Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia Staff
A Diggers’ Association is an association consisting of a group of diamond diggers in a particular diamond mining community. Its major purpose is to allow diggers to hold regular meetings, identify issues affecting them and find ways forward to better their working conditions. In a well-functioning association, diggers are able to raise issues, with a stronger voice, with the miners and the supporters (investors).
The diggers in the artisanal diamond mining industry are the men who do the physical job in the recovery of diamonds.
The miners are those who obtain licenses to own and operate mining claims.
Supporters, in this context, are investors who provide sponsorship to run mining activities. They in return buy the recovered diamonds being sure that they have made expenses and have to further sell for profits.
It is very rare in most diamond mining communities, especially in the western mining region of Liberia, to find a functioning Diggers’ Association. In some places, people refer to a certain person as the diggers’ leader, but said person would bear the title without having much impact, especially in the area of representing diggers’ interest. He acts only in a very serious situation involving diggers; for example, theft and violence related situations. In other diamond mining communities, there is no such person; diggers are only concerned about their work situation and what they can earn. Most times they are not satisfied with the conditions surrounding their work but they are compelled to accept it because they can do nothing much to change the situation. Diggers have worked in this fashion for many decades and they continue to do so under such conditions.
In one of Liberia’s most talked about diamond mining communities, Weasua, in Gbarpolu County, diggers had a representative who served them as chairman from the late 1980s to January 2018. During these years, he received and investigated various types of complaints involving diggers including violence and theft. Holding regular diggers’ meetings to identify and address issues generally affecting diggers was never a priority under his administration. Thus it created a general feeling that the diggers chairman is just another chief who is responsible to receive and investigate cases that involved diggers. They didn’t understand what it actually means to have a strong and functioning association until now.
Consistent with NGO Diamonds for Peace Liberia proposed- project which seeks to provide self-reliant support in order to improve the working and living conditions of the artisanal diamond workers, the diggers in Weasua have organized themselves into an association for their common advantage. They have a chairman, he was appointed by the miners and few of his colleagues in a miners’ meeting. Following his appointment, all the diggers recognized and approved him as their leader and are consequently holding meetings under his chairmanship. They will hold democratic elections to officially elect their chairman as well as other officers as may be deemed necessary by the association in a not too long distance future. At that time, the association will have been fully established and functional.
Diggers in Weasua previously misunderstood the proposed project and its basic principles. They thought Diamonds for Peace Liberia was a mining company that wanted to explore in the diamond mining industry for profit making and that during the implementation of the project, their services would be hired and would be paid salaries. They held on to this belief until Diamonds for Peace Liberia coordinator visited Weasua and provided detailed information to them in a big diggers’ meeting about the NGO and its proposed project basic principles. These diggers, with many challenges ranging from the lack of adequate medical attention, poor food supply and the unfair share they receive from their diamond sales, embraced the idea of the proposed project. They have pledged to strongly work with the project if their community is fortunate to be selected as one of the proposed project communities.
With or without an outsider’s intervention, it would be in the best interest of diggers if they organize themselves into a functioning association through which they can fight for their rights, otherwise they would continue to work and be marginalized by the other stakeholders because they would not have a stronger voice to stand up against the issues that are affecting them.
Front photo:A meeting with diggers in Weasua(photo captured during the night hours) (by DFP Liberia)