A group of women under the banner ‘Community Development Management Committee’ in affected communities around ArcelorMittal Liberia concession areas in Nimba County are calling on the government to give attention to their communities by diverting fund received from the concession to their communities for improvement in their livelihood.
Speaking recently at a one-day training workshop organized by a local NGO, Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy (COPDA) held in the mining town of Yekepa, the women said as people in affected of mining companies, they have remained impoverished with no impact of resources extracted from their land of inheritance.
Nimba County receives US$1.5 million from ArcelorMittal in social development fund, and in this fund affected communities have allotments in various categories for development projects in those communities. Of this amount, 20% is solely set aside for projects to be initiated in communities directly affected by the mining company operation.
However, the women claim that since Mittal began operation in their areas over 10 years now, they are yet to feel the impact of the mining operation ongoing in their communities.
The head of the women’s group, Madam Helen Weanquoi, said communities around the concession area of ArcelorMittal Liberia are yet to feel the impact of minerals extracted from their areas as there are no good health facilities, schools for children, and good roads.
With some attempts made to seek clarifications as to how to get what belongs to their communities, Madam Weanquoi complains that the process is full of bureaucracy that cannot allow them to get a response to their request.
“We have over the years found it very hard to seek our community benefits from what the company gives because of bureaucracy associated with getting the money, and since we started making some efforts, we have not gotten anything in return,” she said.
The CDMC comprises eight towns and villages in Sanniquellie Mah and Yarmein Administrative Districts in Nimba County, and they include Zolowee, Gbapa, Liagbala, Camp-4, Bololeewii, Lugbeyee, Sehyi-Geh and Mankinto, respectively.
Besides communities’ benefits, the women group also complain that Mittal does not employ people in their communities but get workers outside for work that the community members themselves are equally qualified and competent to do.
“As a civil society organization and advocacy group,” Madam Weanquoi said, “We are also calling on ArcelorMittal to prioritize the employment of residents of the affected communities, especially women who have skills and vocational training knowledge”.
The Livelihood Officer of ArcelorMittal Liberia, Edmund Saye Gbah, applauded the women’s efforts for advocating to improve the extractive industry sector in line with the Mineral development Agreement (MDA).
Mr. Gbah told the women that a good advocate always uses the law to hold stakeholders and other duty-bearers responsible, stressing that any advocacy carried out outside of the law is a dead advocacy.
He alluded to the deplorable and poor living conditions of residents in the affected communities, explaining that such situation is not only unique to Liberia but visible in most countries around the world where mining is taking place.
“Some people are still living below US$1 a day and it is very wrong, but what I want to let you know is that, this is not just about us living around the mine,” he said.
“The situation is not just about Liberia. If you go to Nigeria, it is worse and every day there is conflict. A similar situation is in Congo Brazzaville and Cameroon,” said the AML Livelihood Officer.
He, however, reaffirmed AML’s commitment to upholding its corporate social responsibility enshrined in the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) signed between the company and the Liberian government in 2005 and renegotiated and amended in 2006.
The local NGO (COPDA) that conducted the training urged the women to extend the advocacy to other parts of the country where mining activities are taking place.
Ted Brooks, Executive Director of COPDA, pledged his organization’s support to enhancing the activities of the CDMC women to ensure successful advocacy in achieving their objectives.
The Yekepa-based organization is presently implementing a 12-month women empowerment and capacity building program with funding from the Sweddish Government.