Design Project 1: Mining Concessions in Sierra Leone

Design challenge:

Redesign how rural communities engage with the government and foreign companies as mining concessions agreements are negotiated and implemented, in an environment in which processes have been opaque and generated resistance, and communities feel that they have not benefited from the extraction of Sierra Leone’s mineral resources.

Sierra Leone experienced one of Africa’s most destructive civil wars between 1992 and 2002. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, was known for its brutality: mass amputations, systematic rape, and violence against civilians characterized a conflict that turned Sierra Leone into the poorest country in the world. A decade after the conflict came to an end, Sierra Leone has successfully navigated the departure of United Nations peacekeepers, two democratic elections, and the implementation of a series of reforms that have offered hope for a better future to many people who continue to live in extreme poverty.

However, Sierra Leone confronts a persistent challenge: how to effectively manage its natural resources.  For example, despite having one of the world’s richest diamond deposits, Sierra Leone ranks at the bottom of most indicators of human development, with more than 70% of the population living below the poverty line.  The country is emblematic of the idea promoted by political economists of a “resource curse” in which the presence of natural resources undermines the prospects for security, development, democracy, and quality governance.  Natural resources, the mineral sector in particular, have figured centrally in the political economy of Sierra Leone’s one-party rule since independence, its decade-long civil war, and the process of post-conflict reconstruction.

The minerals sector is second only to agriculture as a source of employment and income in Sierra Leone. The country’s resources are mined by approximately 20 small-scale mining operations, and anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 artisanal miners. The World Bank estimates that the growth of large-scale mining could generate an annual production of over $370 million over the next ten years, and deliver improvements in infrastructure, social services, and livelihoods for an estimated 300,000 people (Rogers 2009).

But realizing these benefits requires substantial improvements in the governance of the minerals sector.  Significant progress has been made with reforms to the mineral sector’s fiscal and regulatory framework, and donors have played a substantial role in this process alongside reformers inside the Government of Sierra Leone. However, as Katherine Rogers of Justice for the Poor reported, “few, if any, of the donor and Government–led efforts have focused systematically on the legal and institutional mechanisms needed to empower communities to hold small and large-scale mining companies and Government accountable for the decisions that affect the social and economic well-being of local communities.”

Resistance from communities to foreign concessionaires has continued to grow with local leaders holding companies responsible for forced dislocation, social upheaval, and the destruction of local environments. Many communities feel that they have not benefited from the extraction of the country’s natural resources. Violence has been the result in a number of mining communities. In addition to the loss of life and the threat of renewed conflict, these tensions undermine the appeal of Sierra Leone to foreign investors and threaten the prospects for much-needed development.

Our partner is Simeon Koroma, a leading civil society activist in Sierra Leone. He is the Executive Director of Timap for Justice, a grassroots NGO developing innovative ways to bridge the formal and customary systems of justice. He’ll be spending the spring quarter at Stanford as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Simeon views the issue of governance around foreign concessions, mining in particular, as one of the most important issues facing Sierra Leone, and will work closely with us as we help him think through innovative approaches to empower local communities.

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