Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend; Except if You Live in Kono District,

Abdulai Mansaray, author
Abdulai Mansaray, author

The Kono descendants have called for a worldwide demonstration on the 23/04/16 at the offices of Tiffany & Co in London.  According to information, Tiffany & Co is sharing a financial partnership with OCTEA; the sole owner of Koidu Holdings Ltd. Koidu holdings is known as the largest mining company in Sierra Leone. The District seems to literally subscribe to the James Bond series that “Diamonds are forever”. It is an undeniable fact that with the exception of a few selfish indigenes, diamonds have rather been a CURSE than a Blessing to its people. You cannot run away from the fact that the discovery of diamonds, since the 1930s in Kono District has not brought its own sunny side to the inhabitants. Try balancing what has been taken out of the land with what the land has received in return.

During the days of Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) and National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), there was effort made by these respective companies to demonstrate some sense of social /community responsibility. Some of us could remember the days of Clerks’ Quarters, Ducanne , the Rugby and Tennis Clubs. Scholarships were offered to children of their employees. Although most of these facilities were tailored to suit the needs of the “white masters”; or is it exploiters?, the majority of the workers could feed off the crumbs of such luxury; albeit from a relative distance.  In those days, you could be forgiven to conclude that SLST and NDMC had a sense corporate responsibility towards their landlords. If truth be told, Kono deserved more; especially when gauged against the background of what was being siphoned out of the country. That was then and this is now. If anyone had any resentment for what SLST and NDMC did to the mining industry in Kono, today’s OCTEA and Kono Holdings seem to make them look like saints. The world wide demonstrations that have been called for by various groups of concerned citizens in the diaspora could be safely described as a culmination of anger from more than half a century of moral, economic and political abuse; at the hands of both foreign and sadly, some “sons of the soil”.

It is alleged that “in a recent ruling in Sierra Leone, the high court determined that OCTEA is not entitled to pay taxes because the parent company is not legally registered to do business in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, the same court determined that Koidu Holdings is exempt from paying taxes to the local community” (Critiqueecho.com 21/04/16). If this is anything to go by, then tax evasion, which is not a crime in some parts of the world, comes to mind. While many will see this as a blatant disregard for social responsibility on the part of the company, others may see this as “accounting and gymnastics”. In the cold light of day, Kono District has always suffered, and continues to suffer from mass financial abuse.  Since the inception of OCTEA, there have been reports of people being forcibly removed and their houses been demolished to make way for “serious mining”. There have been reported deaths from debris flying from explosions in the kimberlite mining. There have also been allegations of skirmishes and fights between inhabitants and law enforcement agencies. In some cases, there have been reported deaths. By this token, one does not need to travel all the way to South Africa to know what Apartheid looks or feels like. You can taste it in Kono; where you are made to feel like a “foreign citizen”.

It is difficult to objectively comment on the goings on within the mining industry in Kono, from the safety of a desktop. However, you don’t need to be an Einstein to know that diamonds have been a curse rather than a blessing to our district. As a result of its richness in gold and diamonds, Kono district bore the brunt of the rebel war. In spite of its resources in gold and diamond, Kono district remains one of the least developed. What makes this notion gnawingly agonising is the fact that the land is awash with natural resources, but the majority have little to show for it. The situation in Kono is a gentle reminder of the proverbial man that is sitting by the banks of the river and washing his hands with spittle. If anyone cares to know about the devastating after effects of mining in a community, you just need to visit Yengema town. During its hegemony days, it was the place to be. Kono District is slowly waking up from its slumber of destruction. In comparison to other places, the recovery is at a snail’s pace. Nowhere is this ably demonstrated than the mining town of Yengema; where the ghosts of the war are visibly evident. I take no pleasure in saying that it is in a sorry state. A visit to the town is sure to leave you with an affliction of “nostalgiasis”. You need the conscience of a chain saw not to shed a tear.

The proposed demonstration seems to send a message that “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but can’t fool all the people all of the time”. It looks like the descendants want to avoid the same mistakes our fore bearers made in the past. As Kono waits to have a sip from the trough of “Agenda for Change” and “Agenda for Prosperity”, the hope against hope is that the district and its people will get their deserved juice from its blessings. By the way, the rehabilitation of the Kono-Tonkolili road is on track and was a welcome relief on my last visit; thanks to the Ernest Bai Koroma’s government. If this is anything to go by, the hope is that President Koroma will fix his development radar firmly on the long suffering of the district; for it would be folly wise to bite the hand that feeds you. In case you forget, YOU NA WE KOMANEH OH.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

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