Yengema is located in Bandafafeh Section, Nimikoro Chiefdom, Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone in West Africa. The town is approximately 6 miles South/West of Koidu (the city of Kono District) and about 109 miles east of Freetown, the capital city of the West African country Sierra Leone. The community largely engages in diamond mining as the main source of livelihood. Yengema is a predominantly Muslim town, though with a significant Christian minority.
Before the Sierra Leonean civil war in 1991, Yengema was one of the most populated towns in the Eastern Province. During the civil war, Yengema suffered the worst atrocities as the town constantly fell in the different hands by several factions due to the rich diamond reserves.
Yengema is engulfed by the following towns and villages: Motema, Ngaiya, Bendu III, Wuade, Gbekor, Tonguma, Kissy town, and Gbafah. Yengema served as the economic and social hub of these communities. Yengema Secondary School (YSS) was one of the most prominent secondary schools in the country. The children of mine workers and neighboring towns and villages attended YSS.
The population census conducted in 2012 indicated that the population of Yengema was about 13,358 people. The population is ethnically diverse because of the influx of people into the mining communities. The majority of the residents were Mandingo and Kono. The primary language of communication is Krio. The town is further divided into five sub-areas with Traditional Authority called ‘Fungumansa’ meaning ‘Area Chief’ and the Town Chief, Kenneth Kai Tommy. Some Tribal Headmen represent their various tribes at the Elders Council.
Yengema was host to the very first diamond industry in Sierra Leone. Diamonds were first discovered in Sierra Leone in a little village in Kono District called Futigaya, Nimikoro Chiefdom along the Freetown highway in 1930. The Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) Ltd was founded in Sierra Leone in 1934 after the De Beers had illicitly mined over 32,000 carats of diamonds by hand. The SLST convinced the government, which was administered by England, to grant exclusive mining concessions, meaning that all the diamonds found in the rainforest went to the company.
Yengema was identified by the early European diamond miners as the most ideal place to settle. The indigenes of Yengema allocated the mountainous Leopard Hills to the SLST, where they built their beautiful bungalows and quarters for the staff.
Yengema was selected as the Headquarter Town for the SLST operations as the first processing plant was built there and had a plethora of labor force from the villagers, as the locals did not know the value of diamonds.
After World War II, when Sierra Leoneans returned and became aware of the value of diamonds, they sought to mine it to get wealth. Sierra Leone encountered a diamond rush with the influx of Liberians, Guineans, and other nationals.
Yengema became the envy of Kono as the SLST built a well-equipped and modern hospital, super market, canteen, and night clubs for their staff. The government did not build any hospital facility in Yengema. When the war broke out, these facilities were looted and later set ablaze. To date, there are no relics of these facilities anymore.
The damage done to Yengema cannot be overemphasized. The beautiful brick bungalow houses were unroofed, and the bricks were pounded into dust and further washed for diamonds. The tarred roads were mined out.
After the war, most of the indigenes returned to the ghost towns of Yengema to start their lives all over again and rebuild their communities. It has been a daunting task for the people of Yengema as the diamonds are no longer easy to mine. Yengema and its environs are characterized by shallow mining activities. The shallow mines are all mined-out places and are unproductive. What is left of the mining fields now is deep mining, which is profoundly the capital intensive. However, people cannot afford the cost.
Yengema Town has degenerated into a dilapidated old-fashioned village with no pipe-borne water, no electricity supply, no hospital or clinics, and the main road leading to the town is in a deployable state.
Yengema has not reverted to its glory days even after 17 years when the war was declared over in Sierra Leone. An old diamond city still lies in ruins.
BY SAMUEL FLY GANDI