AML, Others claiming ownership of the zone
Confusion is said to have rocked the mining zone in the northern part of Nimba County, where ArcelorMittal Liberia is currently mining of iron ore in Mount Nimba, which is situated between the Republic of Guinea and the Ivory Coast, respectively.
In this mining zone, there are several mountains, including Mount Nimba, Torkadeh, Gangra, and others on the one hand (currently being mined by AML), then Mount Blei, Dehton, and several other other mountain ranges which are yet to be mined and located in the community forest.
Recently, the Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded a prospecting license to another company called Solway, a German–Russian Company, to carry on prospecting in the rest of the mountains, which are in close proximity to the AML Concession, something AML said it infringes on its right to ownership of the entire mining zone, urging the government to revoke Solway license.
AML’s request to the Ministry of Mines and Energy to revoke the license given to Solway has sparked tension within the concession communities, leaving some of the citizens to demonstrate against AML’s operation on Monday, July 20, 2020 in the concession areas in demand for jobs and infrastructural development.
It is not yet clear whether or not the demonstration against the intent of AML to encroach on the rest of the mountains within the Yarmin and Zor belts, but it is widely believed that most of the citizens appeared not to be in support of Mittal taking over the rest of the mountains.
Report reaching the Daily Observer suggests that the citizens in the concession areas of ArcelorMittal are not happy with the level of development and the distribution of jobs; therefore they appear to be in support of a new company that is coming, because they believed more jobs will be created, resulting into an improved livelihood of the citizens.
In order to defuse the planned demonstration, the planner and leader of a group under the banner, “Nimba Education Guide,” Armstrong Gobah Selekpo and his group met with some senior staff of AML and government officials in Monrovia to find a common ground instead of demonstration.
Some of the demands put forward to AML in the meeting, according to Radio Nimba, include fair distribution of jobs to Liberians, especially at the managerial and non-managerial levels, as well as prioritizing Liberian drivers over foreigners.
They also requested AML to include the affected communities in their development plans by constantly repairing feeder roads, bridges, schools. The group claims that AML is bringing in more foreign drivers and leaving out Liberians, especially those communities that are greatly affected by the mining.
AML’s concession area begins after Sehkinyepa on the Sanniquellie–Yekepa Highway, but it is not clear whether it includes both the east and west of northern Nimba.
Upon entering the concession areas from the direction of Sanniquellie, AML’s activities are focused on the left, which is considered west Nimba, while the right, which is east Nimba, contains the range of mountains that are yet to be mined.
AML’s argument is that all the mountains within the mining zone fall in its concession; therefore, no company should be given the right to carry on mining-related activities, but the citizens disputed it, saying AML was given Mount Nimba, Torkadeh and close mountains in the western part to mine.
A few years ago, a company known as Mount Gbena Concession attempted carrying on exploration in this same area which was awarded to Solway, but their operation suddenly came to a halt after the citizens raised concern that the mountain in question falls in a community forest under conservation.
In the year 2009, the Forestry Development Authority and the citizens of Gbar and Zor reached a communiqué for the citizens from the two chiefdoms to manage and conserve their own forestry from logging, mining, hunting, and other activities.
This stretch of forest extends as far as the borders with Guinea and Ivory Coast in the eastern part of Mount Nimba. Today, this portion of the forest is known as “East Nimba Nature Reserve” and it was enacted into law in 2003 during the brief regime of former President Moses Z. Blah.
However, the group of Nimba elders under the Nimba Stakeholder Council, headed by former Nimba Inspector Thomas Q. Suah, has convened a meeting with the planners of the demonstration scheduled for Saturday, July 18 in Sanniquellie, seeking dialogue as an alternative to the planned demonstration.
The stakeholders noted that a demonstration in Yekepa by the citizens in 2014 caused AML to lose several millions of U.S. dollars in properties, while some of those who demonstrated lost their lives in prison.
Meanwhile, the Coordinator on Concession and Conflict Resolution at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr. Reginald Mehn, has confirmed AML was demanding the government through the Ministry Land, Mines and Energy to revoke Solway’s license because their concession includes all the mountains, but Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy rejected the claim, adding that the area in question does not fall in AML’s concession.