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Another tragic drowning at Sierra Rutile of 12 year-old Maseray Konneh

SEPTEMBER 4. 2014 By Leslie Nestor Mboka

Titanium extraction through dredging methodology by Sierra Rutile Limited and its predecessors over several decades, have inundated rich agricultural lands and riddled the indigenous people’s environment with dead, turbid, opaque, toxic and acidic artificial canals accounting for the death of men, women, youths and children on annual basis in Bonthe and Moyamba districts in Southern Sierra Leone.

On 20th August 2014 at 4:30pm, teenager Maseray Konneh met her tragic death in the Bamba-Mbelebu dam whilst returning home from their farm in a dugout canoe with some of her family members. The boat capsized and Maseray was lost to the merciless Sierra Rutile dam, but her body was recovered thereafter. Sierra Rutile Limited has contributed two million Leones and two bags of rice to the family of the drowning victim in respect of her funeral. My condolences to the family of the late Maseray.

Rutile is mined by dredging thereby creating large artificial lakes behind constructed laterite dams. The depths of these dangerous and abandoned dams are normally between 70 and 80 feet. Successive rutile mining operations have escaped meaningful land reclamation and rehabilitation work, thereby exposing the host communities to acute environmental dangers. These dredge-mining lakes now account for the regular deaths of residents of the host mining communities. This is ideally an environmental crime perpetrated by Sierra Rutile Limited in the eyes of the Environment Protection Agency-Sierra Leone, the Government of Sierra Leone and the International Community in the name of Foreign Direct Investment. The landowners are sacrificial lambs on the altar of “Rogue Investors”.

Host communities are without portable water, electricity or a functional healthcare system. Residents of host communities live in squalor and abject poverty. Sierra Rutile Limited is still unwilling to share its extractive wealth with local communities. If you disagree with me, come and see for yourself. I told the CEO of the company in a recent e-mail exchange. Whilst production is at the peak of its glory, the performance of the Environment, Health and Safety department is abysmal and worrisome. The social development of the mining communities is appalling.

Instead of attempting meaningful ecological restoration on these dead, turbid, toxic, opaque and acidic dams, Sierra Rutile is claiming to be undertaking a bogus aquaculture project in these numerous abandoned mining dams. The so-called fishponds along the plant site and Moriba Town are a testament of corporate callousness and deceit. Sierra Rutile Limited’s claims to be restocking these mighty mining dams with fish from these ponds are an insult to the landowners and host communities. Long before Sierra Rutile initiated this “corporate comedy”, pale and tasteless fish were already in these dams since we were primary school kids in the 70s. The qualities of the fish in the dams are very poor given its marine ecology. 70% of the ore excavated by Sierra Rutile is discarded into the shorelines making the lakes highly pollutants with impurities.

On board the aged Payne dredge with the EPA-SL and a Ghanaian Consultant on the spot checks, one quickly realizes the profuse leakage of oil from the giant old dredge direct into the ponds. The abandoned rutile dams are symbolic of environmental catastrophe. Host communities now live in perpetual environmental insecurity, with occasional flooding when the dams overflow their banks.

In a bid to hastily exploit Sierra Leone’s titanium potential accounting for 30% of global titanium deposits, Sierra Rutile Limited commissioned the Dry Mining project on 23rd January 2013 in Impere Chiefdom in the Bonthe District, operation codenamed “Sierra Rutile Jamboree”. The company induced mining area Paramount Chiefs to celebrate the destruction of their ancestral lands, the heritage of their forefathers. Paramount chiefs were displayed in traditional hammocks amidst unimaginable festivities, a mere corporate propaganda and deceit, designed to tell the world and their shareholders that the landowners and host communities are supportive of the project. The reality is, the landowners and host communities are generally embittered. In the Sierra Rutile concession in Bonthe and Moyamba districts, the people’s environment is riddled with man-made lakes, desolate lands and sand tailings. Sierra Rutile’s secrete corporate war against the indigenous communities can be compared to the Israeli-Gaza war characterized by utter infrastructural pulverization and the massacre of innocent people. Bulldozers are used by Sierra Rutile to destroy host communities to give way to mining.

Over fifteen communities have been sent into extinction and most of its people made mere “Environmental Refugees”. Mosama and Mobelmo were completely destroyed without being relocated. Where relocation was made, the projects were callously executed. In relocated communities like Bamba, Mokabba, Yangatoke, Gangama, Madina, Lungi, Kpejebu and Semabu, to name a few, people have buckets in their ceilings at the time of writing this piece as a result of severe leakages in their houses. The rutile mining communities are nothing to write home about. Sierra Rutile mining has undermined the local economies and pauperized the landowners. Permanent cash crops have been completely destroyed with one-off compensation to farmers through State complicity.

Even the dead are not spared from the Sierra Rutile corporate warfare to exploit the titanium. Nearly 20 cemeteries have been desecrated. In fact the monstrous Sierra Rutile Solondo dredge actually died and at the same time buried in the Gangama cemetery in Impere Chiefdom. Gangama was remarkable for its mystical powers before rutile mining inundated that community. The remains of the Solondo dredge are still evidenced at the Gangama cemetery in Impere Chiefdom. Men like “Sub-marine” came from this mystical village.

As opposed to dredge mining, which targets ore that is submerged in water, dry mining involves the excavation of ore in a dry environment. The Gangama Dry Mining project involves the excavation of Sierra Rutile’s Gangama deposit using a fleet of earth moving equipment, which will deliver mineralized ore to a concentrator unit located on the Gangama mine site. The mineral concentrate will then be processed in Sierra Rutile’s existing mineral separation plant with feed from Lanti Dredge and the Lanti Dry mining project.

Communities proximate to the operations of the Dry Mining project are characterized by huge pollution and habitat destruction. Speaking to a resident of Mokabba few days ago, he lamented that his community and lots more are suffering from massive pollution especially during the current rainy season.

However, give the devil its due. Sierra Rutile Limited donated one billion Leones to the national fight against the current outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease now ravaging our motherland, although some analysts have opined that the CEO of the company is eyeing the highest political office of the land and that his company’s gesture is politically motivated.

It could be also recalled that few months back John Sisay donated 100,000 USD to SLFA, but the communities in which he operates, where the titanium wealth is extracted from, do not have a single running tap. The families of majority of his workforce drink from polluted water wells. Charity begins at home! Too little too late.

Don’t rest in peace all you that have died from those dreadful Sierra Rutile mining lakes and those removed from their final resting places in cemeteries. Let’s fights on fearlessly against corporate colonization and injustice. Your memories live on! “Get up, stand up for your rights” -Bob Marley.

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