Many truths surrounding the mining industry are rarely reported. As a sample of my mining research from Alaska to Sierra Leone, enjoy this cover story I wrote for the Express Weekly in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
By Eric M. K. Yovonie and Joshua Tucker, the Weekly Express. Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Making arrests and seizing mining tools and a hunting rifle, a joint patrol of the Sierra Police Force (SLP) Kamakwie Division, and the Sierra Leone Biodiversity Conservation Project (SLBCP) Park Rangers raided an Illegal gold mining camp in the Outamba Kilimi National park on January 23 2012 as miners ran away.
But SLBCP rangers have discovered a total of at least five illegal mining camps within the park. Nabieu Kamara, Who identified himself as "the chairman of the miners," according to SLBCP park rangers was arrested and spent the night at the Kamakwie Police Station.
Nabieu Kamara was released from police custody after SLBCP Project Management Team came to an agreement the next day with Tambaka Regent Chief, Kolleh Kamara, the former Chiefdom Speaker, and Chiefdom Authorities "assured us that they will stop the illegal mining," says SLBCP National Project Manager Gilbert Koker.
Park Rangers reported to Koker that they saw over 300 miners at the site. "We gave them a deadline," Koker says, "we are just waiting for the deadline, and if they don't do it we will take another action. But we are gong to give them until the deadline which is the third of February. After which if we find them mining we are going to take the police there and arrest and prosecute them."
But Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of police for the Northern Region, Joseph Kabia says, " it is not a question of a deadline. They should stop immediately. If someone is robbing your house you can not tell them to stop in five days."
"Wildlife conservation is my first priority in terms of security for the Kamakwie Division," Kabia says. "I have therefore ordered that all illegal mining stop now."
In 1995 300,000 acres, which was previously under the jurisdiction of Tambaka Chiefdom, was designated as Outamaba Kilimi National Park - Sierra Leone's first national park. Community members made claims and were compensated by the government for the loss of their land use rights.
"This morning a member of our staff saw an elephant," says Koker. "This is very new. They have been migrating to other countries, but they are coming back because the forest staff are securing the park to ensure that the hunters are not killing in the park. Because two years ago hunters killed two elephants. Now that the elephants are coming back we have to make sure the habitat is very safe for the animals. We have to stop mining activities. we have to stop hunting and farming and then the animals will come back and the park will be a place where people can see animals. Otherwise the animals will go very far away to Guinea."
The reports of Illegal gold mining that lead to the raid came from SLBCP Rangers in Outomba Kilimi National Park (OKNP). "I called on the resident minister Ali Kamara and told him about the problem and that we needed some support," Koker says."So he contacted AIG Katia in Makeni and told him to support the SLBCP. So our Project Management Team went to see the AIG to express to him further the problem and he took it very seriously."
Sitting behind his imposing desk, AIG Kabia recounts how the raid took place. "I immediately informed Kamakwie Division Local Unit Commander (LUC) Samba Alfred Kargbo who took prompt action together with the conservation team," AIG Kabia says. "They went to the site, and as a team, took appropriate action by getting the community people involved. Upon arrival of the police, (the miners) ran away and abandoned the sites. The team told them that it is illegal mining and advised the people they caught that they could be prosecuted and taken to court by the police."
Upon arrival in the village of Gberia inside the park, Police Inspector Marah, in charge of operations, discovered the freshly butchered carcass of an antelope at the home of a woman who was in possession of a hunting rifle, according to LUC Kargbo.
"I have the rifle at the Kamakwie police station," Kargbo says. The woman in possession of the hunting rifle was arrested and taken to the Kamakwie Police Station. Shovels and head pans used for mining, which were seized from another house, were also confiscated.
"i am just coming from the park today," says Koker Wednesday February 1. In what may be the last lap for illegal miners as the deadline was less the 48 hours away, Koker says he saw "so many motor bikes crossing the river with tools like head pans, shovels and bags of rice. They were taking those items into the park. (The mining) is still continuing. Even when we had a dialogue with the chiefdom authorities and they assured us that they will have their subjects out of the park and all illegal mining will stop and they told us to give them until the third of February as the deadline."
Reacting to AIG Kabia's order that all illegal mining must stop immediately, Koker says he was pleased that, when the police returned, "they confiscated the water pump that (the miners) used to pump water out of the pits."
With decades of experience leading police officers, AIG Kabia says, "When I was in Lungi,, such a small division, I had seven vehicles. Now at the AIG level, I only have five vehicles, which is not enough. I need four light vans, five motor bikes and two trucks. That will help us police OKNP."
The SLBCP also needs more resources to tackle the problems they are facing stopping illegal Mining, Koker says, "Currently we don't have the number of field staff we need to do the job. We have just trained a few staff with basic equipment like GPS and cameras."
Describing the responsibilities of SLBCP, Koker says, "We are asking the government to monitor two other conservation sites, the Loma Mountains Forest Reserve and the Kangeri hills Forest Reserve. We also want these conservation sites to be upgraded to the national park level. That is the objective of this project. There is no mining taking place in the Loma Mountains, but there is gold mining taking place in the Kangeri Hills Forest Reserve. We have taken the matter up with the Ministry of Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security to figure out how to solve the problem of the mining in the Kangeri hills."
Gbakoro Porah Momorie Marah is the principal of St. Anthony Jr. Secondary School in the village of Yiffin in the Loma Mountains in Nieni Chiefdom, Koinadugu District.
"We heard that the Loma Mountains are in a forest reserve that has been allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security for a long time now, since the seventies," Marah says. "it was agreed that nobody should farm, hunt, or cut down the trees which affected the people. Though the people accepted the agreement, the law was not enforced. People were still farming, hunting and cutting down trees. Now the process has been made into a project that will manage the forest. (The People) are now doing what they were supposed to do a long time ago. It is only now (the government) is sensitizing the people about why they should preserve the forest by explaining the benefits - (the people) are beginning to comply."
Sharing the work SLBCP is doing in the villages, Koker says "We have held a workshops to educate the people about natural resource management. How they can manage the resources so that they can get benefits. We hold meetings. In fact, we also have educational programs with schools because we have to start educating the young people coming up. about wildlife conservation. So we have only started. We are going to continue the education work. so that people will appreciate nature."
Principal Marah explained how students in his school learn about different ecosystems, the network of relationships between living things in the environment, in their social studies classes.
"if there is a famine it will destroy the biodiversity," Marah says. "With the introduction of this project reserving the land we have understood that maintaining the Loma Mountains Forest Reserve will maintain a constant supply of water to the Bumbona Dam."
Dreaming big with his hopes for the OKNP, Koker says "we want the wildlife to be there, the birds, the antelope and the elephants. The American Ambassador was there two days ago and he spent two nights in the park so you see it is a tourist attraction. The tourists want to see the place. They want to see the animals. If illegal activities are taking place this can drive the animals far away."
Laying out the possible advantages for people in his village of Yiffin of developing the Loma Mountains Forest Reserve as a tourist destination, Marah says, "some of the benefits are employment, housing facilities for workers in the preserve, and the building of guest houses. They have built more buildings. These structures have direct benefits for the people. With employment they will be able to buy their local commodities. With the preservation of the Loma Mountans, ecological benefits will come that minimize the effects of global warming and maintain the sources and quality of water in the environment. By not hunting, there will be biodiversity of both plant and animal species. Having this biodiversity attracts tourists, and will bring income to the community and the tourist industry."
Sounding like he is hoping for the best, Koker says, "the success story here is the further dialogue with the communities and that the Chiefdom Authorities have assured us that all the illegal mining will stop in the park. (That Mining)had been going on for some time,"
Koker says. "We have told them that there are other areas they can go to mine."
Only time will tell if the SLBCP and the Police can back up their words with enough law enforcement resources and community eduction to defend the OKNP and the forest preserves from the illegal activities t that threaten to stop these sensitive areas from becoming the biological gems, tourist attractions and local economic engines that they could be.