Katounou, a seaside village located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the North-western part of Boké lives on fisheries and agriculture. Formerly a landlocked area, the landing site of Katounou is currently affected by mining operations. People have to cross the mining port of Dapilon to get from Diakhabiyah (a village in the East) to Katounou (in the West). Next, they must cross the mining roads between trucks carrying bauxite ore, bulldozers and inspection vehicles in breath-taking dust.
By Mamadou Aliou Diallo
In 2016, the Guinean government granted an operating permit to the SMB Winning consortium (Boké’s mining company) to mine bauxite and install a river terminal in Dapilon, in the sub-prefecture of Kolaboui. Since the start of bauxite exports to China in October 2016, every day, mining vessels have been crossing the channel, which is used by the fishing communities of Katounou for small-scale fisheries.
At Katounou’s landing site, three worn out and empty pirogues are docked as we pass by. Coming from an island, another boat carrying passengers landed on the spot. Further on, a mining vessel is seen coming from the deep sea and heading to the mining port of Dapilon. Fishing activities in this area are at a standstill.
A little further South, it is apparent that the villagers have lost all access to their agricultural areas. SMB’s machines stripping the estates could be seen in the vicinity of the village up to the front of the only mosque.
Thorny cohabitation between the mining company and small-scale fisheries
“This is the fishing and farming activity we inherited from our parents. But today, we are on the verge of losing everything with the arrival of the mining company,” fears the Katounou village chief, Ansoumane Camara. He says that the communities are experiencing enormous difficulties with the mining vessels. “For when we cast our fishing nets, the boats destroy them. What’s more, since these ships have invaded this sea inlet, there are no more fish here.”
Mrs. Fatoumata Soumah, 26 years old, is a young mother. She used to trade her husband’s catches before SMB started operations in the area. Sitting in front of the old landing site, the young lady says she has changed her business as a result of the negative impacts of mining on her usual merchandise. Mrs. Soumah now sells candy, biscuits, and other imported items. With other women selling various items, she is waiting for the rare customers, and today she is contemplating the back-and-forth of the mining vessels instead of the fishermen in their pirogues. Her husband, who is a fisherman, was forced to stop his work following the material losses suffered with the vessels of the mining company.
“Since SMB arrived, our husbands can no longer catch fish. But before then, they used to catch a lot of fish, especially sardinella. Unfortunately, today, we don’t even fare a kilogram. We’ve been suffering a lot because this is our livelihood”, she tells.
When questioned, the Boffa prefectural Director of Fisheries notes that her department is facing a lot of problems with the mining companies operating in the Boffa prefecture, including the cutting of fishing nets and the breaking of boats.
Mrs. Sako Adama Cissé specifies that the barges carry bauxite from the channel where the artisanal fishermen practice their activities. She adds: “On the route of the mining vessels, the mining company did not put signal buoys. We spoke at length with the mining company officials, but they did nothing. They say it is not included in their contract.”
The director assures that as long as there are no buoys, there will always be collusion between the artisanal fishing pirogues and the ships. So, if there are buoys, it allows the fishermen to know the route of the mining vessel.
Ms. Sako says: “I can assure you that the mining companies have come to destroy the fishing grounds of our small-scale fishermen. They are asked to go out to sea. But I inform you that it is difficult for the small pirogues. These fishermen are subsistence fishermen, so they work in the channel. If they are told to go out to sea, they are giving themselves up to death because they will face the waves and ships”.
Our various attempts to reach SMB’s managers have been unsuccessful. But a communiqué published on its official website reads that in November 2017 the SMB consortium offered two motorised boats to Katounou and Séghèyiré, two localities in the sub-prefecture of Kolaboui (Boké). This donation aims to “strengthen the safety and income of fishermen,” the article reads.
On the other hand, the Director of Mines, Mr. Wang, reassured that the move is the eloquent proof of the willingness of the SMB WINNING Consortium to accompany all the impacted communities for a good neighbourliness profitable to all parties.
Notwithstanding the claims of the communities impacted by mining activities in the Boké region, SMB continues to assist certain small-scale fishing stakeholders. Back on April 24, 2020, the mining company made another donation of three motorised pirogues to the fishermen of Kabata (Boké). This support consisted of 18 bundles of nets, nine float bags, three 15-horsepower Yamaha engines, 120 litres of fuel and administrative documents delivered by the maritime navigation agency.
Community Relations Officer, N’Famara Kourouma said: “This grant aims to mitigate the impacts of bauxite river transport, increase community income and reduce the risk of fatal accidents along the channel.”
What about environmental pollution?
Accused of polluting the environment and drinking water sources, SMB says it has taken a measure to protect the space in its area of operation. This involves the launch of a biological technique that can “substantially” reduce dust and mud along the mining road. This method is called “Earth Zyme and Dust Stop Municipal Blend”. This experimental phase was launched in December 2018 on the Katougouma mining road.
Wang Shengli, the chief works engineer, says that this new approach of the Consortium is the result of the company’s willingness to improve its strategy regarding the respect of the environment in the areas of impact of the company. “We completed the test section by adopting this technique, which consists in hardening the mining road over 20 km initially, and then over 23 km for the rest”. Compared to the traditional method of watering the mining roads with water tankers, the engineer says this new method is more efficient. “We have always used water tankers. But, unlike the old method, our new approach will significantly reduce water use, which is of paramount importance in terms of saving water sources.”
Today, in the Boké region, the major difficulty lies in the lack of a framework for consultation between the various users of the sea, including fishermen and mining companies. The prefectural director of fisheries in Boffa believes it is essential to set up a consultation framework that allows the stakeholders to discuss the existing problems among themselves, because cohabitation is important for peaceful operations.