Artisanal diamond miners diggers in Weasua have been trapped in a circle of poverty for many decades. The miners (those who have artisanal mining licenses) and the diggers (those who dig for the diamonds) rely on this work to survive, and regardless of the number of diamonds they recover and sell, their living conditions do not improve. The miners and diggers acknowledged their position of disadvantage a long time ago and have been trying to remedy it, but without success. The principal reason behind their inability to better their position lay in the fact that they were not working together to do so.
In 2018, Diamonds for Peace (DFP) started working with the miners and diggers in Weasua and mobilized the workers to form themselves into a cooperative society. They agreed to work together to solve their common issues and organized themselves into a multipurpose cooperative, and named it “Weasua Clan Mining and Agriculture Cooperative Society (WECMACOS)”.
The following year, the government of Liberia, with the support of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Cooperative Development Agency (CDA), and funding from the World Bank, intervened and provided cooperative training to WECMACOS, along with other mining communities.
The CDA issued a pre-cooperative status permit to WECMACOS after the training , leaving the group to work towards satisfying the conditions required to obtain a fully-fledged status. The conditions are as follows: 1) to establish an office, 2) make and erect three signboards, 3) open a bank account under the name of the cooperative, 4) develop by-laws, and 5) conduct democratic elections to select the leaders. The members of WECMACOS worked together with the encouragement and technical assistance of DFP.
Despite a challenging two years, on the 4th August 2021, WECMACOS finally completed the requirements and were certificated by the CDA as a fully-fledged cooperative society in Liberia.
Facilitated by DFP, a certification ceremony was organized in Weasua, with representatives from the CDA travelling to the community to present the well-deserved certificate.
As well as representatives from the CDA and DFP, the ceremony was attended by the WECMACOS’ leadership team and its members, the diggers’ association, the women’s group, the mining agent, the clan chief, the associate magistrate, and community residents.
During the ceremony, the formation of the WECMACOS was summarized, highlighting its successes, challenges and current position, and a brief overview of the work of the CDA was given. Due diligence of WECMACOS was performed, and remarks were made by DFP, the mining agent, the clan chief and the associate magistrate. The certificate was awarded to WECMACOS by the Registrar General of CDA.
Overview of CDA
Giving the brief overview of CDA was the director of field services. At the beginning of his speech, he chanted the slogan “Your Your Cooperative Your`` and the audience answered “Your.“
“Cooperative activities in Liberia started as far back as1936. Most of the time, when we give an overview of the CDA, we do so with a heavy heart, because many of our people here in Liberia have not understood the importance of a cooperative. If we were to recount the stories of some of the good things that cooperatives have done in other parts of Liberia and the world, you would be amazed. Considering Weasua is one of the economic pillars of this country in terms of the kind of economic activities (diamond mining) that have been taking place here, we think it is long overdue for the establishment of a cooperative. However, it’s better late than never.
CDA is the Cooperative Development Agency, the government entity that works with groups of people that agree to work together at the community level, not only in the agriculture sector but in every other sector. When a group of people agree to work together for their common economic benefits, they invite the CDA to provide the cooperative training to them. CDA awards certificates to those groups who satisfy all the pre-requisites to be duly recognized as lawful cooperatives under the cooperative laws of Liberia. CDA also ensures that cooperatives continue to function in accordance with the cooperative laws after certification, prioritizing developments that will positively impact the lives of the members and their communities. “
Summary of WECMACOS
Giving the brief summary of the formation WECMAOS was its chairperson, Morris Kromah.
“The formation of WECMACOS started in 2018, facilitated by DFP. Currently, the cooperative has 39 members, 13 women and 26 men. In 2019, WECMACOS received pre-cooperative training provided by CDA. Following the training, WECMACOS developed its by-laws, held democratic elections through which the leaders were selected, and received a pre-cooperative permit by the CDA to function for the period of 6 months and be able to satisfy the pre-requisites for a fully-fledged cooperative status. WECMACOS could not complete all the requirements for the fully-fledged status within the allotted time due to the fact that many of the miners had not understood the importance of working together in a cooperative, coupled with the outbreak of COVID-19. However, with technical support from DFP, WECMACOS was able to satisfy the required conditions , and has therefore been certificated as a fully-fledged cooperative under the cooperative laws of Liberia. “
In the overview, special recognition was given to DFP, CDA, MME and the FDA for their contributions at different levels. It was also stressed that if the people of Weasua wanted continued development within their community, they should join WECMACOS, and the miners, diggers and citizens were invited to do so. The arms of WECMACOS are open to everyone.
The coordinator, Winston Ngobeh, for Diamonds for Peace Liberia (DFPL) made a remark.
“Diamonds for Peace Liberia is a national NGO working in Liberia. DFPL is working towards a world in which diamonds are mined, cut and processed with humanitarian and environmental considerations. Diamonds should be a symbol of love, but this is not the case in some parts of the world, because they are being used to aid conflicts or fuel greed. . DFPL is working to ensure diamonds remain the symbol of love, and that those who are engaged in the recovery or sale of diamonds should benefit, emotionally and financially, from the jobs they do.
DFPL researched and found that artisanal diamond workers were not getting the just rewards from their mining jobs. DFPL is working with the miners and the diggers in Weasua through the cooperative (WECMACOS) so that they will become self-reliant and can fund their own mining activities, which is their common wish. Therefore, DFPL has been working and providing technical support and facilitating several income generating activities which include beekeeping, fish farming, making and selling of soap, rice and oil selling, and many more to come. “
Awarding the full-fledged certificate
Presenting the certificate to WECMACOS was the first female Registrar General (RG) of the Cooperative Development Agency, Regina Sokan Teah. The words of the RG were mostly motivational. She sang a song, whose message asked for men and women to walk together with a unified view of the world. Using the phrase, ”Nothing is for Us without Us”, she conveyed her encouragement to the members of the cooperative and the community residents.
The history of diamond mining in Weasua dates back to 1956, and people have been mining diamonds in the area without cessation since then. The profits obtained from the sale of diamonds from Weasua are being used to develop other places within and outside of Liberia but Weasua remains under-developed. She charged the community and members of the cooperative to do something about the situation confronting Weasua, and urged them to work together selflessly – for the good of their community. “You cannot get anything unless you decide what you want; learn to help yourself especially when someone is helping you. Let everyone see the cooperative as something they can pledge their loyalty to.” It’s understood that working together is something they are only just getting used to, but they will gradually become more familiar with it and improve.
Following her words of motivation, the RG administered the oath of office to the officials of WECMACOS and the certificate was presented to the chairperson on behalf of the cooperative.
The receipt of WECMACOS’s fully fledged status as a cooperative is a major achievement, not only for the group but for DFP and all other contributors who have supported the program, and one that all those involved should be immensely proud. It marks a significant milestone in Weasua’s journey towards establishing itself as a strong and empowered community. Therefore, the cooperative members are challenged to further unite and expand. There is always room to grow.
Front photo: The leadership for WECMACOS receives the certificate. (Photo by Diamonds for Peace Liberia)