Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia staff
General feelings of miners
The artisanal diamond workers are complaining about the poor conditions of their work environment and results. Major amongst the issues that affects their work are the unfair prices they receive for their recovered diamonds, as well as the lack of funds to run their mining activities thus subjecting them to seek sponsorship from people called supporters. The supporters provide them with food and pay the cost to run the miners’ project. They in return buy diamonds at their favorite prices; the miners don’t have the power to bargain prices with them because the supporters claim they sponsored the mining project.
Nowadays artisanal diamond workers think it is time that they transition from the formula of individual mining to cooperative mining. They say individual mining has not benefited them in the past; it has only limited them to their dependence on supporters.
The government of Liberia on the other hand thinks the artisanal mining sector needs to be formalized thereby organizing the artisanal diamond and gold workers into mining cooperatives. In this way government will be able to regulate the mining activities and will also generate more revenues through tax payment by the artisanal mining workers. The Liberian government crafted the Regulatory Roadmap, which aims at the formalization of the artisanal diamond and gold mining sector. This drive has been supported under the United Nations Mission in Liberia quick impact project to jump start the project. Two government entities, the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy and the Cooperative Development Agency, which are responsible for lands and mines activities and the formation of cooperative societies respectively, conducted a pre-cooperative training for 30 artisanal diamond miners from the Varguay mining agency in Grand Cape Mount County. Grand Cape Mount County is situated in the western region of Liberia. The training was conducted simultaneously in two communities, Mana-Gordua and Lofa Bridge. I was fortunate to observe the training in the Lofa Bridge community.
How did the training participants understand the training contents?
It is understood that the majority of people living in artisanal mining communities are illiterate but they have the ability to sit in a formal learning session and learn the things that are taught. During the training exercise, the trainers presented the lesson in an easy to understand form because they understood that many of the participants were none literate. They simplified the lessons by using simple English and paraphrasing sections of the lessons that participants found challenging to understand. This afforded the training participants the opportunity to actively participate by regularly asking and responding to questions. They also expressed their thoughts and shared their experiences during the training exercise. At the close of the training, they expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn about how a cooperative functions and all the associated advantages.
The government of Liberia, through its ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, sought sponsorship from many donors. This pre-cooperative training is in line with the government’s Regulatory roadmap project. Giving the significance of the initiative, the United Nations mission in Liberia, under its quick impact project, provided the funds to train and form two mining cooperatives within 51 days, from 15th December 2017 to 19th February 2018.
Government’s capacity and gaps
This pre-cooperative training of artisanal diamond workers and the formation of two mining cooperatives is the beginning of the implementation of the Regulatory Roadmap plan. The overall goal is to formalize the artisanal mining sector; this will include all the mining regions of Liberia. The Liberian government as the master planner of the Regulatory roadmap is, to a larger extent, incapacitated to fund the project. To that end, it continues to look for donor funding in order to be fully able to implement the project across Liberia.
Artisanal diamond workers’ access to knowledge of the basic functions of cooperative is a major step towards building their capacities technically. If they are fully knowledgeable of all the required skills for their work, they would be able to carefully analyze the issues affecting them and act accordingly. However, in addition to the lack of financial strength to run mining activities and the unfair prices they receive for their recovered diamonds, they lack the ability to transform the artisanal mining sector from its current deplorable state to one that will enable them to work and live under improved conditions. Though they think organizing themselves into functioning cooperatives will help them in many ways towards improving the sector, they are also challenged financially which, without the proper funding, the process is not easily started. Thanks to the United Nations Mission in Liberia for its level of intervention thus far.
Front Photo:Artisanal diamond miners in a pre-cooperative training session(dfp)