“Our situation has worsened, our only water source is destroyed, and our farm lands have been turned into a mining field. We cannot sleep due to heavy noise and vibrations. Our roads have been diverted. …Our livelihood is threatened by the operations of Sierra Rutile mining company.”
— Mr. Massaquoi, 52, Foinda community. 

Foinda is a small village in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. It is the only home that most of its villagers have ever known. It is their ancestral land. It is where, for generations, they have raised their children and buried their loved ones. Yet, the residents are desperate to leave.

Foinda lies within the concession area of Sierra Rutile Ltd. In 1993 the mining company undertook an Environmental Impact Assessment and announced that they would relocate the community. But they took no action.

Over the next 25 years, Sierra Rutile’s expanding mining operations would cause immense damage to the land, rivers, and streams that the farming community depended on. Eventually, the pollution rendered the community’s main water source unusable. Food in Foinda became scarce.

Meanwhile, most social services were put on hold: government and aid organizations thought there was no need to provide services to a village that was marked for relocation.

Two children watch as tractors from Sierra Rutile Ltd. dig up the land.

Two children watch as tractors from Sierra Rutile Ltd. dig up the land.

A sign by a lake warns people that they enter or use the water at their own risk

Foinda water sources like this lake are too polluted to safely use.

The residents were frustrated. Their village was no longer inhabitable and yet, as 52-year-old resident, Mr. Massaquoi says, “it seemed the company’s commitment to relocating the people of Foinda had gradually diminished and was all but dead.”

The community demanded that Sierra Rutile Ltd. take responsibility. The company said they would provide a tanker of water, but, says Mr. Massaquoi, the water they provided could only be used for domestic purposes.

“It was not suitable for drinking and posed a threat to the health and well-being of the community. The supply was also inadequate and inconsistent. We sometimes went for days without any water.”

The tank of water provided by Sierra Rutile Ltd.

Year after year Sierra Rutile ignored the community’s requests and demands. So, when the people of Foinda learned about Namati through their chiefdom speaker, they reached out immediately.

Namati’s community paralegals worked closely with the community to help them understand that the company was not just breaking a promise, they were breaking the law. Together, they identified the laws Sierra Rutile Ltd. were violating and developed a plan of action. An improved water supply was needed in the short term, but they agreed that relocation was the sustainable solution.

A resident of Foinda speaks at a community meeting

After almost two years of persistent advocacy, the involvement of regulatory agencies, and ultimately the threat of legal action, the company has finally taken steps to relocate the community.

But the case is not yet over. Namati paralegals are continuing to work with the residents of Foinda to help them ensure their rights are upheld throughout the relocation process.

Mr. Massaquoi, 52, Foinda resident (c) Namati

“The legal empowerment advocates provided us with the new government-approved crop compensation price list, which empowered us to seek adequate compensation for our crops,” Mr. Massquoi explains. “Prior to this, Sierra Rutile wanted to use the old list which had lower prices, and we would not have known what we were entitled to if Namati had not supplied us with the updated information.”

When Namati staff noticed an advertisement in the newspaper that stated the company’s intention to build a smaller number of houses than what currently exists in Foinda, the paralegals brought it to the community’s attention. “We were able to use that newspaper advertisement to raise the issue with the company,” says Mr. Massaquoi, “and they have now agreed to build the appropriate number of houses.

“We thank Namati for empowering us and opening our eyes to these issues.”

 


Story by Daniel Sesay
All photographs minus that of Mr. Massaquoi are stills from a documentary currently being filmed by Jerry Rothwell in conjunction with Namati.