Interview: An Expat; A Manager – How Two Young Liberians Breakthrough the Ranks of Int’l Mining Company, Avesoro
Monrovia – Rising to a top position of an international company is no ordinary feat. So, when one excels extraordinarily amid the plethora of challenges of being career professional in Liberia, that person becomes an inspiration to many others.
Hamilton S.S. Kamara,32, and Sydney Jenkins Cooper,33, are two Liberians who have ascended to senior managerial positions at two respective subsidiaries of international gold mining company, Avesoro Holdings. Avesoro owns MNG Gold in Kokoya, Bong County and Bea Mountain Mining Company in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County in Liberia. The company also owns mines in Burkina Faso.
In October 2020, Kamara, a Mining Engineer, was promoted as Mines Manager at MNG Gold in Kokoya, where he has been working for the past four years. Meanwhile, Cooper, who is a Geologist, had already been working as an expatriate in at the Youga Gold Mine, Burkina Faso since 2018 as the Mine Geology Superintendent – a position that came with “hard work, commitment, and discipline”.
With similar career paths, the two distinguished alumni of the University of Liberia have formed part of a fraternity of mining experts that are leading the industrial gold mining sector.
But how did their respective journey start, how has Avesoro Holdings or its subsidiaries help developed their professional careers? Can their stories inspire other young Liberian professionals endeavoring to become professionals? We have been speaking with the two mining experts beginning with Mr. Kamara
Question: Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Kamara: Let me first give God the glory to be at this level. I graduated from the University of Liberia 2015 class from the Department of Mining Engineering. I have been working for this company since 2016 September as a mining engineer and it has been an amazing time since starting my work here.
I have worked as an ordinary mining engineer – working with foreign counterparts and locals, working with people from diverse background, especially our foreign friends including the Turkish nationals. Every job has its own responsibilities, and every new position or achievement comes with some tasks and challenges.
Before I held this current position, we had been operating more than three mining pits and we succeeded in the last four years and based on my work, in October this year I was called by the General Manager Mr. Cem Koray Yagci and then he gave me this welcoming news of promoting me to the position of Mines Manager for the new project.
Being a young Liberian, how did you get this job with MNG Gold?
Mining activities were not impressive in Liberia; we had just one mining company which was the Bea Mountain Mining Company in Grand Cape Mount County at the time. So, when I graduated, I started working as a geologist – working as a contractor for some exploration companies.
When I ended my contract with those exploration companies, I started to do some voluntary work for the Ministry of Mines and Energy — working as a volunteer engineer. While working there, I was asked by the Minister then to be part of a team to monitor ArcelorMittal and when we got there, we inspected their operations.
While on our way from Mittal, I received a call from MNG Gold — that was in 2016 — that they have got hold of my CV and they needed to test by ability. I later went through the interview and I was called to begin work.
What does it take to move from being an ordinary mining engineering to becoming a manager for the mines?
Kamara: I can tell anyone that promotion comes from God and secondly, you must be a dedicated person, responsible and you must be submissive to your bosses. Working with this company for four years, these are the kind of attributes that are brought to the table.
I may not be the best of all Liberian mining engineers, but I think that with God’s favor and certain characteristics, I have proven to be a responsible young man, intelligent, hardworking, and very respectful.
What Kind of message you think MNG Gold is sending out there by promoting a young Liberian like you to lead its mining operations here in Bong County, Liberia?
Kamara: I think the company is showing that it values local content, which is a valuable component of the Mineral Development Agreement between the company and the government of Liberia.
This component focuses on the extra value that an extractive industry provides for the local communities, the local region, and the country where it operates. This ranges from community development, individual capacity building including national and international training, promotion of local staff and equal opportunity for local nationals.
So, the company promoting me is part of its respect and confidence in local content. And for me having this opportunity, I think the message is that MNG Gold is not just a mining company, but they are also in line MDA by giving locals equal opportunity to serve in managerial positions like our foreign counterparts.
A lot of folks working for the company says that it is trying to set a new standard that Liberians can take on more top jobs and even lead the company in the future, do you feel the same?
Kamara: Exactly, that is the message. Because if the beginning can be like this, it shows that there is better plan for this country, and I think this is the kind of vison they have Liberians working here and this will further advance our leadership in the gold mining sector for the future.
What do you see as the future of professional Liberians working at MNG Gold company in Bong County?
Kamara: Based on what we are beginning to see, the future will be amazing, especially with the leadership of the current general manager, he seems to be more human driven, developmental oriented and he seems to be protecting the interest of the local nationals and with this kind of mindset, Liberians can be very successful.
On the other hand, I expect all Liberians here to be very corporative, respectful, hardworking, commitment and dedication.
You are a young Liberian that has excelled to this position, this means a lot of young people will see you as an example of this mining sector, what will you tell those venturing onto your path?
Kamara: The message I want to send to young mining engineers or would-be engineers is: first, if you are a young graduate, you must see yourself as someone who is willing to endure patience, be respectful, hardworking and a work-centered person – this will make you to rise to the highest seat.
You are only 32, you have excelled to this stage where do we expect to see you in the next five in your professional career?
Kamara: I tent to continue with industrial mining experience and then after five years I intent to manage the natural resources of Liberia by taking on responsibility at the national level to help set standards in the mineral and mining sectors of our country.
Meanwhile, we have also been speaking to Mr. Cooper, who also recounted how he switched from studying Civil Engineering to Geology and then getting in a challenging path to becoming an expat in a French-speaking country.
Question: Tell us how you became a Geologist?
Cooper: When I graduated from secondary school, I went division one in WAEC, so I did not need to take a university entrance so, I enrolled at the University of Liberia in 2006, and I decided to do Civil Engineering because I was a Science student – I love Physis, Mathematics, Chemistry. But about a year later, the Ministry of Mines sent representatives at the University to encourage students to enroll at the geology and the mining departments because they need people in the sector – we were just from war and Liberia had potential for exploration, so they needed young professionals in the Geology and Mining industries.
So, I contacted a friend to ask him what Geology was because I did not know what Geology was? And he told me that Geologists find the mineral and turn it over to mining engineers and they mine it. So, I asked him if the field was very challenging because I like difficult task and he said it was a difficult profession.
When I completed my second semester, I decided to do a change of Major, and then I changed from Civil Engineering to Geology and that was how I started. I can recall, my first Geology Course, we were 137 in the class but upon graduation, in 2012, we were only three that came from that class.
How did your career path intersect with Avesoro?
Cooper: When I completed my course at the University of Liberia, one of my professors was working with Bea Mountain at the time. We spoke with him asking for the opportunity to do internship for three months or so until we can graduate. He agreed and arranged with the exploration manager at the time who was a lady – a very experienced exploration geologist in West Africa. We went there and work – it was challenging but we proved ourselves. We were not promised jobs but then surprisingly when we completed our internship, came back to Monrovia, and graduated, 15 days into the new year, I received a call that the exploration manager needed me to work with Bea Mountain.
Since 2013, I have been with Bea Mountain until 2016 when MNG Gold came and took over from Aureus mining, so I have been with Avesoro throughout my career.
Question: How does it feel as a Liberian working with an international mining company in a foreign company?
Cooper: I see my role as a very vital one. When I started working as a junior Geologist starting from the grassroot, I saw some expatriates coming, mainly British, South Africans, Ghanaians, and Australians, who I worked with during my early years of experience and so I had this hope that one day, myself will go out there to be an expat.
But going out to be an expatriate is not bread and butter, it’s very challenging because your employer expects deliverables, whether you know it or not, you have to deliver so it’s very challenging, but it is also rewarding because as you have some difficult tasks at hand and you fight to conquer it, you learn again and you build your experience, you broaden your mind and you start to grow continuously.
Question: You started as a Junior Geologist at Bea Mountain, now you are an expat, can you tell us about your career progression within the company?
Cooper: In 2012, I worked as an intern for three months, and then was hired in 2013 as a Junior Geologist, worked for four years and then when Avesoro took over, my new manager saw that the position I had and what I was doing was far above my position, so I was promoted to Geologist Supervisor and I supervised for almost two years and then I got this opportunity to come to Burkina Faso to be a Mine Geology Superintendent at the time.
It was not first promised to me as we came to do an assessment to review the resource for Geological audit – the consultant wanted to know what was going on so, I was selected by my boss to be on the team and carry out the review.
And then my boss wanted to setup the same system that we were using at New Liberty, so he asked me if I could stay in Burkina Faso and set up the system and so, I was shocked because it [the offer] came impromptu. I consulted my wife; I consulted my friends and they said, “yes you can take on the challenge” and I accepted.
When I accepted it was not easy – it was very difficult! It was like the guys did not want me to succeed so they pushed me; most of the time they [the local guys at the time] would undermine some decisions I would make.
I was working 18 to 20 hours a day – even if I went home, I would have to come back and cross-checked what I told them to do. I believe in this principle that states: “you get what you inspect but you don’t get what you expect”. So, I was always checking and checking until I was able to change the dynamics and they all accepted the change and now, things are moving fine, and we are working as a team.
Question: So, Burkina Faso is a French speaking country, do you have any challenges because of language barrier?
Cooper: I have had challenges and still having challenges because the predominant national language is French and most of the guys speak their local languages. Initially, it was very difficult for me when communicating. I would have to use the internet to translate what I had to say to them and gave my information. It was challenging. But my French-speaking ability is gradually growing.
Question: You manage to put a system in place here [in Burkina Faso]. You were given the opportunity by the company even though it was a big challenge, but you overcome your challenges, what contribution do you think Bea Mountain Mining Company made in the development of your career path?
Cooper: When we started working at Bea Mountain, they provided us some trainings in various managerial skills and other technical related skills. The history about Liberia is that we have been mining only in the iron ore sector, we have not been involved with industrial gold mining so when the mines was built, the philosophy was that Liberians were inexperienced, so we need to train them to a lot of things.
And so, some of the trainings I received was the Courageous Leadership Training, the Gonkgu Management training, the seven habits of the highly effective people, field level risk assessment training and safety and lots of other training help broaden my mind.
I would say that those training built the foundation for me to grow up because most of the time I take ideas from these trainings and apply them to practical life and most recently, before I could come to Burkina Faso, I was trained in Blast Dynamic and that’s what we are using now here in Burkina Faso.
Question: Now, you are an expat in a senior managerial role like another Liberian, [ Hamilton Kamara] who has been promoted as Mines Manager at MNG Gold in Liberia, what will you suggest to him and other Liberians threading your path?
Cooper: Let me first congratulate Hamilton S.S. Kamara, he was a colleague at the University, we all did courses together; he is a smart guy and I’m proud of him to hear that he has been promoted to a high position.
My piece of motivation to him is that: this not the end, he should see his promotion as a new beginning to push higher because there will be greater challenges; so, he must broaden his mind for the tasks ahead and continue to look at the big picture.
I would also like to encourage other Liberians, whether they are studying in the field of Geology or so, they should take everything seriously. Study hard because what you put in is what you get. You study hard, the rewards are there. I also want to let them know that they can do it because I have done it and Hamilton has done it too, so lots of them can do it too.
There will be difficult time that they will have to go through like me. I was in the University, but I was riding motorbike taxi to sustain myself to go to school, so imagine a university student riding commercial motorbike but I kept my focus and overcome. I am not complacent, so I will keep pushing and any Liberian can do the same.