Raping of Liberia’s minerals

The raping, observers say, is ignoring recent announcement by the Sirleaf Administration that all inherited concessionaire agreements and rights were suspended for review. According to them the raping was going on at the time the United Nations, EU, and other members of the donor community are adamant that they would contribute to efforts to jumpstart the Liberian economy only if Liberia showed indications that it has control over the exploration and exploitation of its mineral and forest resources and that the revenue generated from such economic activities would benefit the majority of Liberia’s impoverished population. Perhaps it is in realisation of where the international community and the Sirleaf Administration stand on the issue of mineral tapping versus appropriate legislation that prompted the locals in the Kungbor District to express outrage, this week, at the wild abandon with which local certificate-brandishing miners and the American Mining Associates (AMA) were ravaging and ripping diamonds and other hard currency earners with no regards for the welfare of operation areas. Mohammed Swaray, a local community development chairman, is outraged over an alleged illicit diamond mining operations of the American Mining Associates (AMA) in Kungbor District in Gbarpolu County. Like Mohammed, several citizens of the district are also not happy about the AMA activities. The citizens said it is preposterous that AMA continues to carry out mining activities in their district while the United Nations’ ban on diamond and timber industries is still in force. According to them, AMA was indiscriminately and illicitly exploiting the diamond deposits in the region especially near Kungbor, a town along Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone. Each day, they told our reporter, gigantic earthmoving and mineral washing equipments belonging to AMA were seen gulping precious gems from the land without reference to them or regard for their welfare. “What is perplexing about the massive digging of the diamond here is that Government is not doing anything to arrest the illicit mining,” a youthful resident in Kungbor told The Analyst. “In fact, it is a matter of time before AMA begins razing some villages that prospectors believe are sitting on diamonds. There are threats by the company to relocate villages forcibly so that it can have access to what it claims to be gems upon which the villages are situated,” said Sarnor Kollie who called himself ‘concerned citizen’. What was angering most citizens, according to Kollie, was that individuals claiming to be agents of the Ministry of Lands and Mines were aiding and abetting the raping of the gems without bothering to explain to the locals what was happening and how they would benefit in keeping with the new political and economic dispensation that the Sirleaf Administration has been preaching. The residents specifically accused Charles Dagoseh, Director for Mines, and James Konuwa, Assistant Minister for Mines of the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy of aiding and abetting the AMA exploits. Town Chief Vaniba Sheriff told The Analyst during a day-long investigative tour conducted by The Analyst over the weekend that AMA headed by Gene Bryge and a Lebanese, Alieyou Ussuf, and his Liberian wife Muna Ussef are involved in illicit mining, an act the chief described as a violation to the UN security sanction on diamonds. Chief Vaniba said they are operating in the Liberian forest with the alleged approval of Dagoseh and Konuwa, officials of the ministry. “The only thing that is hurting me is that AMA claims it has bought the entire town and therefore request that citizens vacate or be expelled,” the chief said. “Where does this American company expect us to move to? Is it serious for us to leave the town of our forefathers and be displaced in our own county? Government needs to come out with an investigation and a solution in this serious matter. If the Government feels that sanctions hovering over the country are not important, we the citizens matter.” He said despite the illicit mining activities in the county, the AMA has refused to help the locals improve their livelihood by employing them. According to him, the management instead has chosen to employ Sierra Leonean, Malians, and Mauritanians. Mr. Sheriff said on several occasions the citizens attempted to disrupt the operation of illicit mining in the county but that Messrs Dargoseh and Konuwa, upon receiving the information about the citizens’ plans, immediately dispatched personnel of the Liberian National Police to provide security for the AMA operation. “Mr. Journalist, go and see the sophisticated mining equipment that AMA is using to mine diamonds in the district despite the fact that Liberia is under UN diamond sanctions,” the chief said. “We want the president to know about the illicit mining activities in this district. Go and see the open holes they dug and left behind and see how many more they dig daily and think what will happen when this continues for the next five to ten years.” Indicating that AMA was not doing anything in the interest of citizens despite the exploitation, he said the company failed to construct the drinking well it promised residents two years ago. He said without doing anything to address the failure to make good its promise to the residents, employees of AMA were, without remorse of conscience, drawing drinking water from a hand-pump installed by German Argo, an international non-governmental organization operating in the area. According him, residents of the district have realized too late and at their disadvantage that AMA was using the well promise as a cover to conduct mineral exploration in the area. He said haven’t noticed that no diamonds were at the location marked for the hand pump AMA began the damaging of gravesites in search of diamonds. “They even dug up the recreation center built for our children,” he said. Raymond Kpoto, Chairman of the Kungbor District Youth Association, said the operations of AMA were intended to endanger the assistance the international community promised to provide for the Sirleaf Administration, adding, “My county will be seen as a defiant society amongst the comity of nations.” The AMA claimed to have built bridges, schools, markets, shelters of the locals, offices of immigration, but nothing has been done in the district, he said. “The AMA alleged that they have purchased the entire clan from the Lands and Mines Ministry. Because of that, they put their security forces on the alert to arrest and detain anyone caught mining in the area. Sometime their security people are assisted by some officers of National Police who are acting on the directive of assistant minister-designate James Konuwa,” said one resident. He said the AMA security guards, headed by one Eric Doe III, were wearing army uniforms and carrying handcuffs. According to some residents who spoke with our reporter, security guards of AMA were in the habit of ill-treating and intimidating those who dare mine diamond or challenge their right to mine in the area. “I am not in support of the AMA operation. They came here before the war, but they failed to do something positive for this district,” said Kungbor District Development Chairman Mohammed Swaray. He added, “We expect any company besides the AMA to engage in development initiative that will help the county. In fact nobody or company is suppose to mines because Liberia is right now under sanction on diamonds.” Some illicit miners in the area, according to the residents, are Abdul Kamara a Sierra Leonean who said he is operating on the license of his boss, Bakasa Jarbie, a Malian. The AMA Manager, Gene Bryge, has meanwhile denied allegation that his company was mining diamond in the district. He however confirmed allegations that the AMA security guards were arresting ‘illegal miners’ and claimed to have invested million of dollars in the development program of the county without saying in what he invested the money. Relevant Links West Africa Economy, Business and Finance Mining International Organizations and Africa Liberia Environment Post-Conflict Challenges United States, Canada and Africa Ministers Dagosi and Konowa, when asked for comment, referred our reporter to the minister proper. “We can not talk now until the minister gives us the authority to speak” they told our reporter. Investigation continues.

April 2006
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