This newspaper’s attention is drawn to the disaster in Gbanepea, Nimba County where a collapsed gold mine has claimed the lives of at least 40 persons. The Daily Observer first reported the story in its February 12th edition under the headline, “40 Trapped in Gold Mine, 5 Bodies Retrieved“.
In its February 13th edition the Daily Observer did a follow-up story headlined, “Community Wants Govt’ Help to Rescue Trapped Miners“. The story disclosed that community members reported that the bodies have begun to decompose and the stench therefrom is polluting the entire area. Moreover, according to anxious relatives, they needed help from government to recover the bodies trapped several feet below ground covered with mud and debris.
Again in its February 15 edition, the Daily Observer in yet another story on ongoing developments reported that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector, who arrived on the scene, called for the immediate closure of the mine due to existing hazardous conditions replete with risks that create life threatening situations virtually on a daily basis. He averred that so many mine shafts had been sunk, that are likely to cause the deaths of many miners should the mine remain open.
According to sources, most of those involved in mining activities in that area are illicit miners, many of them coming from the local area. Illicit mining, especially for gold, has become a major occupational activity amongst thousands of unemployed youths including school-age youths.
Reports from the country indicate that many young men are abandoning classes for the gold mines where they can earn some money to at least keep them afloat. As a matter of fact, according to sources, the presence of alluvial gold in nearly every part of the country is drawing thousands of fortune seeking illicit miners from around the sub-region in search of livelihood.
Resultantly, many areas around the country are being transformed into lunar-like landscapes, with their attendant environmental destruction and degradation effects. The dangers inherent to mining in unprotected excavated shafts deep below the surface has been laid bare by this recent disaster in Gbanepea, Nimba County.
Since the gold mine disaster in Gbanepea, Nimba County took place, aside from the local EPA Inspector, not a single top government official including revered son of Nimba, Senator Prince Johnson, visited the area. It was not until Friday, Feb. 15 — the 7th day following the incident — that President George M. Weah announced the deployment of teams from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (which provides oversight to the National Disaster Relief Commission) to visit the area.
In the same breath, the President also finally broken his silence on the matter and declared Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, a National Day of Mourning. But rather strangely, there is no memorial program planned for the day but, most disconcertingly, the day is to be observed as a working holiday, according to Information Minister Eugene Nagbe.
The Minister’s disclosure, which came via a phone interview with the Daily Observer, has raised questions whether a such tragic loss of lives can be treated with this kind of benign concern.
Calling on the nation to observe a day of National Mourning but yet at the same time declaring it is a working holiday robs the occasion of its meaning and the solemnity it deserves. It can be recalled that following the No Way Camp mudslide disaster on October 6, 1982 in Kongo, Mano River, President Doe, in addition to declaring a day of mourning personally participated in the burial ceremonies of victims whose bodies were recovered from the mud and debris.
It was an occasion that brought grief and pain to many families but, according to some family members of the deceased, the presence of the President in their home town comforting the bereaved and participating in burial ceremonies helped immensely to bring them closure and reassure them of government’s concern for their wellbeing.
Such public demonstration of empathy by a leader with his people during their moments of grief and suffering is a true hallmark of good leadership. President Weah’s rather belated reaction to the disaster, according to sources, is a classic reflection of ineptitude on the part of those officials responsible for the issuance of the Proclamation and planning of the appropriate ceremonies to mark the occasion.
And, needless to say, their ineptitude has cast the President in an unfavorable light as a non-caring and insensitive individual. Questions are being asked just how come, for example, the protocol division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not release the protocol for the observance of the day such as an intercessory service for the dead and other highlights.
If these officials of government actually do love and cherish President Weah as they claim, why do they allow him to make such mistakes that would cast him in an unfavorable light? President Weah should realize sooner or later that power drunk individuals currently enjoying his confidence would do everything to seal that confidence. And in doing so, they are more likely than not to act in ways that tend to undermine the interests of the President they profess to love.
President Weah should not forget also that they will always attempt to hide their shortcomings by accusing others of disloyalty, plotting coups or assassination attempts, just as the nation is now beginning to see at such an early stage of his Presidency. And this certainly does not bode well for him or his presidency.