Examining the Process of Land Acquisition for Mining Purposes in Sierra Leone

By Allieu Sahid

The One-and-half Kilometre road at Mathumu Village in Maforki chiefdom plied by heavy duty vehicles was acquired by the defunct iron ore miner, London Mining company (LMC).

The Paramount Chief of Maforki chiefdom says mining companies pay to the land holding families for the land use. “Mining companies pay the sum of $1,500 to the land holding families for the use of the road,” PC Koroma says.

However, a National Coalition on Extractives document indicates that US$5,000 is paid per square mile to land holding families.  Similarly, a

Minimum of US$50,000 per year referencing the 2009 LMC agreement with government.

 Other villages including Maforay, Mapown, Bolompenny among others whose land LMC used as highway to transport the ore receive similar amounts calculated according to distance.

The process of land acquisition for all mining companies in Sierra Leone virtually remains the same. PC Koroma explains the process: “Any company that intends to use land in any chiefdom must go first to the paramount chief and explains its purpose. The paramount Chief, in turn, invites the land holding families for negotiation through the office of the paramount chief.”

“The Paramount Chief in any chiefdom is the custodian of land. This means, any land in the provinces including forest, rivers, streams, mountains belong to the paramount chief,” PC koroma emphasises.

The one-and-half kilometre road  is owned by the Tunkara, kamara and Sesay clans in Maforki Chiefdom to whom companies pay  surface rent.

 The vehicles transport iron ore from Marampa mining site in Lunsar town to Rothofayim village  where LMC’s ships dock to take the ore abroad. Thanks to a  mining lease agreement signed by the Sierra Leone government and LMC in December 2009.

Lunsar town, the host of  ‘Marampa Blue,’ the popular name for its iron ore and Rothofayim village are located in Portloko district, northern Sierra Leone.

The MLA was ratified by parliament in February, 2010 and entered into force in January , 2011. But, LMC was not destined to last long in the exploitation of Marampa Blue. It closed operations owing to what government officials referred to as the twin shocks: the fall in the Iron Ore price at the World Market and the outbreak of Ebola Virus in May, 2014.

Since its closure, several companies have come and gone and Sierra Leone (SL) Mining is one of them. The company entered into a 25-year  mining agreement with the government in 2017. 

 The road at Mathumu village is part of a land situated approximately 4km west of the northern town of PortLoko. It is dusty in the dries and muddy in the rains. The road was founded by ancestors of the Tunkara Clan closely followed by  the Kamara and the Sesay clans named according to their  sequence of arrival. Historically, wars and conquest were the main methods of land acquisition. Thus, a brave warrior acquired much land.

Chief Pa Alimamy Tunkara is the Section Chief and  head of the Tunkara Clan. He receives annually  the $1,500  which he shares with the other clans in the community. He was carefully  chosen as chief and head of the Tunkara Clan  following rituals performed by three fortune tellers among 10 aspirants in the family. It is highly likely that the next chief and head of the Tunkara clan would be selected in like manner.

  However, the representative of the Kamara-Sesay clan, Amara Sesay  seems dissatisfied with the share he receives from the  surface rent payment. “I and my family members are always  not allowed into the room where the money is shared after it has been paid by the company. The chief can give us any amount that pleases him,” Sesay complained. “Sometimes, I and my family members receive Le 300,000 or Le 400,000{ equivalent of $30 or $40} which we share among ourselves,” he stressed.

Sesay also explained that owing to the small sum of money he receives on behalf of the family,  he has made several attempts to resist the action of the chief. But, the elders always tell him to be patient and accept the said sum as no one  fights chieftaincy.

Abdul Kargbo is one of the elders of Mathumu village. He sits in Chief Pa Alimamy’s ‘barray’ to settle disputes among the people. But, he too is not happy with the manner in which the money is shared. However, he always says he accepts any amount given to him because: “chiefs are natural rulers, and chieftaincy is from God.”

Paramount Chiefs, once referred to as kings, enjoys enormous powers in their areas of responsibility, and they are custodians of land from time immemorial. The land custodianship makes them central to all land negotiations in the chiefdom. Any land transaction, either for mining or building purposes, that does not get the blessing of the paramount chief is of no effect. The principle continues to date.

 Sierra Leone’ supreme law, the constitution of Sierra Leone holds the institution of chieftaincy in high esteem and seeks to preserve it. Section 72(1) Act No. 6 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone says: “The institution of Chieftaincy as established by customary law and usage and its non-abolition by legislation is hereby guaranteed and preserved.” In that direction, the Chieftaincy Act of 2009 was passed to further strengthen respect and recognition for the institution of chieftaincy. The interpretation section of the Act defines a paramount chief as a chief that is not subordinate to any other chief in his chiefdom. The two laws makes the office of the paramount chief as the most powerful in the chiefdom including ownership of land.

Similarly, the Mines and Minerals Act (MMA) of 2009 also recognises the powers of paramount chiefs in the administration of land in the provinces. Section 34 of MMA says: “A land lease or other rights to use land obtained by the holder of a large-scale mining shall be subject to surface rent which shall be distributed as follows: …paramount chief-15 percent, chiefdom administration-10 percent, land owners-50 percent…” The land owners always contend that the distribution, according to law, still puts paramount chiefs at an advantage.

Green Scenery is a local civil society organisation that advocates rights of land owners. Its Executive Director, Joseph Rahall…….

However, Sierra Leone seems committed to ensuring that actual land ownership is exercised by land owners. In 2015, the Sierra Leone Government passed the National Land Policy to safeguard tenure rights, equal access to land and protects ownership rights of all citizens.

The policy also seeks to transfer actual land ownership from paramount chiefs to the land owners through the setting up of land commissions in the country’s capital and land committees in the provinces. These committees, according to the policy, will consist of land owners who will negotiate directly with companies wishing to invest on their land.

However, implementation of the policy stalls owing to agitations by land owners. The agitations revolve around the proposed installation of paramount chiefs as chairmen of the committees, a move viewed by the land owners as a continuation of the paramount chiefs’ powers of custodian of land.

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