Several hundred civilians took to the streets of Lolabe, a small coastal village on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean, according to Cameroonian authorities. The civilians claimed they were protesting 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 Chinese state-owned miner. The deal, according to Cameroon, will develop 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.
By allowing Sinosteel to conduct a feasibility study on the quantity of iron ore in Lobe and authorising the same company to exploit the iron ore, the Cameroonian government, according to Libii, has demonstrated that it is neither transparent nor accountable. He stated that the deposit estimates are not guaranteed to be accurate.
Libii also stated that a Cameroonian company, rather than a foreign company, should have been granted a licence to explore and exploit the natural resource.
Libii, speaking over the phone, said 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 believes that studies on the amount of iron ore in the area should be conducted by an independent firm.
According to local media, including Vision 4 TV, police who arrived on the scene did not disperse the crowd because it was peaceful.
Cameroon claims that Libii’s claims that the project will not benefit locals are false.
Cameroon’s mines minister, Gabriel Dodo Ndoke, said Sinosteel Cam will build schools, hospitals, roads, and a 20-kilometer pipeline to transport ore from Lobe to the port in Kribi, a coastal city in the south of the country.
“The state has signed a win-win mining convention,” he explained. “On a macroeconomic level, the project will make a significant contribution to the growth of our economy by adding significant value to GDP. The mining code in Cameroon mandates the payment of specific mining taxes for local development, and the Sinosteel mining agreement incorporated all of these factors.”
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 that are created as a result of the mine’s presence in the community.
Sinosteel Cam will mine 10 million tonnes of ore with a 33 percent iron content each year for the next ten years, according to the government.
According to a study conducted by Sinosteel Cam, Lobe has iron reserves of 632 million tonnes.
Cameroonians and Chinese miners have always had a tense relationship in the central African country. Chinese miners are accused of breaking Cameroonian laws prohibiting mining on riverbeds, swampy areas, and waterfalls.
Cameroonians also claim that Chinese workers in eastern gold mines do not contribute to the development of villages, pay workers less than $3 after 12 hours of work, and do not follow environmental regulations.
Fred Duven is an economist and member of the Cameroonian civil society group Dynamique Citoyenne. Cameroonians are angry, according to Duven, because the government grants Chinese mining licences when qualified Cameroonians are ready to industrialise their country.
“Chinese companies send their employees here, but they do not contribute to the community. Cameroonians who are worthy and wealthy can engage in exploration business, which can generate more jobs than the direct jobs that the convention is attempting to promote, which are dependent on the whims and caprices of the Chinese company.”