The paradox of Sierra Leone is that it is one of the poorest countries in the world yet it has abundant resources and possesses some of the most commercially valuable mineral reserves in the world. The country is (i) among the world’s top ten diamond producing countries; (ii) one of the largest rutile and bauxite producers; and (iii) a major producer of gold and it has the second largest iron ore deposits in the world. The recent announcement of off-shore oil reserves is an addition to the country’s considerable mineral wealth. Sierra Leone is one of Africa’s seven mineral dependent states. Its dependence on the mining sector is reflected in the sector’s historically high contribution to GDP at 20 per cent and registered exports at 90 per cent, especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mining and quarrying provided a livelihood for more than 250,000 people, and employed about 14 per cent of the labour force during the period.
The importance of the mineral sector to Sierra Leone is further exemplified by its role in the brutal civil war that was partly fuelled by some of the mineral resources, particularly diamonds. Diamonds became the key source of revenue for the rebel groups to procure weapons and ammunition. This allowed them to control mining areas under them and to further expand their territorial control over such areas and the mines, which they exploited for their own economic gains. This created a spiral effect as the rush for minerals became a motivating factor for armed groups to further fuel the war.