According to Cameroonian authorities, several hundred civilians took to the streets of Lolabe, a small coastal village on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean, on Monday, to protest the government’s recent agreement to export iron ore from their village and Lobe, the district in which Lolabe is located.
The government announced earlier this month a $676 million high-grade iron ore mining deal with Sinosteel Cam S.A., a Cameroonian subsidiary of the state-owned Chinese miner. Cameroon stated that the agreement will see the development of the Lobe iron ore mine in the country’s south.
Cabral Libii, an opposition lawmaker and former presidential candidate, claimed responsibility for organising the protest.
Libii claimed that the Cameroonian government demonstrated its lack of transparency and accountability by allowing Sinosteel to conduct a feasibility study on the quantity of iron ore in Lobe and then allowing the same company to exploit the iron ore. He stated that there is no guarantee that the deposit estimates are correct.
Libii also stated that a Cameroonian company should have been granted a license to explore and exploit the natural resource rather than a foreign company with no interest in developing Cameroon or lifting its citizens out of poverty.
Speaking about the development, Libii stated that the host community’s interests are not clearly stated in the exploitation agreement, and that nothing in the agreement obligates the iron ore exploitation company to develop Lobe and Lolabe. He suggested that an independent firm be hired to conduct research on the amount of iron ore in the region.
According to local media, police who arrived on the scene did not disperse the crowd because the protest was peaceful.
Cameroon claims that Libii’s claims that the project will not benefit locals are false.
Gabriel Dodo Ndoke, Cameroon’s mines minister, said Sinosteel Cam is expected to build schools, hospitals, roads and a 20-kilometer-long pipeline to move the ore from Lobe to the port in Kribi, a coastal city in the south of Cameroon.
“It is a win-win mining convention that the state has signed,” he said. “At the macroeconomic level, the project will contribute significantly to the development of our economy through high added value on the GDP. The Cameroon mining code provides for the payment of specific mining taxes for local development and the Sinosteel mining agreement took all these elements into account.”
According to Ndoke, the project will create at least 600 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs. Direct jobs are those that are advertised by the company. Indirect jobs are those created in the community as a result of the mine’s presence.
Sinosteel Cam will mine 10 million tons of ore with a 33 percent iron content annually for ten years.According to a study conducted by Sinosteel Cam, Lobe has 632 million tons of iron reserves.
Cameroonians and Chinese miners have always clashed in the central African country. Cameroonians accuse Chinese miners of breaking Cameroonian laws that prohibit mining in riverbeds, swampy areas, and near waterfalls.
Cameroonians also claim that Chinese workers in eastern gold mines do not contribute to village development, pay workers less than $3 after 12 hours of work, and violate environmental regulations.
Fred Duven is an economist and member of the Cameroonian civil society organization Dynamique Citoyenne. Cameroonians are angry, according to Duven, because the government grants mining licenses to Chinese companies when qualified Cameroonians are ready to industrialize their country.
“Chinese companies come here with their manpower; they don’t help the community. Cameroonians who are worthy and wealthy can indulge into exploration business and can create greater employment than the direct employment the convention is trying to purport which depends on the whims and caprices of the Chinese company.”
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