…but residents of peninsula communities want alternative livelihoods
July 7, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
The government has recently banned tens of thousands of residents along the Freetown peninsula from mining sand on the beaches around and about.
Villages in the Freetown peninsula are coastal communities and the inhabitants’ primary occupation used to be fishing before they resorted to sand mining which many believed will bring them fast money.
Because of the rapid mining of sand in peninsula communities, the government has taken a robust action in order to prevent flooding, erosion, and other disasters to these communities.
Currently, the government only permits inhabitants of the Freetown peninsula to mine sand in two communities – Hamilton and John Obey villages.
In fact, the act of mining sand in the peninsula communities is now considered as an ‘illegal’ activity. Thus, Police officers and community safety volunteers (CSVs) now mount checkpoints in those communities to prevent trucks that are loaded with sand from passing through.
“We have mounted checkpoints at Mile 13 to protect Guma Valley Water Company dam, prevent deforestation and illegal sand mining. Also, we have been receiving complaints from CSE and the Chinese, who are on construction exercises that the ‘tipper’ drivers and other people have been stealing the granites, iron rods and sand. They transport them at night when nobody sees you,” said Police Supt. Ambrose Sovula, Local Unit Commander of the Police Station at Adonkia.
Supt. Sovula said if there should be sanity in those communities, illegal sand mining practices should be eschewed. The Police Superintendent told inhabitants about looming disaster if they continue the illegal activity.
Environmental experts say Sierra Leone is the third most vulnerable country to natural disasters in the world. Weather forecast revealed recently that the country is expected to have torrential rainfall, flooding and a cholera outbreak during this raining season.
He said it is on the basis of this projection that the government, through the Sierra Leone Police, has taken the decision to ban sand mining in all but two communities along the peninsula.
In all of the meetings held by the LUC in Levuma, Sussex, and Baw-Baw, the village heads and their subjects made faithful promises to tackle the issue of illegal sand mining in order to protect their communities from flooding.
Inhabitants of these communities accused the Police of conniving with truck drivers and illegal sand miners to continue the illicit activity even though it has been banned.
They averred that the illegal practice could only end if the Police stopped to connive and take bribes from perpetrators.
According to Mohamed Bendu, there was no sand mining activity in villages within the Freetown peninsula, until the advent of jobless energetic youth from the provinces, prevalence of construction of dwelling houses and roads, and the lure of fast money which the activity brings to the jobless youth.
“We were with the conviction that because these coastal communities are situated in an area dominated by the ruling party and both the MP and the Council Chairman are APC members, we were not expecting any disturbances from the government. We were not expecting the government to ban us because they have not provided jobs for us,” he said.
Few months ago, the Ministry of Youth Affairs donated fishing boats to coastal communities. This move by the ministry was to improve livelihood generation among the youth as well as create employment for them. Unfortunately, this gesture has not benefited the right people as political representatives are the key beneficiaries in constituencies across the country.
Mohamed Bendu said the boat for Goderich, Hamilton, Sussex, Baw-Baw, among others, was given to Member of Parliament in that constituency. He alleged that the MP gave the boat few people in his good books.
He recalled that the opposition SLPP did the same thing when they were in power.
“In the case of the SLPP donation, the boats were given to the Peninsula Women’s Development Association, Sabeng Development Organisation, among others, and it benefitted a whole lot of the fishermen,” he stated.
Joseph Fomba, a fisherman in Sussex, said before the ban on sand mining over 5,000 people used to benefit from it at a place called Sugar land. He noted that currently all of those people are unemployed, without any means of livelihood.
He said there were lots of fishing boats in those communities but after youth took sand mining as a livelihood activity, most of the big boats have gone to Guinea.
He said the big Ghanaian boats which stayed behind no longer make profit because many youth have refused to go to the sea, instead relying on sand mining.
“When the big Ghanaian boat is going to fish at sea, it used to take along 25 youth but because the youth were no longer interested in fishing, the boat owners decided to take them to neighbouring Guinea,” he said.
From all indication, the ban on sand mining by the government is a good move. However, the government should also think about finding alternative livelihoods for tens of thousands of the now jobless youth.
This writer wants to make the following recommendations to the government as a means of securing alternative livelihood for the jobless youth.
First, the government should urge the jobless youth to return to their former livelihood activity – fishing.
Also, the government should provide fishing boats, nets, outboard machines, to jobless youth on a cost recovery basis. Fishing gadgets should not be handed over to political representatives to give to their handpicked constituents, but fishing organisations within those communities.
Thirdly, youth empowerment programmes should be initiated for inhabitants of the coastal communities.
In addition, the government should provide solar lights for the wharfs in the Freetown peninsula so as to scare away thieves who may want to steal the fishermen’s fishing gadgets.