The fifth report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone submitted on the 17th September 2010 to the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly among others hinted on the signing and reviewing of a number of mining agreements by government to ensure that the country becomes a major exporter of mineral resources. These mining companies which include the African Minerals Company Limited, the London Mining Company and the Koidu Holdings Limited are now providing employment opportunities for several unemployed youths, building their capacity in addition to the revenue that the government is generating.
To say the least these unfolding events within the mining sector are of immense economic importance to the country. In spite of easing the excruciating unemployment there is also empirical proof that it is pumping in appreciable foreign currency.
The report however, raised Civil Society Groups’ criticisms levied on uncountable occasions against those Mining Agreements as a concern on the grounds that they were not tailored in the best interest of the people of Sierra Leone. The accusation is that most of these companies have on several occasions failed to meet their objective of satisfying the people and Government of Sierra Leone as mostly being spelt out in their Mission Statements, but rather prefer to satisfy the powers that be.
Instances proffered in that regard were that recently, the country witnessed youth demonstrations in Lunsar, Port Loko District in northern Sierra Leone against London Mining Company for allegedly excluding them from the company’s employment process. During the protests security forces came down heavily on the youth with the arrest and prosecution of some of them.
A similar incident took place in Kono, Eastern Sierra Leone in 2007 where two youths were shot dead by police for what is claimed was merely for staging a peaceful demonstration against excesses on their native land by Koidu Holdings Limited, a Kimberlite diamond mining company.
The contention is that these mining agreements violate the country’s mines and minerals laws, and offer excessive concession to the mining companies. Due to this, government has come under intense fire to strengthen the country’s mines and minerals law and more so copy from Ghana’s strategic development policy on oil exploration so that the country would benefit more from the mining sector.
All this is done amidst the soaring youth unemployment that up till now remains as a major challenge for the Government of Sierra Leone. This point was reiterated by President Koroma at that same UN General Assembly session.
However, it is noted in the report that in a bid to address this thorn in the flesh of government, it is moving ferociously to establish a National Youths Commission (NYC) with that expectation to outline some kind of effective and efficient development programs for the youths.
However, although a good number of youths have been employed by the mining companies much needs to be done as thousands of unemployed youths continue to parade the streets of the capital city and other provincial headquarter towns in search of how to make ends meet. This is evidenced by the visible presence of idle youths between PZ and Up Gun Roundabout and ‘Attaya’ Bases sprouted all over these areas with them being potential threats to the peace of the society. Consequently, their searches for basic needs their only alternative to gainful employment is the perpetration of crimes like pick pocketing, armed robbery, drug peddling, prostitution and many other social vices. It is therefore paramount for the government in collaboration with its development partners to seriously consider the plight of youths in proving that their desire for a speedy economic recovery is not a façade.
Realistically, during the civil war in Sierra Leone in this same appalling economic strait, vulnerable youths were exploited to wreck the most heinous crimes. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, during the 11 years’ civil war most of the atrocities were committed by the youthful population who are always referred to as future leaders .This the report pointed out was as a result of idleness, injustice, and the uneven distribution of resources. Suffice to say that being that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop; jobless youths had often become soft spots for politicians bent on destroying the nation.
Reflecting on this mishap demands on government to avoid making the Youth Commission a white elephant as it has been with several propped up institutions in the country’s political history. Apart from providing the required funding, moves should be made to staff the commission with those that possess the acumen in addressing youth issues. Also youths who personally feel the pinch of unemployment and marginalization must be involved in whatever process being initiated in their name.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.