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THE MIDWEST AFRICAN SERIES, DAY 10 & 11

MONROVIA (LIBERIA) – BO (SIERRA LEONE) – TOGO – FREETOWN

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone. Today we leave the chaos of the tuktuks in Monrovia behind and head to our next country, Sierra Leone.

WELCOME TO COUNTRY NUMBER 165

Ever since I watched Leo in Blood Diamond I became intrigued with the mining industry in Sierra Leone and how these precious gems and metals are extracted from the ground.

WHERE IS SIERRA LEONE?

Sierra Leone

So fast forward 18 years and we are on our way, but first we have the usual headache of borders to deal with.

DAILY INFO….

  • HOTEL –
    Dorwaila Hotel (8.5)
    Sierra Palms Resort (8.5)
  • ATTRACTIONS –
    Hotel Africa
    Bangladesh Town
    Unity Conference Centre
    Diamond mine
    Gold mine
    Diamond Seller

HOTEL AFRICA

Hotel Africa was a project by the previous president of Liberia, William Tolbert. Besides being a hotel for tourists, its main purpose was to host the then 52 heads of state in Africa, who would stay at the hotel during the African Unity Conference. However, rather than have them stay at the hotel, 52 beachside Villas were built for the use of the presidents only. Now however the villas are occupied by locals who use these as their homes, the last thing they would have thought possible back in the day.

The hotel survived the war but was looted several years after with any efforts to restore it failing. Michael Doe, the owner of the hotel in the 80s was kidnapped by a rebel group and killed as he was thrown off the 4th floor. What a way to go.

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone

BANGLADESH TOWN, LIBERIA

Just beside the hotel is a small settlement called Bangladesh. This was the old compound and headquarters of the Bangladesh UN army who came here during the second civil war.

Now the place is occupied by the locals since the soldiers left in 2017 but I imagine it has experienced some major changes and now hosts over 1000 residents as well as a school for 50 kids!

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone

UNITY CONFERENCE CENTRE

The Unity Conference Centre was meant to represent new beginnings here in Liberia but it is a model representation of how many important things have been forgotten about in this country,

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone

SIERRA LEONE BORDER

Again things weren’t too bad but the process just takes a painstaking amount of time. Arriving into any other country with a visa is often a simple process and for some reason in this region everything needs presented and logged countless times.

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone

DORWAILA HOTEL

Turns out we don’t have time to visit the mines today so headed straight to the hotel and what a delight, for sure one of the best of the trip. Huge rooms, comfortable bed and a f**king hand dryer in the ensuite, who would have thought. Only problem…no WiFi 😬

Diamond & gold mines of Sierra Leone

DAY 11 – WEST AFRICA’S WORST ROADS

To say these mines are in the middle of nowhere is an understatement. We changed vehicles due to the road leading to the main town and then changed again onto a bike as the roads turned into a walking trail. It’s not obvious the world’s most precious jewels are in abundance in this region!

DIAMOND MINES

Eventually we arrived and I could not get over the scale of this place. Workers were keen to chat and show me around which I was surprised at until the manager spotted us. So for the next 10 minutes it was a battle of negotiation. But fair play to the manager who was negotiating for us to give to the workers rather than himself. Once the fee was agreed he was happy to take us through the process.

The reason this area has been taken up by local manual workers instead of the surrounding international companies is that this area was considered useless for their machines. It was then used as a landfill for discarded sand and soil from their nearby mines. This means they effectively have to dig through the deposited soil before getting down to the existing inert ground buried by the international companies years previous.

  ABOUT THE DIAMOND MINES:
  • There are reports that children, mostly boys ages 5-17, are forced to mine for diamonds in Sierra Leone. Diamond mines are concentrated in Koidu, Kenema, and Kono districts in the Eastern Province.
  • Perhaps the biggest controversy facing the diamond trade today is conflict diamonds. A conflict diamond has been stolen or illegally mined and then sold to raise money for rebel militia or terrorist groups.
  • The highly unequal relationship between diggers and “supporters” has led to serious concerns over the detrimental social impact of diamond mining in Sierra Leone.

MANUAL

This is tough work, long days of digging and carrying dirt and besides a water pump, no machine in sight. The majority of people work 6 – 7 days a week often just taking Fridays off for prayer.

SIDE HUSTLE?

After getting the low down I was then told if I ever want to move into the diamond business to get back in touch with them. Tempted…. Probably not worth the stress however.

THE PEOPLE IN THE MINES ARE SOME OF THE FRIENDLIEST I HAVE MET ON THIS TRIP

SECOND PIT

We headed over to a second pit with 35 miners grafting hard and got a better idea at how intense it would be on any other day but a Friday. At this one they have reached the depth of the diamonds and were busy transferring it ready to clean in a few days time.

The workers were all good folk and full of it, keen to come over and talk etc. The manager was also good steam but again was keen to receive a little thank you for his assistance.

GOLD MINES

This was something that was not prepared in the same way as the diamond mines so we half expected not to get to one. Most of the larger ones are further north but by asking enough people we were enroute.

Eventually we got to another town and were lead by the locals on motorbike and then on foot to the mining area. Rather than a huge mine, these pits were small and scattered around a huge area of forest.

  ABOUT THE GOLD MINES:
  • The Baomahun Gold Project spans 124.27 square kilometers with a JORC-certified resource of 5.81 million ounces of gold, ranking it among Africa’s largest gold development projects.
  • Situated around 200 kilometers east of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, the project encompasses the Valunia and Kunike Barina Chiefdoms in the Bo and Tonkolili Districts. Baomahun, a nearby village with around 7,000 residents, acts as the project’s host community.
  • Sierra Leone, an emerging gold jurisdiction, enjoys robust government backing for mining investment. Its stable political climate, supply chain, and labor accessibility make it a promising minerals hub in Africa.

PROCESS

With it being Friday there was very little going on but those that weren’t working were happy to join us in our adventure. Luckily enough we found a local working away at his own pit and could see the basic technique used to find the material.

Once gold is found in a trial pit, the miner will then decide to excavate it out. It is a slow process going through the dirt but is made easier with the help of water, some fabric and a long shoot.

GOOD EYE

The shoot is made from timber and several long pieces of thick fabric are placed along the bottom. As the deposits are placed on top they are rubbed out with water allowing the dirt to flow down and the fabric catching the gold as it sinks to the bottom. It’s an archaic process but interesting none the less. We don’t realise that most of the gold found is almost dust like so it takes a trained eye to spot it through the dirt.

DIAMOND DEALER

We then stopped at Sarnor’s brother’s shop who is a diamond and gold dealer. He was good enough to show us some real nuggets and give us an idea on price, buyers, sellers as well as a look under the microscope at some of his finest gems. Off to Freetown!

NIGHTOUT IN FREETOWN

The Lumley part of Freetown is the main beach promenade in Freetown with a host of hotels, restaurants and bars. After heading to paradise beach (we were the only people there) we took off to Sunny Side just down the road. Great buzz about the place and cheap drinks too which helps! I have never seen such an array of guys in sunglasses at 1am and girls wearing the least they can, a fine establishment for people watching on my first night in Freetown. People were smoking shisha, playing pool and dancing here there and everywhere, there is a real rhythm to dancing here so I left it to the locals!

FINAL THOUGHTS

How often do you get to visit a diamond mine and a gold mine on the same day?

NEXT UP

Exploring Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone!! Click to read.

SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
165/229

This post is part of The Midwest African Series, for the entire series click here or for episode 1, click here.

To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.

Question Time

  • Have you been the Sierra Leone?
  • Would you want to visit a Diamond/Gold mine?

Let me know in the comments below . . .

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GENERAL BUTT NAKED
THE WEST SIDE BOYS, FREETOWN & CONAKRY

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