Back in 2020, the people of Blei and Sehyi Kodoo districts in Nimba County agreed to allow Solway Mining Incorporated to explore for iron-ore deposits in their territory in the Nimba mountain range.
This agreement came after massive pressure from top officials of government including local county leaders who made the communities abandon dozens of years of the conservation management plan and agreed to allow Solway access to their community-managed forests in exchange for jobs and funding for health and education.
As reported months back by the international news outlet Mongabay, the villagers contend that promises for which they have given out their land have not been kept. And they are making considerations to withdraw from the deal with Solway and ask the company to leave.
They say Solway has failed to provide schools and hospitals and give the communities what they are entitled to.
Following weeks of fact-finding, we also gathered that the villagers are additionally angered by the poor, substandard mud, and makeshift structures the company has erected for housing and offices of staff.
An employee made four pictures available to us which show huts being dubbed with red mud in ZOR ZUALAY Town, District Number #3, Nimba County.
Interestingly, these are the housing units Solway has constructed so far for Liberian workers laboring at its exploration site in Nimba County.
These pictures were independently verified and confirmed to be structures built by Soleway, over the past months. Some of them have been plastered with cement and are used as offices to date.
The 56-year-old man who made the pictures available but asked not to be named said he is deeply “disappointed” that the company has not lived up to the terms and conditions of its agreement with the communities; especially, at thos early stage.
“They agreed with our leadersthat they would build decent houses for workers to live in, but since then nothing has happened” he stated.
“How can a whole company that is about to take away millions of dollars of Iron Ore be building mud houses for their staff?,” he asked.
According to him, he sees no prospect in SOLWAY given that from the get-go, the company has proven that it does not care about the safety and wellbeing of those working for it.
“This kind of thing will always end in noise because the people don’t care. All they want is iron ore”
“We already have mud houses here, and they have come building mud houses again, so what will be left with us when they leave”, the frustrated contractor lamented.
Pictorial: Solway’s mud estate in ZOR ZUALAY Town, District Number #3, Nimba County.
How did Solway come to Liberia?
Solway first came to Liberia in late 2010 during the administration of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006 – 2018).
The company made its way around the Ministry of Mines and Energy and was awarded an exploration license for iron ore in an area later contested by Arcelormittal, in Nimba County.
The granting of the license for exploration to Solway angered ArcelorMittal Liberia and the company formally lodged a complaint to then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that its rights under the Mineral Development Agreement it signed with Liberia had been violated by the very government.
President Sieleaf immediately launched an investigation into the claim and arrived at the conclusion that Solway had clandestinely obtained the exploration license by and through the help of assistant and deputy ministers at the then Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy.
She immediately dismissed the Minister, Dr. Roosevelt Jayjay, along with the deputy and assistant ministers in vloved, on grounds that granting an exploration license in a mining area already concessioned to another company was counter productive for Liberia investment climate and would internationally tarnish the image of the country, as well as potentially plunge Liberia in an expensive lawsuit.
The truth is that Dr. Jayjay is a respected Liberian administrator, with little or no experience in the mining sector. In fact, he has no formal training in mining and mineral development, a loophole the deputy and assistant ministers working with him exploited to convince him to grant such a license to Solway.
After the revocation of its exploration license, Solway left the country.
Quite interestingly, the company resurfaced in Liberia in 2019 and was reissued another exploration license for the same area in Nimba County which is already under concession by law to ArcelorMittal Liberia.
Solway Mining Limited this time is registered as a Liberia mining company with beneficiary owners undisclosed to the Liberia business registry.
This means, that even though it is globally known that Solway Investment Group Limited, Solway Group, or Solway Investment Group, is a private international mining and metals group located in Switzerland but owned by a Russian national. The Group conducts operations in North Macedonia, Ukraine, Indonesia, and Guatemala, the real owners of the branch of the company operating in Liberia are undisclosed.
So the company continues to operate under the cloud of darkness and cut secret business deals with top officials of government as well as some local leaders in Nimba County.
Solway Mining across the world
Throughout its history, Solway Investment Group Limited, Solway Group, or Solway Investment Group, has been accused of various misconducts, including environmental crimes in its operation in Guatemala, and suspicious banking transactions.
There have been reports of aggressive tactics towards communities in and with reports of Solway targeting investigative journalists.
The company has demonstrated a history of bribery, corruption, and environmental crimes; based on secret internal documents sent to the journalistic association “Fobidden Stories” led by French journalist and founder, Laurent Richard.
Solway has a partnership with Guatemala-based Company Pronico, whose mine has caused an environmental disaster with emissions of high levels of nickel in Guatemala’s largest lake. This tragedy caused found to have caused multiple health issues for nearby villagers and local employees.
Cheating with filters in the chimneys has also been revealed as a result of diseases and eczema among the local Maya people around the lake.
It is the result of a large investigation “Mining Secrets” in which 65 journalists from 15 countries participated, including journalists from El País (Spain), Le Monde (France), and Prensa Comunitaria (Guatemala), which also uncovered evidence of spying on journalists, and manipulation and intimidation of indigenous leaders.
With this well documented damaging history of Solway mining activities in other countries, it would make sense that their activities here in Liberia be put under deep scrutiny to ensure that Liberia is not taking a path that threatens its future.