The last diamond

13 February 2009 at 03:56 | 899 views

By Ahmed Ojulla Bangura, London, UK.

There is no iota of doubt that if diamonds are forever, the unethical mining and rapid land degradation is Sierra Leone is forever too. Hence, with the prevailing negativities in mining communities and how government and NGOs respond to them, it is prudence to ask what the cost on man and the environment is before the last diamond is reached or extracted in Sierra Leone.

The mining industry in Sierra Leone is one of the viable sectors for economic growth and sustained development. It has been the main source of generating both internal revenues and foreign exchange for the state. But, despite its economic viability, the industry has become a symbol of economic exploitation, political instrument or tool (Blood Diamonds) and environmental degradation.

The mining process comprises of two forms: Alluvial and Kimberlite or deep mining. However, with evidence of the present mining taking place after exhausting the top layers of the soil, mining is moving away from alluvial to deep mechanised mining. The effects of both forms of mining are becoming analogous rather than parallel.

The mining has brought about adverse social and environmental injustice in mining communities. The revenues from the diamond trade have benefited political leaders, Paramount Chiefs, Community Elders, and Government Officials etc. Apparently, the situation has widened the gap between the rich and rural poor, politics and education, ethics and capitalism, electorate and ‘political’ representatives, domestic policies and foreign influence, locals and foreigners who plunder the diamonds at the expense of the citizens.

Government is an indisputable stakeholder in addressing environmental problems, planning and implementing polices. But the absence of stern political will, patriotism but rather ill-conceived tendencies to enact and implement genuine national policies have led to corrupt mining by corrupt government officials and mining companies, exploitative diamond dealers, the scramble for potential agricultural land for mining, absence of security that encourages smuggling and provoke conflict, prevalence of economic exploitation of the deprived poor and vulnerable people, and catastrophic ecological degradation.

The mining activity has progressively degraded the land, left many potential agricultural land infertile, and effected socio-economic problems on every nook and cranny of mining communities, environmental crisis and orchestrating sustained conflict and destruction. This is evident of the sadistic ten year old civil war in Sierra Leone where both legal and illegal sale of diamonds helped financed the war. The warring diamonds used to fuel the conflict later came to be known as ‘blood diamonds’ and their dealers and conspirators (local and international, Africa and Europe, North and South) known as ‘Blood Merchants’.

There is no doubt that Sierra Leone has laws governing how mining should be undertaken and how the ecosystem should be sustained. But it is evident from the rapid land degradation happening in diamond areas in Sierra Leone that mining policies do not reflect what is happening in practice. Thus, what will life be in mining communities and our ecosystem before the last diamond is extracted?

The government of Sierra Leone needs to enact and implement policies on sustainable mining, if there are no such mining policies. If there are, what is the missing conjure for effective and efficient mining. The effectiveness and efficiency of policies depend on how they are planned and implemented. Deductively, the process of policy formulation in Sierra Leone only seeks the consultation and participation of the elite and ‘so called’ NGOs in resolving environmental problems but ignore the consultation and participation of the majority of the people affected and influenced by ecological changes. Their inclusion in decision and policy making is vital in what is Called deliberative environmental democracy. Rather, government adopted approach seems tactical, mechanical, gradual and end-of-pipe.

As years go by and mining continues, unimaginable destruction of human capital, social capital, ecology will prevail in mining communities before the last diamond is mined in Sierra Leone. Therefore, we must act now by being concerned and prevailing on government to genuinely review mining policies in Sierra Leone.