How the wealth from Sierra Leone’s diamonds fails to enrich local communities – by Roy Maconachie (The Conversation – May 23, 2018)

Ever since diamonds were discovered in Sierra Leone in the 1930s, they have had a significant impact on the country – socially, politically and economically. This is partly to do with how they are extracted from the ground.

In countries in southern Africa, diamond mining is mostly undertaken by large-scale, mechanised companies, which monitor and control deep reserves. But in Sierra Leone, diamonds are more commonly dispersed close to the surface of river beds. They can be found by anyone with a shovel and a sieve.

This accessibility has made Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich Kono district a magnet for migrant workers – mostly young, single, uneducated, unemployed men seeking their fortunes. World Bank estimates suggest the artisanal diamond mining sector is now Sierra Leone’s second largest employer (after agriculture), providing a livelihood for between 300,000 and 400,000 people.

Since 2003, I have been carrying out research in Kono, looking into the challenges of the diamond mining sector, and its problems of exploitation and poverty. My most recent project, funded by the US foundation Humanity United, aims to shed some light on the challenges of natural resource governance, and converting revenues into sustainable development.

Despite the non-mechanical and non-regulated nature of artisanal diamond extraction in Sierra Leone, there is still a tightly managed, highly ordered structure to production. Typically, gangs of labourers will work together in small areas, digging up gravel, and transporting and washing it.

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