Centre for Development Studies

Mapping informal financial flows in the artisanal mining sector: the cases of Sierra Leone and Liberia

Principle Investigator: Roy Maconachie

Research Team: Co-Investigator, Gavin Hilson (The Surrey Business School)

Project Partners: University of Surrey, UK; International Growth Centre, UK

Funding Body: International Growth Centre

Project Rationale and Aims:

The proposed research seeks to inform evolving efforts to formalize artisanal gold mining in West Africa’s Mano River Union Region by mapping informal financial flows in the communities where alluvial gold extraction is taking place.  It will explore how wider changes in the financial circuits and social relations governing artisanal mining affect rural livelihoods, resource distribution and well-being at the household level.  It also aims to understand and quantify the informal trans-border transactions that take place.  In doing so, it will employ an innovative methodology involving the compilation of 'financial diaries' of those engaged in the sector, as well as others who depend on the artisanal gold mining economy for their livelihoods.  Focusing on Sierra Leone and Liberia, the locations of two of West Africa’s most dynamic artisanal mining sectors, and where the investigators have well-established networks, this research will generate critical baseline data on the financial landscapes of artisanal gold mining communities.  It will inform policy mechanisms that aim to support a formalized artisanal sector in both countries and more widely, across sub-Saharan Africa.  

Project Outputs and Impact:

In both Sierra Leone and Liberia, current government strategies for harnessing natural resource wealth have focused on a top-down ‘growth pole’ approach. But there has been little attention given to understanding how artisanal mining communities can contribute to growth through bottom-up local economic development. Through the micro-analysis of interconnected informal and socially regulated financial relationships, the research findings from this project will have a transformative effect on understandings of current economic and social development strategies, in turn, facilitating the implementation of poverty alleviation policies and growth measures that are more in tune with the needs of the poor. In the process, the research will deepen understandings of the trans-border financial landscapes that artisanal gold miners must negotiate, and contribute to the design of a formalization blueprint for the sector. In doing so, the research will also contribute to the IGC's 'State' theme, specifically by facilitating improved traceability and transparency in a rapidly evolving artisanal gold mining sector industry; its 'Firms' theme, by putting poor people at the heart of grassroots industrial development; and by adding a new dimension to IGC’s work on Ebola recovery strategies in Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

This project builds directly on an IGC-funded pilot study carried out by the investigators in 2016, entitled, 'Opening the door to formalization? Small-scale diamond mining and rural economic development in Sierra Leone'. In doing so, the research will address three important knowledge-gaps that were revealed in the pilot project: 1) there is a pressing need for a regional comparative project on financial flows within the artisanal mining in the Mano River Region, since the informal mining economy and the actors that sustain it operate across country borders; 2) in policy discussions that concern the formalization of artisanal mining, there is a dearth of accurate financial and economic data to drawn upon, particularly since most activities/transactions take place in the informal, illegal domain; 3) there is an urgent demand for a detailed study on artisanal gold mining - most policy discussions and research to date have focused solely on diamonds, and until very recently, gold has largely remained an afterthought for policy makers. The project will directly address these three important research gaps, and will in the process provide much-needed quantitative and qualitative data to inform both national and regional artisanal mining formalization and economic growth strategies. 

Project outputs outlined in the project proposal will be as follows:

Due date
Project Summary and Project Influence Plan 30/06/2017
Progress Report 1, IRB approval, and Survey Plan  28/02/2018
Academic Paper and workshop report     31/08/2018
Policy Brief, Project Influence Report, blog post, and Final financial summary     30/09/2018



For more information about this project please contact:

Name: Dr Roy Maconachie
Title: Reader
Department: Dept of Social and Policy Sciences
Location: 3 East 3.28
E-mail: r.maconachie@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 384524