Find Mining expertise in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has reserves of diamonds, gold, iron ore, bauxite and rutile – the latter one of the largest in the world. The 21 mining companies active in the country brought in US$12 million in government revenue in 2011. Rutile and bauxite are the largest contributors to tax revenue, accounting for around 60% of tax each year.

Other minerals that have been identified include platinum, chromite, lignite, clay, copper, nickel, lead and zinc.

The minerals industry can be divided into three sub-sectors – large-scale production rutile and bauxite, large scale production of diamonds, and artisanal and small-scale production of precious minerals – primarily diamonds, and – to a much lesser extent – gold. Mining revenues fell with the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, taking until 2007 for full production to resume.

Alluvial diamonds – stones that have been swept away from kimberlite pipes by natural erosion and deposited in a new environment, often a river bed – are largely the preserve of artisanal miners. Young men from all over the country are drawn to the diamond regions, setting up ‘squatter’ camps and spending their days digging for diamonds. They often work in pairs, one diving down to the river bed, while the other holds a rope attached to his waist, to prevent him being swept away by the current. Some will only ever find small diamonds, but other may make their fortune with a large find, if they can sell it before being robbed.

Before the civil war, exports of diamonds, rutile and bauxite made up much of the country’s formal economy, though the government recognised that the sector was operating at only a fraction of its potential. The outbreak of war saw international companies that were operating in Sierra Leone take a step back and, while some rutile and bauxite continued to be mined, large-scale exploration largely ceased. World Bank figures estimate that mining provided 8% of government revenues before the war, but had fallen to just 1% by the end of the hostilities.

Today, three mechanised mines have been reactivated – the first Kimberlite diamond mine, owned by Koidu Holdings, has been operating again since 2004 and Sierra Rutile’s and Sierra Minerals’ rutile and bauxite mines are once again in production. The government is keen to attract further international investors to look for new reserves of minerals. This will provide the government with revenues to fund the country’s development objectives.

The mining sector has played an important role in the country’s economic recovery, with the rate of growth recorded in the mining sector exceeding that in the remainder of the economy most years. This has been helped enormously by the country’s adoption of the Kimberly Process. Government figures show exports of 582,000 carats of diamonds in 2006, 84% of which was mined by artisanal and small-scale players.

Diamond production continues to rise with 331,471 carats exported in the first half of 2013, valued at $102 million. This brought in tax revenues of more than $5 million.

A joint study by the World Bank and the government of Sierra Leone in 2005 concluded that successful realisation of the country’s large-scale mineral potential could result in up to eight mines within a decade.

The only Kimberlite mine operator in the country, Koidu Holdings – owned by the Israel-headquartered BSG Resources – has a mining lease for a second site in Tonga, known as the Tonguma Project, in the Kenema District, on which work is just beginning.

The government is also hoping to see rutile and bauxite production rise, as international demand for titanium and aluminium continue to rise. In 2006 Sierra Leone produced just under 1% of the world’s bauxite.

Exploration for gold has also increased, with Cluff Gold and Mano River Resources both having active appraisal programmes in place. More than 1.1 million ounces of gold have been discovered and a scoping study found that an open-pit mine could produce up to 200,000 ounces annually. Mano River Resources has three gold exploration concessions, all in areas that have traditionally been prospected by artisanal miners.

Accurate employment figures for mining and quarrying are hard to come by, as so much mining is done informally by artisanal miners. However, the government estimates that 14% of the total workforce work in mining and quarrying. Figures from 2011 estimate that more than 300,000 people work in the sector.

The World Bank has estimated that up to 40,000 people are directly engaged in artisanal mining of diamonds and that immediate family dependents of these workers could include 100,000 to 200,000 people. This would see 200,000 to 400,000 people dependent upon artisanal mining, or 4-8% of the population.

Sierra Rutile’s rutile mine and Sierra Minerals’ bauxite mine are two of the largest private sector employers in the country.

Mining and Minerals organisations in Sierra Leone
Blue Mining Corporation Ltd
Ibrahim Sheku Turay
Koidu Holdings S.A.
London Mining plc
Ministry of Mineral Resources
Titanium Resources Group

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