Sierra Leone Union Sues Rival; Alleges Massive Thefts

A decade ago, Sierra Leone was in the throes of brutal anarchy, a civil war over control of diamond mines and exports.  That war, depicted in the 2006 movie, “Blood Diamond,” eventually claimed tens of thousands of lives before the UN brokered a settlement early this decade.  Yet a battle of a legal sort is being fought in that small, tropical West African country of a little over six million people.  Serious money is at issue all the same.  Earlier this month a group of truck drivers representing the Motor Drivers and General Transport Union filed a court injunction against another union, the Drivers and General Transport Workers.  Claiming to be the true workers’ representative, the Motor Drivers are alleging its rival had engaged in activity that has caused losses, in U.S. terms, of as much as tens of millions of dollars.  In a country whose annual per capita income is less than $1,000 and whose work force primarily is engaged in subsistence agriculture, that’s hardly insignificant.       


Sierra Leone won its independence from Britain in 1961 and officially became a republic a decade later.  But the country hadn’t known anything resembling stability until 2000, when the United Nations approved and implemented a certification system for exporting diamonds.  Despite its poverty, the country is rich in minerals – diamonds, of course, but also rutile (titanium) and bauxite (aluminum).  Trucking these minerals and other materials can be lucrative, especially for drivers belonging to a union.  The plaintiffs list six ways in which the Drivers and General Transport Workers Drivers stole funds, the most blatant being unauthorized bank withdrawals, graft from weekly government truck use payments, and daily “collections” (i.e., shakedowns) from individual truckers.  The peace enjoyed by the nearly 28,000-square-mile nation may be more fragile than meets the eye.  (Sierra Leone Standard Times Press News, 9/11/08; other sources).