London Mining living up to its Corporate Word
THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN
This is what London Mining says about itself on its corporate web site: “At London Mining, we believe people are the key to our success and we encourage people to develop their skills and expertise, broaden their experience and be empowered to perform at their best…..With over 3,000 employees (including sub-contractors), London Mining has the dedicated and talented people working with us to grow our business and ensure prosperity moving forward. We seek to maintain a diverse workforce in which different contributions can be made through various perspectives, personalities and experiences…..We have been committed to finding the brightest and best people to help develop our organization as a whole, and the results are there for all to see…..We make every effort to ensure we offer competitive remuneration packages along with continual career development, no matter what role you hold at London Mining. It is these such actions which make London Mining an attractive company to work for….”. On Monday, April 15, 2013, I was in the London Mining exploitation site in Lunsar, Port Loko District, with a journalist’s cynical mind and Columnist inquisitive eye to pick holes into what I dismissed as the usual public relations bombast on corporate web sites. I was paradoxically disappointed and exhilarated to learn that what London Mining has on its web site is true – relatively, if not absolutely.
Bassey Conteh and Gbankay: Salone Youth to be Proud Of!!!
As London Mining’s Communications Manager, Osman Lahai, led a guided tour of media people (including video camera men), the Bassey Conteh, one of the Shift Supervisors of the two plants on the site dazzled us as he rattled out the facts and figures of each stage of the iron ore processing process: ‘Trucks feed the plants with the allowyed raw materials…..; to the …conveyor belt…Bin; …Iron bin…; .Feeder belt..; .transfer chute…; .C.V. 001 …Trash screen; …..Undersize to be separated from…oversize; …. Bob cat bobbing on caterpillar wheels to ensure that the waste gets back to be processed; …. Rectifier…rectifying…; then, in the Hoppers……Ring Drive….; the .pulsating unit…passing through the magnetic coil…magnetized..pulsating unit that keeps the material in suspension… thickener which separate the overflow from the underflow…. the Whim Building…the Whims Reject Haughter ….Flucedant…. recycled water…. ‘. Then, with undisguised pride, Bassey Conteh dipped his hands into the iron concentrate, the shiny black piece of earth which is the ‘finished product’ – as black as beautiful as the pitch black Negroid face of Bassey Conteh…..
Bassey Conteh’s father would be proud of his son!! Now over 70 years of age, all his professional life a lowly-placed and lowly-paid worker in the PWD compound (PWD – Public Works Department) in Freetown, Bassey’s father, Sarrah Conteh, and his wife, Isatu, had to take care of seventeen children on Sarrah’s near-starvation wages. Bassey was born on No 13 Blinding Lane, in central Freetown, on April 27, 1984. With his mother a coal seller (used for domestic cooking), Bassey had to daily struggle to have ‘ress en pamine’ or ‘akara’ in his stomach as he would trudge under the burning tropical sun to attend the Kanikay Islamic Primary School , between 1990 to 1997. He passed his NPSE and started attending the Sierra Leone Muslim Congress 1998 and 2004. Earning his WASCE certificate, he enrolled at the Government Technical Institute in 2004, and got a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering in 2005. About a year later, he took the London City and Guilds external examination, and clinched a Diploma in Engineering Skills and Principles. Bassey Conteh worked in the Sierra Leone Brewery from 2007 (brewers of our award-winning STAR beer, SUPERMALT, etc.), and after training in Ghana, became the first of the panel operators in the automated system in the brewery. But, in 2011, the magnet of opportunity which never fails to attract upward mobile youth got him into London Mining’s ‘home’ on October 31, 2011. He started as a trainee panel operator. Again, he was one of the first Sierra Leoneans to be trained in operating the highly computerized mining system at London Mining’s mine site. Today, he is the Processing Plant Shift Supervisor in the 24/7 three shift operations on the site.
Inside the Control Room of the ‘Whim House’ I met another very confident-looking and sounding Sulaiman Gbankay. He is today the Control Room Operator in London Mining; starting on the 1st March, 2013. He had been Plant Operator from the time he joined the company in October, 2010. Like Bassey, Sulaiman Gbankay ‘escaped’ from the Sierra Leone Brewery in 2010, where he was Automated Technician Operator. He qualified in electrical engineering in the government Technical School in 2007. He earned some ‘electrical onions’ as Trainee electrician at Kapsina company, at ‘Shell’ in Kissy in East End Freetown, owned by Abubakarr Kargbo , between 1999 and 2000. I do think that any time Gbankay meets any person called ‘Bangura’ on the streets, he should prostrate flat on his stomach like Nigerian Yorubas would do to their ‘Oba’ (king); for it appears that his best teachers in school who gave him knowledge – at Catholic Muraldo Secondary School in Lunsar between 1988 to 1995 – which have made him a coveted professional today were all called ‘BANGURA’: Mr. Bangura who taught him English Mr. Sulaiman Bangura who made the difficult to understand subject of Chemistry easier ; and another Mr. Bangura who opened the mysteries of Physics. (Over twenty years after school, Gbankay still speaks with reverence of these teachers, and would always refer to them as “Mister Bangura” – even within the crammed computer-packed air-conditioned control panel room, where he instantaneously had to respond to my intrusive questions). And, O, Gbankay’s father, Pa Abu Gbankay, would be swooning daily with pride at the height his son is now climbing, able to understand the wizardry of the white man – from the his grass root station in life as a poor subsistence farmer in Mamoray Village, in Maforki Chiefdom, in the Port Loko District!!
London Mining: Tokenism? Or, Sustainable Wealth for Lunsar People?
Watching the fluidity of Bassey and Gbankay articulating their expertise on the very complex technology of London Mining’s operation site made me brim with pride to the point of tears. Plus, political pride: these are the youth that President Ernest Bai Koroma has given supreme emphasis to in this his Second Term. London Mining is one of the companies that have had their confidence in the country buoyed enough to invest about half a billion dollars in their operations over a five year period of the Koroma presidency – to have on Sierra Leonean soil an iron ore mine that produces about the highest grade of iron ore in the world (65% of pure iron ore), which is needed even by iron plants in Europe and America. Hey, I am not going to just simplistically rave about London Mining here.
As I sat down for a video interview with the Acting Community Relations Manager of the company, Mohamed Saticon Conteh, I grilled him about the quality of London Mining’s vaunted ‘Social Investment’ Programme; dismissing much of them as ‘tokenism’(token toilets and water wells build here and there; token sponsorship for scholarships that could not be leading to highest quality education that would sprout engineers, doctors, etc…..; token refurbishing of the Lunsar Town Hall, etc.). London Mining exported some 1.5 million metric tonnes of iron ore in 2013; and, is likely to export five million in 2013. With more investments, and improved technology, the company could be exporting some 16 million metric tonnes of iron ore yearly from Sierra Leone – making it a clear leader in the global industry – in the expected 30 year lifespan of its operations here. That would be a lot of money!! How much does Sierra Leone get from vast wealth being raked out of its own geographical space?!! : ONE PERCENT of profit!!! About a scandalous $2.8 million in 2012!!
I goaded Saticon to let his bosses in London Mining strive to be ‘innovative’ in exploring ‘subsidized shareholding options’ for the indigenes of Lunsar axis where London Mining is carting out its great wealth – so that ordinary farmers and hunters would OWN SHARES in London Mining (ALL the shareholders in London Mining today are NON-SIERRA LEONEANS – even, Non-Africans!!). But, the details on this would be in another article. My hope is that the ethically conscious owners and operators of London Mining would not take refuge behind ‘laws’, and would realize that the new global dynamic of ‘Climate Change’ must mean new ‘ green global business laws’. It is my hope that London Mining would be spurred to become a ‘pace setter’ in ‘green business…..green ownership’- for the benefit of not only faceless ‘shareholders’ in London and Europe, but, sustainable benefit of the people of Sierra Leone, especially those whose traditional lands have been irreparably damaged as a result of the mining of the best grade of iron ore in the world (whose only source of livelihood are the lands from which London Mining is carving out its wealth). .
Oswald Hanciles, Sierra Leone
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