The rich land that flows with poverty and hopelessness
Whenever you talk to people about Kono, the first thing you will hear is that it is the land of diamonds. This being the case, it is generally assumed that whosoever hails from this land of diamonds is an affluent person or at least, of wealthy parentage. The real truth of the matter is that Kono is nothing but a rich land that flows with poverty and hopelessness. An unfortunate consequence of the misplaced stereotype of Kono being a land of diamonds is the sad fact that the entire Kono and its inhabitants are not given favourable consideration in terms of assistance in other economic and developmental sectors. According to common sense judgement, it should follow that by virtue of being endowed with diamonds, the land and its people should be swimming in wealth and have no business with poverty. That is why to the first time visitor to this poverty stricken land, the Kono man “na fool man” because as the saying goes, you cannot be living on the bank of the river and wash your hands with spittle. So the million dollar question is “why this unfortunate situation? The answer to this question is that the situation could be blamed on several factors but most prominent are the bad mining policies that have been in place ever since diamonds were first discovered in Sierra Leone. (Photo: Samuel Saquee)
The first mining policies in the country were put in place by the British colonial masters after the discovery of diamonds in 1930. As synonymous with most colonial policies, they were tailored purely to suit the interest of the colonial masters who assigned themselves the duty of carving out the destiny of the colonised, consequently bestowing upon themselves the monopoly to make decisions concerning the use and management of all the resources of the colonized territories with little or no regards for the opinion and concerns of the indigenous people or their rulers. Sadly indeed, this aspect of the formulation of mining policies does not seem to down on the common man, so it is not uncommon to see them castigate their traditional leaders like the Paramount Chiefs for being responsible for selling their land to the mining companies, little realizing that both they and their leaders are victims of the situation. As a matter of fact, there was a time in Sierra Leone that it was considered a crime for anybody to have physical contact with diamonds even when the came across them on the way side. They were required to make a ring around it, if they stumbled upon it, and report it to the colonial masters. It was not until the late P.C. Tamba Songu M’briwa stood up against the white man, asserting that the diamonds belonged to the people and as such should not be prohibited from having something to do with them. This confrontation of his resulted in him been banished from the entire Kono land and had to spend some time in Kamakwe with his entire family.
One would have expected that on the attainment of Independence from the colonial masters, the then SLPP government led by Sir Milton Margai and later Sir Albert Margai would have made favourable moves to enact and implement policies with the participation of the local people through their traditional rulers that would have at lest given special consideration to the land owners, but like the colonial masters the SLPP government maintained that the mineral rights were vested in the Sierra Leoneans including the land owners and that the former were only custodians of the minerals. Consequently the only rewards given to them was in the form of surface rent paid to the local Native Administration. These hardly amounted to anything substantial for the purpose of any meaningful development for the betterment of the lives of the land owners. This was the same situation even after the S.L.P.P was replaced by the APC in 1968, under the leadership of Siaka Probyn Stevens and later Joseph Saidu Momoh. As a matter of fact, during the Siaka Stevens era in the seventies, a proposal put forward by the then General Manager of the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), the late Aiah Abu Koroma, that a certain portion of the profits accrued from the exploitation of diamonds be set aside for the development of Kono was vehemently opposed by the then Vice President of the government, the Honourable Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, referring to any special consideration been accorded to Kono in that respect as tantamount to the creation of another Biafra in Sierra Leone.
In relation to the non-participation of the Kono Chiefs in the formulation of mining policies in the district, the situation still remains the same even after the recently concluded Justice Jenkins Johnston commission of enquiry that was appointed by President Ernest Bai Koroma to look into the mining policies in the district. On the other hand, consideration has been given to the issue of special provision for the land owners starting with policies introduced during the last days of the Tijan Kabba led SLPP government into the early days of the Ernest Bai Koroma led APC administration. Whether these provisions are commensurate to the worth of the diamonds acquired from the mining operations is the million dollar question. But one thing remains certain, it should be considered as unfair that the traditional rulers in the district should be blamed and accused of selling the land to the diamond exploiters. If anyone desires an explanation as to how the mining companies find their way to the iamond fields of Kono and how the proceeds from these diamonds are sed, the best people to contact are the central government authorities. Furthermore if the Kono man is considered a fool for the simple fact the he did not benefit from the diamonds coming from the land, then it is without say that the Sierra Leonean should be considered as a very stupid fool for not benefiting from the diamonds coming from Sierra Leone.
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