Stakeholders’ Engagement on the Management and protection of Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) – 21ST May 2022.
Venue: Fintonia Town, Tambakha Yogbanjie Chiefdom, Karene District.
Reserve forests are rare gems and exceptionally relevant for a country’s social, health and economic security. In addition, not only are forests relevant to promoting eco-tourism, they also contribute in no mean ways towards economic, social and national security of a country. Therefore, protecting the forests and all other reserved areas remains quintessential for any security-conscious country.
Outamba is one of fifteen (15) networks of protected areas under the aegis of the Otamba Kilimi Administration, on behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone. The total land mass of Outamba is estimated at 110,000 hectares and was gazetted as a reserved forest in 1994 and has been intact since.
However, recent developments have seen a lot of illegal activities that are threatening the survival of the Park.
Regarding the above and following reports of the growing spate of illegal ravaging of the Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP), the NS Coord, ONS; Mr. Abdulai Caulker, on 21st May 2022, led a cross section of the joint NSCCG/PROSEC North West Region for a stakeholders’ engagement on the management and protection of the OKNP in Fintonia, Tambakha Yogbanjie Chiefdom. The team comprised the Minister of Environment, the NS Coord, the CoS-ONS, the Director, Provincial Security- Department- ONS, the Director of Operations-SLP, the PS-MIA, the ACDS Ops and Plans-RSLAF, the ED-NPAA, the Resident Minister-North West Region, the Battalion Commander-RSLAF, District Officer-Karene, the PS Coord-North West, the DS Coord-Karene, the LUC-Karene, the Manager-OKNP, and local authorities, among others.
The meeting was chaired and co-chaired by the NS Coord and the Resident Minister, North West Region respectively. In his opening, the NS Coord expressed appreciation for the appreciable turnout of the local authorities and took the opportunity to extend greetings from the Chairman of the National Security Council (NSC); His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Brig. (rtd.) Julius Maada Bio.
The NS Coord stated that the purpose of the engagement was to frankly discuss the problems facing the preservation of the Outamba Kilimi Nation Park; one of the critical national assets for Sierra Leone. That the rate of illegal activities has attracted the attention of His Excellency, the President and had therefore directed that all lawful measures should be put in place to address the anomaly as a matter of urgency.
The NS Coord outlined that issues such as; illegal timber Logging, gold mining on water beds, poaching, etc. are among the problems facing the management and protection of the Park and therefore the subjects of discussion. The NS Coord decried the behaviour of some locals who are in the habit of conniving with foreigners to deplete their own forest. He described this as a national disservicenand further stated that while it is the desire of government to extend development to all areas of the country, such development will only be sustained if preserved by the beneficiaries. He also expressed that although the Outamba is a currently and globally recognized facility, such recognition will only be maintained if people refrain from those activities that are inimical to the Park.
The NS Coord reiterated the President’s commitment to the preservation of the natural habitat across Sierra Leone. He therefore expressed that the security sector will continue to firmly support the President’s pledge and vision and will therefore do all within its mandate to prevent the further ravaging of the Outamba as well as all other Government reserved areas.
The NS Coord drew peoples’ attention to what he referred to as a “security timebomb” awaiting explosion and appealed to the people of Tambakha and beyond to serve as watchdogs in order to keep the sanctity of the forest. The NS Coord also informed the gathering that an European Project funds is at the verge of being withdrawn because of the current state of affairs at the Outamba Park. He therefore encouraged the people to discontinue all illegal activities in order to restore the European Union’s confidence and continue in this direction forever.
The co-chairperson, the Resident Minister-North West Region, Honourable Alpha Kanu, started by expressing his disappointment at the state of affairs and cited that an agreement reached between his leadership and the authorities of Tambakha has been breached, which is why a high powered team was in Fintonia. The Honourable Minister opined that the ongoing depletion and pollution activities taking place at the Park are not in favour of unborn generations.
He stated that activities such as timber logging, killing wildlife and illegal gold mining will destroy the ozone-layer and this will adversely affect human and environmental health. He therefore appealed to all and sundry to relate well with the environment so that there will be a balance in nature’s approved symbiotic relationship. The Park Manager, OKNP expressed appreciation for the engagement and described the visit as timely. The Manager supported submissions made by previous speakers and added that dangerous chemicals being used by illegal miners are destructive to precious species as well as the environment. The manager further lamented the fact that because of the current ongoing bad practices, tourists are no longer attracted to the Park because endangered species are being rapidly depleted. She ended by appealing for the community’s support in the management of the Park as the OKNP Administration has always adopted an all-inclusive policy in the management of the Park.
In his contribution, the Director of Operations, Sierra Leone Police, started by expressing that the law frowns at all forms of crimes, including illicit use of dredges to mine gold at water beds, logging of timber and poaching at forests reserve. While he also joined other speakers in appealing to the community to serve as watchdogs, the Director of Operations however promised that the SLP will leave no stone unturned in arresting and prosecuting offenders.
The DS Coord, Karene added that a number of persons arrested during a raid at the Park are currently being prosecuted. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Internal Affairs recommended that local leaders be made to take responsibility for illegal activities being perpetrated at the Park. This, according to the PS, is because, there is no way such activities will take place at the Park without the knowledge and support of the local chiefs. The PS therefore suggested that for any future breach, the powers of the suspected local authority be suspended and given to another chiefdom authority that shows willingness to cooperate with government’s desire.
The local authorities inturn pledged their commitment to supporting government in the protection of the forest, but however appealed that in future, government should always sit and dialogue with them on issues relating to the management and protection of the forest. They further requested for an increment to the number of current Game Guards deployed to keep watch over the Park.
Giving the keynote address, the Minister of Environment, Professor Foday Jaward commenced by expressing hope because statements from local authorities were very assuring and therefore optimistic of a brighter future. He however admonished the people to express patience as the EU as well as all other projects will fully incorporate the community as the project will be an all-inclusive one. The project, the Minister added, is intended to benefit the community much more than the current ongoing illegal activities that are benefiting only a few persons. The Minister stated that an Impact Assessment Survey (IAS) will soon be conducted to ensure that the project follows standard practice. He ended by reminding all that there is an existing Environmental Court which is responsible for trying environmental offenders.
The meeting ended with the following take home resolutions;
a). henceforth, all illegal logging, mining and poaching activities at the OKNP to stop
b). there will be permanent joint-deployment of primary security forces at the OKNP
c). a meeting between Game Guardd and youths of Tambakha be conveyed to strengthen cooperation