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Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Leone’

Photo: Nick Roll via CSM.
Washing in polluted water. Under new laws, “firms wishing to mine or establish industrial agriculture operations must henceforth strike deals with the ordinary Sierra Leoneans who depend on the land for their survival,” says the Monitor.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel hopeful when ordinary people stick up for themselves. The powerful and selfish don’t always have to win. Capitalism has gotten out of hand and now resembles nothing so much as the monarchies of old.

Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, folks suffering from the excesses of mining giants and agribusiness are not going to take it anymore.

Nick Roll has the story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Solomon K. Russell walks down a narrow dirt path, surrounded by teak trees that block out the sunlight and cool the afternoon air. He leaps over a column of fat black ants running across the trail, and the forest suddenly, unnaturally, ends. A denuded strip of beige earth stretches over an area the size of several football fields, pockmarked by pits full of wastewater. 

“Machinery belonging to the Afro-Asia Mining Corp., a Chinese firm, rumbles in the distance. The remnant of a stream, polluted and diverted by the industrial operations, idles underneath a small wooden bridge. 

“ ‘This river really sustained the life of the people,’ says Mr. Russell, who remembers, as a boy, jumping off the bridge into the water just a few feet below. Now, it’s barely ankle-deep. …

“Mr. Russell and his fellow villagers had no say in Afro-Asia’s arrival, nor in its operations. The company signed its lease with the local ‘paramount chief’ who was empowered by a century-old colonial law.

“But a sweeping package of land-rights bills, which went into effect in September, is set to change all that, giving local people who own and live off the land the authority to decide how it is used.

“ ‘Those laws will help,’ says Mary Tommy, a farmer living in this 500-strong farming community made up of brightly painted concrete houses and mud brick homes with traditional high-pitched thatch roofs. ‘For us, the destruction has already been caused, but for other areas that have not witnessed this kind of destruction, I think it will be good.’

“Many parts of Sierra Leone have been ravaged by foreign mining firms seeking gold, diamonds, and bauxite, among other minerals, and by palm oil plantations. Such natural resources accounted for over 75% of Sierra Leone’s exports in 2020, reaping around $400 million in income, according to official figures.

“Yet the wealth has been slow to trickle down. The latest figures on poverty in the country, from 2018, showed that 60% of the rural population was living on less than $1.90 a day.

“People say ‘our land is our bank, our land is our future,’ ” says Eleanor Thompson, deputy director of programs at the Freetown office of Namati, a legal advocacy and land-rights organization. …

“Until last month, only local chiefs and the national government could strike land use and leasing deals with foreign investors. The people whose land was taken could do little about it, and often had to accept rents amounting to only $5 an acre.

“Mr. Russell, for example, says his rent is ‘too meager’ to be able to buy from the market the fish he can no longer catch in the village stream.

“But under the new laws, firms wishing to mine or establish industrial agriculture operations must henceforth strike deals with the ordinary Sierra Leoneans who depend on the land for their survival – and who, for the first time, will have the right to negotiate, or reject, their proposals.

“September’s Customary Land Rights Act and the National Land Commission Act transfer the power to make decisions about land to those actually owning or using it. Companies seeking a lease must win the consent of 60% of a family’s male and female adults.

“Where land is communally held, firms must persuade 60% of the adults in the community to agree to a lease. In the newly created land committees that are supposed to help negotiate those leases, made of local community members, 30% of members are to be women.

“The new laws are not popular with foreign investors, many of whom are especially wary of a provision setting aside shares in international projects for Sierra Leoneans.

‘Nobody will invest in Sierra Leone anymore,’ says Gerben Haringsma, country director for the Luxembourg-based palm oil company Socfin. …

“Ms. Thompson, the land rights activist, says the laws might, however, help investors more than they realize. ‘It’s in the investors’ interest to have the consent of people,’ she says. …

“Acts of sabotage and deadly protests against agribusiness and mining companies have erupted in the past.

“ ‘If people had a say in negotiations they would sell their land for a … value that will enrich them and change their lives, maybe,’ says Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, executive director of the Freetown-based Society for Democratic Initiatives.

“In Largo, villagers say that Afro-Asia promised to build them a health clinic, a school, and paved roads. Four years after mining operations started, none of that has come to pass, and the locals who have found jobs at the mine earn little more than $50 a month.

“Afro-Asia did not respond to a request for comment. But the company’s lease in Largo is in its final year. To keep operating, it will have to renegotiate – this time with the local community under the new laws.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Alhaji Siraj Bah via CNN.
Alhaji Siraj Bah makes eco-friendly products in Sierra Leone.

In many parts of the world, when people have no way to heat their homes or cook, they cut down trees to make charcoal, leading to a whole series of other problems. In Sierra Leone, Alhaji Siraj Bah learned that lesson as a kid, and never forgot it.

Danielle Paquette writes at the Washington Post, “Their house was gone. They weren’t at the hospital or the morgue. Even as he searched the news for their faces, the teenager knew: His adopted family — the people who’d given him a bed when he was sleeping under a bridge — didn’t survive the mudslide.

“Three days of downpours, heavy for Sierra Leone’s rainy season, had given way to reddish brown muck streaming down the residential slopes of Sugarloaf mountain. Sinkholes opened. People in this hilly capital reported hearing a crack— like thunder, or a bomb — before the earth collapsed.

“Alhaji Siraj Bah, now 22, might have been there that August morning in 2017 if his boss had not put him on the night shift. He might have been sharing a bedroom with his best friend, Abdul, who he called ‘brother.’

“Instead he was sweeping the floor of a drinking water plant when 1,141 people died or went missing, including Abdul’s family.

“ ‘All I felt was helpless,’ he said, ‘so I put my attention into finding ways to help.’

“Four years later, Bah runs his own business with nearly three dozen employees and an ambitious goal: Reduce the felling of Sierra Leone’s trees — a loss that scientists say amplifies the mudslide risk — by encouraging his neighbors to swap wood-based charcoal for a substitute made from coconut scraps. Heaps of shells and husks discarded by juice sellers around Freetown provide an energy source that requires no chopping.

“His enterprise, Rugsal Trading, has now produced roughly 100 tons of coconut briquettes, which, studies show, burn longer for families who do most of their cooking on small outdoor stoves. One report in the Philippines found that a ton of charcoal look-alikes fashioned from natural waste was equivalent to sparing up to 88 trees with 10-centimeter trunks.

“ ‘My motivation is: The bigger we grow, the more we can save our trees,’ Bah said on a steamy afternoon in the capital, chatting between coconut waste collection stops. ‘The hardest part is getting the word out about this alternative. Everyone loves charcoal.’

“Researchers weren’t sure what triggered the worst natural disaster in the West African country’s history, but some pointed to Sugarloaf mountain’s vanishing greenery. Deforestation not only releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — it weakens slopes. Canopies are critical for soaking up rain and taming floods. Roots anchor the soil together. …

“ ‘After [the flood], he was always on YouTube,’ said Foday Conteh, 23, who met Bah when they were both living on the street. ‘He became obsessed with looking for ways to stop deforestation.’

“Bah, 17 at this point, saw a video of a man in Indonesia who crafted charcoal replacements from coconut shells. Others were doing something similar in Ghana and Kenya: Collecting coconut scraps, drying them out in the sun, grinding them down, charring them in steel drums.

“He watched the makers mix the blackened powder with binders like cassava flour and then feed the dough into a machine that spits out matte loaves. Next came slicing the loaves into cubes. You could grill with them the same way — except a coconut aroma fills the air.

“ ‘It looked like a great business idea,’ Bah said. ‘I could make fuel with stuff we find on the street.’ …

“He kept researching the concept on his boss’s computer. The [briquette] machine cost about $3,000, so Bah asked for more hours and a raise. … The wages alone weren’t enough, spurring him to follow the blueprint of another young entrepreneur he’d read about in Uganda who’d started a recycled bag business with $18. Bah saved up for scissors and glue. He visited shops around town, offering to sell bags fashioned from discarded paper for customers who would pay half up front.

“One hotel manager agreed, and Bah suddenly had the capital to make a thousand bags. The order took five days to complete and netted him $100. More clients emerged. Within a few months, he bought the machine he needed to churn out the coconut briquettes. …

“ ‘I was a homeless boy,’ Bah [says today], ‘and now, on a good month, we do $11,000 in revenue.’ …

“Deforestation still worries him. Charcoal remains king in Africa — the continent accounts for 65 percent of global charcoal production — and people haven’t stopped hacking down trees on Sugarloaf mountain. Sierra Leone’s president was among the 100 world leaders who vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 at this year’s United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, and Bah hopes he sticks to his word.

“ ‘We have a lot more to do.’ “

Although I would love to see more solar stoves and less burning of any kind of material, I have to admire this young man’s ecological awareness and his determination to improve the world. Read about the challenges he had to overcome at the Post, here.

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