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Kono District – The Blessedly Cursed Land

Kono District – The Blessedly Cursed Land

Kono district has for so long been synonymous with Sierra Leone’s economic blessings and curses in equal measure. The latest debacle at how Kono has been marginalised by the current APC government has long since been the trademark of successive governments for decades. Since Sierra Leone became independent in 1961, Kono District has been plagued by chronic marginalisation of the powers for decades. From a Sierra Leonean context, it has become the mother of all ironies. It is unquestionable that Kono District has long since been the bread basket of Sierra Leone, by virtue of its vast resources in diamonds. Since the days of Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST), right through to the days of National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), the district has always been the oxygen of the country’s economy. Ironically, it is the most under developed area of Sierra Leone.  (Abdulai Mansaray, UK.)

Sierra Leone in general has been a major diamond producer for over 70 years, but it has one of the lowest Gross National Products in the world. Diamond output in Sierra Leone was 600,000 carats in 1999, 2000, and 2001, 250,000 in1998, and 400,000 in 1997; most production was by artisanal miners. History tells us that diamonds were discovered in Kono District in 1930. Large deposits have been found, particularly along the upper Sewa River; with the main deposits in Koidu and Tongo fields. Since the days of Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST), a subsidiary of the Consolidated African Selection Trust  which had exclusive diamond prospecting rights,  successive changes of power have seen  these rights adulterated along the way; giving birth to National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), Government Diamond Office, and National Diamond Mining (NDM) etc.

The common denominator of all these companies was that they were foreign-owned by companies which siphoned the bulk of the profits abroad; leaving the indigenous people to feed on crumbs. Enough of the history lesson, but you can’t help feeling devastated to know that as recently as 2007, Sierra Leone “officially” exported $175 million worth of diamonds; with the bulk of the haul coming from Kono District. One of the world’s biggest diamonds, 968.8 carat, was uncovered at Yengema in 1972.  It is therefore gut-wrenching to learn from a recent article in this medium that Kono District missed out, again, on the $101 million earmarked for development in the country.

According to reports, even contractors from Kono did not have a slice of the pie. As ironies go, Sierra Leone has been shortlisted for a black-tie event that will be hosted at the Winter Garden of the Honourable Artillery Company on December 1, in London; in recognition of the country’s standing in Mining. With such output in minerals, it defies logic that the people of Sierra Leone are still monopolising poverty. I do not promote or subscribe to nepotism, favouritism or any form of ism, but to think that the Vice President, the First and “Vice First Lady are from Kono makes it all the more ironic. Folklore teaches us that it was Mandingo traders who discovered Kono District. It maintains that after travelling for years from the Futa Djallon Mountains, in search of new markets and in pursuit of spreading the teachings of the Holy Koran, they decided to rest in what is now known as Kono; a name derived from one man’s instruction to his followers to wait (nmakono) for him, while he went in search of salt. It’s difficult to verify this but the myth carries a lot of currency among the forbearers, who, in the absence of written records will settle for this. Much has been written about this issue and it may sound like one is flogging a dead horse. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Kono District has become the proverbial man “that sits on the banks of the Sewa River and still washes his hands with spittle”. It is like “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”

It is an open secret that Kono took the brunt of the carnage that was unleashed by a decade of the rebel war; all because of its rather unenviable blessings in minerals. Like nectar to bees, Kono District attracted the worst specimens of the wretched of the earth during the war. Sadly, the people of Kono have little or nothing to show for this blessed curse. The schools, hospitals, roads etc have been relegated to the status that only befits second class citizens. It is understandable that a decade of destruction cannot be corrected within a short space of time. President Ernest Koroma has presided over a period that has seen the resurgence of self actualisation. He has made noticeable strides in restoring decency and the art of democracy into the psyche of the average Sierra Leonean. In September this year, Sierra Leone was ranked, among 153 nations, as the highest African Country with the most charitable people.  Among other achievements, President Koroma has presided over the maximisation of the potential of youths, socio-economic emancipation of the women, improved access of basic healthcare and rapid infrastructural development. That is all well and good but this region is yet to enjoy such laudable changes; but a little bit of that charity is long overdue to the people of Kono District. No one is asking for preferential treatment, but the District is due its fair share of the national cake.

During the conception of the APC government by late Siaka Stevens, Kono and its people became one of the prominent mid-wives of its delivery. In 1967, the country had two main parties that were polarised along tribal lines. The then ruling SLPP was predominantly supported by the Mendes in the Eastern and Southern areas while the fledgling APC controlled the western region.  Kono district was led by PC T.S Mbriwa and his Sierra Leone Independence Movement. With C.A Kamara-Taylor, S. I. Koroma, M. O. Bash Taqui, S. A. T. Koroma and S. A. Fofana drafted in by Siaka Stevens, a semblance of a broad church was presented to the people of Sierra Leone. With the 1967-68 elections on a knife edge, it was the final switch over to the APC party by T. S. Mbriwa that largely swung the election and led to eventual birth of the APC, as we know it. It was therefore not surprising that most Kono parliamentarians then were given top cabinet posts. It is shameful that while they were in such positions of trust, these politicians did little or nothing to improve the lives of their kindred. You will be forgiven to think that the APC government is now biting the hands that fed it.

Kono District, as a major player in the economic gymnastics of Sierra Leone has long been treated as an orphan. The district has become the symbol of Sierra Leone’s economic malaise, which has been the concomitant effect that has degenerated into pervasive corruption. Based on its contribution to the nation’s coffers, Kono district should not be the political and economic orphan it has become. It would be foolhardy to ignore the importance of Kono district within the political landscape. Having a VP from Kono is not enough and should not be seen as a cosmetic gesture. The district paid dearly during the interregnum, for its blessings in minerals. It is time for the people, like all Sierra Leoneans, to share in this blessed curse. Let’s not sit by the river and wash our hands with spittle.

Abdulai Mansaray ( Zoztik Mayanga) UK.

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