Chinese company overruns small Tonkolili village


The people of Malompoh, a small village in the Tonkolili district, central Sierra Leone, are complaining about the usurpation of their land rights by a Chinese company, Kingho. According to the villagers company officials showed up recently with a gift of five million leones, without specifying what the money was intended for. The villagers gratefully accepted the unanticipated windfall, but to their dismay, shortly after this the Chinese came in with heavy equipment and started clearing land the villagers had been using for farming and for forest products. The Chinese apparently have apparently secured the backing of well-placed government officials, and the villagers believe they intend to mine various minerals including gold on the site. They have established a camp on village land and have restricted access of the villagers to the site.


This is by no means the first case of land being seized in the provinces. It is now quite a common occurrence. Whereas in Freetown many of the land grabbing cases involve private citizens appropriating land for residential or commercial uses, or government appropriating land without compensation for ‘developmental’ purposes (see natinpasadvantage) , in the provinces the majority of the cases involve foreign companies, sometimes in alliance with nationals, appropriating land for mineral exploration and production or for large-scale agricultural production with the full blessing of government authorities. In November, 2010, police shot several villagers in Kemadugu, Tonkolili district protesting over usurpation of their land rights by African Minerals (read villagers flee). In October, 2011, protesters were detained and charged in court following demonstrations in Pujehun district against the government lease of large tracts of agricultural land to French agri-business, Socfin. Read 39 arrested in Pujehun


Large scale leases of land by the Sierra Leone Government to foreign commercial interests appears to have reached an alarming level. (You can read an overview of some of these in farmland-the-new-blood-diamonds-in-sierra-leone) Many of these agreements appear to have been done in secret, or with very little public disclosure. The views of citizens who might be affected are seldom solicited, let alone heeded. Once deals have been agreed with government officials it appears there is very little monitoring of the companies’ activities to make sure that the terms of the agreement are observed. Villagers like those at Malonpoh are left at the mercy of large, foreign, commercial interests.


The exact nature of Kingho’s business in Sierra Leone is shrouded in mystery. They are listed on the internet as primarily a coal mining company, but Sierra Leone has not been thought to have commercial quantities of coal. They appear to already be operating in at least two districts in Sierra Leone (Tonkolili, Pujehun) and to  intend to expand throughout the country (you can read this interesting report of the visit of Kingho’s chairman to Tonkolili here) In a recent signing ceremony with the Minister of Mines, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray, (you can read the report here) the company promised to invest the whopping amount of 6 billion US dollars on various construction projects, including a rail network, but no firm timetable has been announced and it is not known whether any serious investment has begun. Meanwhile the company appears to be more interested in mining than in construction and has been linked in Sierra Leone variously with gold, diamond and iron ore mining, even though none of these is known to be their established line of business.