News / Africa

Getting at the Gold in Southern Sierra Leone

Hundreds of artisanal miners sift the gold-rich mud in open pits in Baomahun, southern Sierra Leone
Hundreds of artisanal miners sift the gold-rich mud in open pits in Baomahun, southern Sierra Leone

Multimedia

Audio
Fid Thompson

Better known for its diamond fields, gold exploration and mining in Sierra Leone is on the increase. The British company, Cluff Gold, has announced it will build a mechanized gold mine in the southern Kangari hills after finding large deposits of gold in the rock. Several hundred local miners also pan for gold in the area.

Bobo Simbo stands thigh-high in a pool of orange water, sifting the mud for traces of gold dust. He swirls the tin pan and a tiny amount of gold glints in the sunlight. He spits in the pan and swirls again, gathering the precious dust in a small depression in the pan.

Simbo has been mining here for the past two years. He is one of many who have flocked to the Kangari hills in southern Sierra Leone to find small fortunes in the hard graft of alluvial gold mining.

He makes enough money from the sale of gold dust to take care of his wife and three children. Simbo says the guarantee of a daily profit makes the back-breaking work worthwhile.

Simbo says if he works hard, he can get two or three carats of gold every day. He says, within a week that adds up to a nice sum.

Simbo says he can make up to $100 a week, an impressive take-home in one of the poorest countries in the world.

In the past few years, Baomahun town has mushroomed as people rush to mine the land before it is taken over by the British mining company, Cluff Gold, whose 137 kilometer concession includes the artisanal mining pits.

Local miners like Simbo do not pay leases for the land or mining royalties. They are small-scale workers, digging in surface pits which have already been mined. Even so, many rely on panning for gold to survive.

Baomahun's chief, Joseph Kowa, says artisanal gold mining has transformed the town.

Kowa says the local mining is responsible for the town's rapid population increase. He says, because diamond mining in Kono, Kailahun and Tongo districts is slowing down, people are turning from diamonds to gold.

Kowa says, unlike many jobs in Sierra Leone, the profits to be had from artisanal gold mining are steady. He says, at the end of the day, you are sure to make at least three or four dollars, to sustain your family.

Gold is also fueling the local economy. At the central market in Baomahun, business is booming. Women sit with vegetables, fruits and dried fish heaped in high piles. Cluff Gold built the market when they began exploring for gold here in 2005.

The Baomahun license area is estimated to hold up to two million ounces of gold. But it is not easy to get at. Specks of gold embedded in the mountain rock can only be extracted by blasting and crushing the rock to powder.

Senior Administrator for Cluff Gold, Clifford Patnelli, says mining for gold in the hard rock will be a first for Sierra Leone.

"It is a significant find within Sierra Leone because it has never happened before in Sierra Leone," Patnelli said. "Because most of the gold deposits found in Sierra Leone, which had been worked on, were from the alluvial deposits. So what we are concentrating on here we will develop gold coming from the source rock and in Sierra Leone this is the first of its kind."

Patnelli says Cluff's agreement with the government is in line with Sierra Leone's new Mines and Minerals Act that requires companies to invest one tenth of annual revenue in local communities.

But local gold miners are worried about the future. When the mine starts operations, they will have to move. Many hope they will get jobs at the new gold mine.

Saidu Kamara supports his family by working in one of the small pit mines inside the  Baomahun site.

Kamara says, if the mine doesn't employ him, he will suffer.

Though the majority of Cluff Gold's employees will be Sierra Leonean, the mine will rely more on machines than manpower. The company will hire about 500 employees and plans to start processing gold by 2012.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs