Illegal Mining Threatens Forest, Biodiversity in Lofa County
By Emanuel P. Akoi
The illegal mining is taking place on the Lofa River around the towns of Bedayzibath, Kazza, Duogomai and Bortisu in Voinjama District. Over thirty (30) foreign nationals from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Nigeria are suspects of the illicit mining activities, Liberia Forest Media Watch has uncovered.
Happening around the borders between Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties, the illegal mining is not only debasing the Lofa River, it is also threatening sustainable forest initiative and biodiversity as some of the miners are also involved in pit-sawing, medicinal and hunting expeditions. The location of the mining site makes it easy for illicit trades of the gold, diamonds, planks, herbs and animals in neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The miners reside in tanks erected in the forest, not too far from the water they conduct their mining activities.
One of the miners, Lamine Konneh confessed of mining on expired clearance issued to him on 10th March 2022 by the Mine & Energy Ministry’s local agent assigned in Voinjama. “I am not a licensed manner for now, but I have a clearance”. By law, the timeframe for mining clearance should not exceed a week of operation. It is issued to give time to the miner to obtain his/her license. Not only does Lamine Konneh operate on expired clearance, he is also using dredges to carry out the mining activities. Four active dredges were observed along the Lofa River during our visit there. The use of these dredges violate government’s ban on dredge mining in Liberia since October 2019. “With immediate effect, the use of dredges on all water bodies within our borders for mining of gold and diamonds is hereby banned”, Mine & Energy’s order of October 29, 2019.
Lamine said he has mined in all counties of Liberia since 2006. “I have spent over eighteen years as a miner beginning with shelves in 2006 and subsequently in 2013, I engaged into dredge mining,” said Lamine Konneh. He reported having a little over twenty-five (25) people on his team, assigned at various mining sites under his control.
Lamine bragged that he lived up to his social obligations with the people of Bortisu town despite obtaining little minerals from there. In all this, Lamine has said that he often informs citizens and district authorities before beginning his mining work. But a prominent resident and Landlord of Bedayzibath town, Gayflor John, refuted the claims made by agent Lamine, that he often informs citizens around the mining towns before commencing his work. “The miners come here to mine without our knowledge, and are only noticed by some of the young people who commute the forests and waters for hunting or fishing purpose”, Mulbah Yoko and Gaylor John disclosed.
Once the act is reported to them by the hunters and fishermen, the elders said they can immediately dispatch manpower to bring the illegal miners to town for questioning. “In most instances, the miners have no option but to offer apologies for illegally entering the forest without the consent of the citizens”, community members told LFMW. Community members explained that the lack of law enforcement and governance in their already inaccessible terrains often compelled them to negotiate with the illegal miners in an attempt to get little benefits from their local resources. “Upon arrival, the miners extend an apology, after which we are forced to go into a social contract with them in order to get some benefits from our resources”, the citizens lamented.
During one of the negotiations, the citizens demanded the miners to pay LD$10,000 per dredge. But the miners contended that said amount (LD$10,000) was too much for them to pay when they are not even sure there are minerals at the particular site in question. In the end, both parties agreed to an LD$6,000 deal for two months prospecting periods, following which the miners will begin to pay the LD$10,000 or else depart the river.
Town Chief of Duogomai Town, Tarnue Zayzay said they had no idea about how the miners got on the river. According to him, when news broke out about the presence of unknown individuals in their forest, they immediately dispatched manpower to the area to ask the strange men out of their forest. “When we got the news, we decided to visit the river and ask the guys out of the river, and if they could refuse our order, then we could use our traditional method to get them off”. Tarnue Zayzay debunked claims that community members received money from the miners or attended meetings with them in Bortisu Town.
When contacted, Clan Chief of Bondi, T. Solopoguie Zowah said he was aware of the presence of the miners, but bemoaned that the miners did not live up to the agreement they reached with community members. The Clan Chief, contrary to comment made by the Town Chief of Duogomai Town said, Kazza, Duogomai and Bortisu towns received LD$43,000 each as benefits for the length of time the miners stayed in their territories. “That the town citizens of Duogomai did not receive anything as stated by the chief is a lie. Both Kazza and Duogomai as well Bortisu Towns received LD$43,000 each as social contract benefit for the length of time the mining lasted”, Clan Chief Zowah noted.
Lofa County Development Superintendent, Samuel Mulbah distanced the county authorities from the illicit mining activities taking place along the Lofa River. “As officials of the government, some of these things happen, but not to our knowledge. I know as a person that dredge mining is illegal to exist in any part of our forest and we have fought over the last few years of our service to stop these guys from illegally entering our forest but yet still it is going on”, Samuel Mulbah explains”. Mulbah stressed the need for the assigned Mining Agent/Authority of the Ministry of Mines and Energy to consult the county authorities on mining activities in the county.
Both the Development Superintendent and Shedrick Liemah (Mines & Energy Representative in Voinjama) promised to lead a team of mine’s inspectors to the mining sites to ascertain certain basic facts that will inform their next decision on the illegal activities.
James A. Wolobah, head of a local advocacy group, Act-Liberia, regrets the continuous presence of illicit miners in that part of Lofa County despite his group’s stance against the act since 2017. James lamented the lack of school and basic health facilities in places the illegal mining is taking place. He recalled that his group submitted a detailed investigation report to the county authorities in 2017 regarding dredge mining by foreign nationals. James says his group (Act-Liberia) will embark on a stakeholder consultation on recent reports of fresh illegal mining in Lofa Couny.
Unregulated border pots across the country are key factors responsible for the increase in illicit mining. In September 2021, report of fist fight between Liberian and Sierra Leonean nationals over illicit mining emerged in the media. In February 2023, authorities of the Forestry Development Authority announced a national concerted effort to remove illegal miners from the Sarpo National Park. The illicit miners, the FDA said are mostly foreign nationals who are aided and abetted by Liberian citizens residing around border’s towns.