Cameroonian Villagers Protest China Iron Ore Mining Deal

A map showing the location of Cameroon in West Africa.

Cameroonian authorities say Monday several hundred civilians took to the streets of Lolabe, a small coastal village on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. The civilians said they were protesting the recent deal signed by the government for iron ore to be exported from their village and Lobe, the district where Lolabe is located.

Earlier this month, the government announced the $676 million high-grade iron ore mining deal with Sinosteel Cam S.A., a Cameroonian subsidiary of the state-owned Chinese miner. Cameroon said the deal will develop the Lobe iron ore mine located in the south of the country.

Opposition lawmaker and former presidential candidate Cabral Libii said he organized the protest.

Libii said the Cameroonian government has shown that it is neither transparent nor accountable by allowing Sinosteel to carry out a feasibility study on the quantity of iron ore in Lobe and authorizing the same company to exploit the iron ore. He said there is no guarantee that the estimates of the deposit are exact.

Libii also said a Cameroonian company should have been given a license to explore and exploit the natural resource instead of a foreign company that has no interest in developing Cameroon and moving its citizens out of poverty.

Speaking via telephone, Libii said the interests of the host community are not well spelled out in the exploitation agreement and there is nothing in the deal that compels the iron ore exploitation company to develop Lobe and Lolabe. He said an independent firm should be hired to conduct studies on the amount of iron ore in the region.

Local media including Vision 4 TV reported that police who deployed to the scene did not disperse the crowd because the protest was peaceful.

Cameroon says allegations by Libii that locals will not benefit from the project are unfounded.

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."

Ndoke said the project is expected to generate at least 600 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs. Direct jobs refer to positions posted by the company. Indirect jobs refer to those created in the community due to the mine's presence.

The government says under the terms of the deal, Sinosteel Cam will mine 10 million tons of ore with 33% iron content annually for 10 years.

Cameroon says a study conducted by Sinosteel Cam indicates that Lobe has 632 million tons of iron reserves.

There have always been conflicts between Cameroonians and Chinese miners in the central African state. Cameroonians accuse Chinese miners of violating Cameroonian laws, which prohibit mining on riverbeds, swampy areas and waterfalls.

Cameroonians also say the Chinese in eastern gold mines do not help to develop villages, pay workers less than $3 after 12 hours of work and do not respect environmental norms.

Fred Duven is an economist and member of Dynamique Citoyenne, a Cameroonian civil society group. Duven says Cameroonians are angry because the government gives mining licenses to the Chinese when there are qualified Cameroonians who 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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