister. In December last year it was against Koidu Holdings. In the last two weeks, it has been against Kariba Mining. Youth have been emboldened by government ambivalence, but also with government connivance in some instances. When these jobless young men carry out an orgy that suits the sinister intent of anti-people politicians, it is condoned. When they stroll around with a cap pulled down very low over his eyes behaving as gangsters, as long as it is in the interest of the party in power, it is normal and lauded. Kono is indeed sad!
Successive governments have compromised the local chiefs who have sought to compromise progressive elements. The former SLPP government acquiesced to it by sponsoring a parallel youth group when young boys came together to defend their home under the Movement for Concerned Kono Youths (Mocky). The government made an agreement, maybe arrangement, with Koidu Holdings which looked so suspect. Mention anything critical of the company, from President Tejan Kabbah to Minister of Mines Swarray-Deen would sound so defence of the company and so condemnatory of you that you would doubt your right of expression existed. So also were the Area, Town and Paramount chiefs of the area mining plot. They would call you all sorts of names. People were cowed. They did not even care about the welfare of the people. Consequently, Koidu Holdings was being endangered, even if they had the best of intentions. Kono, where is your happiness?
Now it is the turn of the APC. Some party officials propping up some youth to undermine some diamond mining companies by unleashing violence against them. This, despite a current review of the mining license of companies which I think is a laudable venture. Mediocre youth who have played into the hands of politicians at the expense of the majority. All because someone wants to cow Kono and its people again into submission. This cannot work. If it does, it will be all but temporary. Because Kono will get happy one day soon.
Called “vultures” by the late Ogoni rights activist and playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa, some chiefs and youth have been selling out the rest of the district in their selfish interest only. In a bid to apparently deliver hitherto unfulfilled campaign promises, youth are being instigated to target mining companies to frustrate them; something that is tantamount to further suffocating the district’s local economy and the country’s as well as it will make employment even scarcer. As Koidu Holdings unload more staff, investor confidence will wane as companies feel no protection from a regime change that deflects attention and criticism and assigns blame. It is a classic case of a country where politics is a business and not a mission, and a land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. Kono must be made happy.
It was probably in the year 2003 or so, former vice president and then head of a government commission Dr Albert Joe Demby and I were having a chat with a UNHCR official in Koidu. Asked what he made of the town and how soon he thought it would take to pick up again, Dr Demby quickly remarked “in two or three years the town will be rebuilt”. I interjected in a way that is not typical of me, and challenged the former VP. I believed then that government’s interest was anything but developing the place. Diamonds and wealth were all they needed. Kono became the saddest!
Sadly, despite having a native of Kono as vice president of the country today, I hold the same view. The SLPP had and still has a strong support in the district. Despite that, or may be because of it, they took the place for granted. Today, the APC is using every tactic to impose itself on the people of Kono apparently through the vice president. This can only boomerang. In the words of the Sierra Leonean musician, Thomas George: “L’amour ce n’est pas la guerre. Ce n’est pas la force pour aimer quelqu’un”. Loosely translated, love is not a war, and it is not by force to let someone love or like you. Kono, you will know love someday!
I subscribe to the Jenkins Johnston Panel recommendation that calls for the surface rights and the deep rights to be given to the people of mining communities. In all future agreements between government and mining companies, the people of the community must be taken into considerations in more ways than just having their chiefs onboard. The district needs a Ken Saro-Wiwa to be their conscience. Otherwise mining communities will erupt like a volcano if they feel hard done by. In the words of Martin Luther-King Jr, “Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice.” And “Violence is the voice of the unheard.” Kono, you will soon taste sweet, not only in the mouths of unscrupulous people, but on the tongue of the ordinary man and woman in Bumpeh and Woama.
If you want to react to the author’s views, please email him: <[email protected]> By Umaru Fofana