I love activists no matter what their activism is about. Without them, our leaders will become pompous and the people will rot. I particularly like their research work which serves as reminder to our leaders. But when these research findings get less accurate and misleading I get incensed.
From the UN’s Human Development Index to other reports by its specialised agencies and nongovernmental organisations, when they are based on guesstimates or old data and made to appear to be new and current, I detest them. Then I change my mind from thinking they serve as torch to believing they serve as darkening objects. Unfortunately Sierra Leone seems to be a convenient destination for researchers for this. The perception is fixed and the report can be predicted and as such it goes almost unchallenged. The worst place in the world for a child to be born, the worst place for a woman to be pregnant, etc, etc, the reports go.
I have read the beautifully laid-out and facts-filled report launched here last week titled “Digging in the dirt: Child Miners in Sierra Leone’s Diamond Industry” by the International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School. While I agree with most of the facts and figures of what transpires in the mines, I strongly disagree with the notion or even the stated position that that is what the reality is for children.
I mined to raise my fees to be able to go to college. Not as a child I must hasten to add. I remember growing up in Kono where I mined and in Tongo in 1991 where I got my fees to college, the number of children in the mines competed with the adult’s. They were eking out a living for themselves and their parents. Most times it looked like slavery in all but name. But the truth is that it has petered out.
Early last year I visited both Kono and Tongo at least twice on each occasion to research on the mines including the state of child miners. To my amazement in Tongo, there was not a single child miner at any of the mines that I visited – Kpandebu, Sandeima to Buima and Labour Camp. And the visit was spontaneous. People did not know me in the first place so they could not have hidden from me. I remember asking one of the officials working in the mining industry who told me that it was thanks to the initiatives of nongovernmental organisations and successive governments.
“Child labour in artisanal mining is common” says the report. I think this is nothing beyond an old truth. In Kono for example, World Vision worked flat out for years to place child miners into schools. The project closed because there were no longer children in the mines I am told by an official working for the organisation in the area. And this has been confirmed by some of the most critical minds I know in the area. For the report to say therefore that there has been a failure either by government or other agencies “to address the widespread use of child miners” or that there is a “widespread use of children for mining-related activities in the country’s diamond mines” is in question.
The report does well in highlighting the fact that children in the mining areas deserve better education than they are getting at the moment. This is due largely to the fact that very few educational and recreational facilities exist in these areas and that well-trained teachers all too often want to live in urban areas where the pastures are greener. This is why I think that Government should provide more incentives for teachers in remote areas than for their counterparts in big towns and cities. It may not be in the area of higher or better pay because those in big towns spend more money on transportation and feeding, but plucking them out from their cocoons for overseas and other advance training programmes. Additionally, the tendency and temptation are very great for teachers in mining areas to pay little attention to teaching and more to mining.
But back to Digging in the Dirt, like many other reports before it, the issue of child mining is an attractive one especially to highlight child labour. But I think doing so to the point where it paints the country undeservedly too bleaker is unfair to say the least. It the researchers had bothered to state clearly that their findings in the area of child miners were a bit or may be a lot older than they want to make us believe, or even outdated that would have put their report beyond reproach and my country beyond scorn.
Apart from the problems I have with the correctness or otherwise of the research findings as they relate to child miners, it is the image this kind of report creates for a country synonymous for all the ills in the world, rightly or wrongly that is my bother. I have not been much bothered by successive UN Human Development Index reports in the past years that consistently put us at the bottom of the world even though I had problems with some of the categories. But the fact that the UN would state clearly that their data were based on figures they obtained many, many years ago assuaged me. But I ask myself why release such report about a country there are no latest data on.
I know we are really lagging behind most of the rest of the world. But I definitely believe that if the data the UN used had been more recent, Sierra Leone would definitely have made some upward move in the last three to four years. In my view the Harvard Law School report could have either been deliberately skewed, or old data were used and made to look recent. I know the team were here last year or so…but I still doubt the state of child mining in Tongo and Koidu and its environs is as presented in their report.
That said, I agree with most of their recommendations such as those calling for free primary and secondary education, provision of secondary schools in areas outside of district headquarter towns and looking after the welfare of former child miners. I will even say that the entire miner-sponsor relationship should be looked into very carefully with a view to ending the near servitude that goes on in the mining areas. People mine, get their find, and then someone who has been giving them pittance calling it sponsorship just takes over complete ownership of the gem. Many of the miners sleep on the bare floor and when they are sick, they are only given Panadol when they are lucky. In environments where clean drinking water is almost nonexistent, health care service is almost nil and pneumonia is on the prowl in these areas.
By Umaru Fofana