Artisanal mining, mechanization and human (in) security in Sierra Leone

Felix Marco Conteh, Roy Maconachie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In recent years, as alluvial mineral deposits in many regions of West Africa have become ‘worked out’, new methods of extraction have become increasingly prevalent. In the case of Sierra Leone, traditional artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) employing rudimentary hand tools has gradually become more mechanized, with the illicit use of heavy machines outpacing the development of laws and policies aimed at regulating them. Drawing on field-based research undertaken in diamondiferous Kono District in Sierra Leone's Eastern Province, this paper explores the political economy underpinning the mechanization of ASM, as well as its implications for human security. Popular discourse has frequently employed technical narratives to explain the drivers of mechanization, including dwindling alluvial diamond deposits, unreliable geological data and the weak law enforcement capacity of regulatory agencies. This paper, however, contends that the mechanization of ASM is also an elite adaptation strategy through which modes of production are effectively controlled. This process is deeply political and divisive, resulting in the (re)production of winners and losers. As inequality between elite actors and dispossessed diggers has deepened, the resulting human security challenges of mechanization are immense—including undervalued and dislocated labor, rapid environmental degradation, and the widespread destruction of livelihoods. A shift in mining policy and law that is likely to address the human security impacts currently unravelling in ASM communities, should be preceded by a grounded, cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine the potential winners and losers, and to inform more sustainable design and implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100983
JournalExtractive Industries and Society
Early online date18 Aug 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2021

Keywords

  • Alluvial diamonds
  • Artisanal mining
  • Human security
  • Mechanisation
  • Modes of production
  • Sierra Leone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Economic Geology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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