Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia Staff
Diamonds for Peace (DFP) will implement its pilot “Fair Diamond” project in the western region of Liberia and has spent the last several months assessing the diamond mining communities (DMCs) in this region to determine which one is prepared to take part in the project. DFP conducted the Situation Analysis survey in the western region to find out actual experiences where the artisanal diamond workers and their families work and live. As a result of the survey, four DMCs across two counties, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties were shortlisted for the project. The shortlisted DMCs include: Weasua and Bellekpalamu in Gbarpolu County and Mabon Zingbeku and Gondor Town in Grand Cape Mount County. Based on the criteria for selection and based on the performance of the shortlisted DMCs, DFP selected Weasua as the pilot project community. But just how prepared the stakeholders in Weasua are to work in the project and the progress they have made thus far is what is depicted in this article.
The miners in Weasua believe working together in a cooperative will provide them with many advantages including access to financial loan opportunities and collective bargaining power to secure a fair market value for their products. They understand that in a cooperative the individual miners can consolidate their efforts and can easily address the common challenges collectively. Based on these understandings, the miners have wished to form themselves into a cooperative long before DFP started to work with them. However, they have faced enormous challenges such as poor financial power to get the required technical trainings and to pay the fees for all the required documents.
DFP’s intervention has given them a stronger inspiration to continue with the formation of their miners’ cooperative that will also include diggers. They have since been making progress little by little. They met and discussed the need to organize a miners’ cooperative, set up the leadership structure, elected the officers and have started increasing membership by offering payment of the registration fee. They have agreed on a regular meeting schedule and have started meeting and discussing issues. The proposed cooperative has to date registered 28 interested artisanal diamond miners. They have started working on the cooperative by-laws with the first set of rules being drafted already.
Record keeping is one of the major challenges of the artisanal diamond miners in general; many of them cannot read and write, and the majority of the ones that can read and write are most times reluctant to do so. As a result, the miners get easily exploited by their supporters/investors (people who provide part or all the cost to run their mining projects) because they do not write down their transactions for future reference. However, with the intervention of DFP they are beginning to make record keeping a regular practice. A special record book was purchased to record the names of the registered members, the financial due payment, and other financial recordings. The miners have also started to write and keep the minutes of their meetings in the book.
The diggers have also organized themselves in a Diggers’ association headed by a chairman. Diggers, being the most exploited group, are desperate for improvement to their work and living conditions. They believe working together in a group will help them to succeed in addressing some of the challenges they are facing. They have recruited up to 50 members, drafted the first set of rules to guide the association’s activities, agreed upon a membership registration fee and due amount, set a regular meeting schedule and have been holding meetings and discussing the ways they think they can work together conveniently.
While the miners and diggers have the motivation to organize themselves and work together in the project and have been making progress in said regard, they have gaps that need to be filled to further boost their strength. They lack the technical ability to make further progress in both the miners’ cooperative and the diggers’ association. Therefore, they need to be empowered with various kinds of training in good governance, team work, financial management and all cooperative related kind of training in order to run a democratic and sustained cooperative and diggers’ association. With the progress they have achieved so far, their anticipation is high and they are now looking to Diamonds for Peace Liberia to start the pilot fair diamond project.
Front Photo:The miners in one of their meetings(dfp)