Department of Social & Policy Sciences

Formalising informality? New research on artisanal and small-scale mining in West Africa

Wed Feb 10 10:09:00 GMT 2016

Dr Roy Maconachie has won funding for two new research projects into the formalisation of small-scale informal mining in West Africa.

The first project to be funded by Humanity United is for a two year project entitled, Deepening governance and widening ‘spaces’ for change: community participation and natural resource transparency in post-conflict West Africa.

This research will examine the main challenges associated with facilitating improved governance in small-scale mining communities, focusing specifically on the experiences of post-war Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone. In both countries, the informal and unregulated nature of the alluvial diamond sector played an instrumental role in driving and prolonging regional conflict, and it currently remains the root of much corruption and exploitation. While minimal effort has yet been made to develop the intervention models needed to address this exploitation, or ‘empower’ unregistered miners and their families at the bottom of the supply chain, it has been argued that the formalisation of small-scale mining and better governance at the local-level are the keys to making the sector more sustainable.

The project will assess two recent initiatives aimed at facilitating improved governance in the countries’ diamond sectors: the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) for rough diamonds and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). With both initiatives, critics maintain, there has been little engagement with local stakeholders.  Consequently, their impact at the grassroots level has been negligible. In addressing this disconnect, the research will explore how more meaningful community-level participation can be facilitated in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where both governments are currently struggling to formalise their artisanal and small-scale diamond mining economies. In doing this, the research will improve understanding of the challenges for ‘deepening’ natural resource governance at the local-level and converting resource revenues into sustainable development outcomes, in the process drawing important lessons for other resource-rich African countries that are prone to conflict and fragility.

A second project funded by the International Growth Centre and won in collaboration with Professor Gavin Hilson (University of Surrey) and Ms. Ainsley Butler (Diamond Development Initiative) is entitled, Opening the door to formalisation: small-scale diamond mining and rural economic development in Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone, the informal and unregulated nature of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector has long played an instrumental role in driving and prolonging regional conflict, and it currently remains the root of much corruption and exploitation. Consequently, some observers now argue that the formalisation of ASM – that is, moves made specifically to bring illegal operators into the legal domain – will address the critical problems associated with the sector, a lengthy list which includes land degradation, debt bondage and exploitation of labourers.  This research aims to generate critical baseline data in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s recent Ebola crisis, to inform a robust blueprint for the formalisation of small-scale diamond mining, and in the process, engage policymakers to implement this plan.