Navigating the intergenerational divide? Youth, artisanal diamond mining, and social transformation in Sierra Leone

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Alleviating mass rural poverty is Sierra Leone’s greatest development challenge. It is a deeply political issue in so much as the country has abundant natural resources, yet is characterized by networks of elite actors who capture and control much of the wealth they generate. Access to these resources has long been bridged by informal networks, with strong patron-client relationships defining rural life in resource-rich stretches of the country. Recent scholarly analysis of these relationships has placed much emphasis on inter-generational interactions and power relations, both as a factor that mediates opportunities for young people, and their ability to access resources and lift themselves out of poverty. Here, it has been suggested that mobility and immobility are key factors in shaping young people’s livelihood experiences and their ability to negotiate intergenerational tension. The artisanal and small-scale mining sector – informal, labour-intensive, low-tech mineral extraction and processing – provides a fertile vehicle for exploring both the expansion and contraction of patronage networks over time, and how young people navigate the intergenerational relationships that shape their livelihoods. Drawing upon both historical analysis, and mixed method multi-sited fieldwork undertaken over an extended period between 2003-2016, the paper focuses on Kono District, where artisanal mining has long been attracting young, single, unemployed migrants seeking a way out of agrarian poverty. In doing so, the analysis provides a longitudinal picture of the dynamic relationship between youth and artisanal mining, and its place within Sierra Leone’s complex political economy. The paper concludes by reflecting on the current state of the artisanal mining sector, where youth livelihood portfolios, patterns of mobility and relationships with patrons continue to be in a state of flux.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)744-750
Number of pages7
JournalExtractive Industries and Society
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • artisanal mining
  • diamonds
  • youth mobility
  • intergenerational relations
  • Sierra Leone


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