Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia Staff
General overview of the artisanal diamond mining communities in Liberia
Poor infrastructural development is an issue in many artisanal diamond mining communities in Liberia. The artisanal diamond workers often move from one diamond mining community to the other in search of diamonds. Therefore, it is more likely to find that many persons (miners) who own mining claims often come from different communities and settle in the diamond mining community for mining purpose; diggers being the most common group of persons who move often from one mine to another. Diggers don’t own mining claims making it more convenient for them to easily relocate to other diamond mining communities at any time. Because most of the artisanal diamond workers come from different places, many of them go back to develop their homes and families whenever they find big diamonds, leaving the community from which the diamonds were recovered in its dilapidated conditions. In other words, diamond mining communities are, more or less, like farms for harvest.
It is also established that the artisanal diamond workers don’t get fair prices for their diamonds; they are tied to a situation where they have to sell diamonds to the people called supporters.
Artisanal diamond workers’ dwelling homes
In general, the artisanal diamond workers are living in rather poorly built structures, hardly being able to afford building better homes for themselves. Their homes are numbered among the world’s poorest. Even with the many diamonds they recover, they are only able to mobilize local resources from the bush to build their homes.
Water and sanitation
Generally, artisanal diamond mining communities face problems with safe drinking water and public toilet facilities; due to the fact that many of these diamond mining communities cannot afford to build for themselves hand pumps and even pit latrines. They usually depend on NGOs and the government for these kinds of services.
This article, however, is concerned with Weasua and its infrastructure. In this context, I will place emphasis on road construction.
Weasua, one of Liberia’s historic diamond mining communities.
Weasua is situated in Liberia’s western region of Gbarpolu County. It is known as one of Liberia’s historic diamond mining communities. In the early 1960s, when diamonds were discovered in this diamond mining community, people traveled to Weasua from many parts of Liberia in search of diamonds. History says this diamond mining community was hugely occupied by many persons including diggers, miners, brokers, dealers and their families. According to my father, my paternal grandfather owned and ran a mining claim in this diamond mining community for many years. People mined and recovered diamonds in large quantities and with high values. During those periods, the diamond mining community was the most talked about in terms of producing diamonds in Liberia. Those were the days when people flew from Weasua to Monrovia by way of airplane just to have lunch.
In the late 1970s and the early ‘80s, the inhabitants of this diamond mining community concerned themselves with the construction of the road that leads to Weasua. They prioritized the road issue because it is the only means by which they travel to and from this diamond mining community conveniently. However, despite the huge quantity of diamonds that have been recovered from this diamond mining community, it remains poorly structured with many dilapidated buildings. Its citizens can hardly raise enough funds to renovate their old dwelling houses.
Weasua road and bridges
For many persons who know the history of this diamond mining community, it is difficult to believe that, after all the many big and valuable diamonds that have been recovered from this diamond mining community, the community still has many issues with poor infrastructure. One major issue this diamond mining community has been confronted with to date is the issue of bad roads. Though there have been efforts to make the community well accessible by motor vehicles, there are challenges with building bridges over rivers and streams. Weasua is a community that is almost surrounded by waters. Its citizens locally built the only motor road that leads to the town in the late 1970s.
Since the construction of the road, there have been serious challenges with building bridges; however, motor bikes and cars are currently plying the road despite having challenges with crossing rivers and streams especially during the rainy season. This is because many of the bridges are locally built and they get damaged in a short period of time.
Before the construction of the road, people had to walk many miles when they needed to travel to and from the community. A story is told that the lack of a motor road made diamond miners, brokers and dealers use airplanes in order to quickly travel to and from the community for their diamond operations.
In recent years, the government of Liberia brought in a Chinese company to rehabilitate the road by building modified bridges. The project is ongoing but it seems very slow and the users of the road continue to suffer. Some of the bridges under construction are currently in use somehow; while the construction of the others is yet to start.
With the current conditions under which the artisanal diamond workers are operating, I think it is difficult if not, impossible for them to have improved working and living conditions because they have worked like this for decades and yet still live in abject poverty. This is so because of their continuous dependency on supporters (investors who provides a part or all of the cost to run mining activities and buy the recovered diamonds at their favorable prices) to run their fields.
The artisanal diamond workers need conditions under which they can sell diamonds at fair prices, but this is challenging with the involvement of supporters who must buy diamonds at their convenient price because they pay the cost to run miners’ fields. Miners would break relationship with supporters if they were financially potent to sponsor the running of their own claims and this could be a significant step towards improving their working and living conditions.
Front photo: This is the back pass to the stream in the picture above, only motorbikes use this route (DFP)