The Sierra Leone Rare Earth Minerals Landscape: An Old or New Frontier?

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Sierra Leone, Mining, Rare earth minerals, Governance

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The rare earth mineral industry in Sierra Leone is touted as a new frontier with ongoing exploration and exploitation of “new deposits”. However, a review of Sierra Leone’s historical mining development reveals not only that knowledge of the occurrence of rare earth mineral deposits date back to the early 20th century when the British colonial government established a geological survey and mines department, but also that the history of this industry cannot be described in linear and progressive terms. New “discoveries” have followed the trends of the international markets of commodities, the invention of instruments and machines for detecting and processing rare earth minerals, civil and military technological demands and innovations, as well as historical changes in global economic and political scenarios. We examine some of the processes by which rare earth minerals have become, at different times throughout the development of Sierra Leone’s mining industry, part of mutable “resource environments”. Using archival research of mainly government documents we argue that the Sierra Leone colonial government, British institutions and mining companies collaborated in the formulation of policies and laws that “created” and, at the same time, secured such strategic minerals for superpowers, largely to the disadvantage of Sierra Leone.

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The Extractive Industries and Society, v. 5, issue 1, p. 36-43