After many months I finally got the Consultants (ERM) on board and managed the kick off meeting for the ESIA, required for the next expansion phase Pepel 35/Phase 2. This presented a suitable milestone for me to move on to a fresh challenge after over 3 years on the project as General Manager, Environment with African Minerals, based in Sierra Leone.
In particular the CEO and his new senior management have no clue about working in West Africa; the Canadian Environmental guy informed me with enthusiasm he was ‘bringing mechanised agriculture to Tonkolili’ – an upland rain forest area – Totally inappropriate and doomed to failure. I had seen enough. I was not surprised to see some time later that the whole project and company had been run into the ground and was taken over. You reap what you sow I always say.
When I first came to Sierra Leone, Pepel was deserted, the old hospital medical facilities were intact with equipment lying on the operating tables; trees had grown up holding the abandoned trains onto the rail track and there was one drill rig at Tonkolili. What has been achieved subsequently has been nothing short of phenomenal and I applaud my colleagues and project partners for creating this huge positive asset for the benefit of the country.
It certainly was no walk in the park; there was no Environmental Department or resources and back at the start of 2010 construction commenced across the entire footprint and I began the mad race around the work sites to advise on project standards and procedures to be followed. I smile now at the conditions of near zero telecomms, hopeless cars, rough tracks and facilities that were not established to cater for something they had not experienced before.
My work has to date found rare animals and fish and 5 plant species new to science and I was successful in officially naming the tree species after the project – Gilbertiodendron tonkolili, a fitting legacy for me that started life as a Botanist. I routed the road/rail around a group of chimpanzee way back and we continue to work with the communities there, where we provided latrines, tree nursery and other support. We have just completed the facility at Pepel which will host the environmental education programme for school children I designed, to help the next generation be aware of the environment.
I feel very comfortable that I am leaving behind a positive legacy for someone to deliver steady state compliance.
I have worked in many countries from Russia, to Asia, South America to Africa and there will always be expats like me who think nothing of jumping on a plane to visit a new chunk of the planet and sample a new group within our Global society. However, this project was special – Sierra Leone. From the hand-less peddlers in Freetown to the one-legged footballers on Lumley beach, the tenacity and ambition of Sierra Leoneans can only be admired and is very humbling, even to a well-seasoned traveller like me. When I first came, even those who were forward looking didn’t really dare to believe that something good was going to happen, they had been disappointed so many times before. I literally met people who did not believe we actually had a railway and thought it all propaganda. I say to Sierra Leoneans – grab this thing with both hands, squeeze it and make it happen! these are your mineral resources; go forward and prosper.
I take away a collection of interesting experiences from here and have enjoyed meeting a bunch of characters and made some good friends. My favourite phrase from SL – Have a Blessed Day.