Environmental Science & Policy ( IF 4.767 ) Pub Date : 2020-11-20 , DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2020.10.011 Roy Maconachie; Felix Conteh
In recent years, governments, donors and policy makers across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have increasingly realised the potential of formalizing and supporting artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low tech, labour-intensive mineral processing and extracting. A significant body of evidence suggests that ASM has become the most important rural non-farm activity across SSA, and by making it the centrepiece of new rural development strategies being launched across the continent, it could help governments meet a number of targets linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Focusing on the West African country of Sierra Leone, this paper explores recent reforms to ASM, examining both their potential to support a formalized sector, and to make contributions to the SDGs. In doing so, two broad sets of formalization reforms that have taken place, or are underway, are analysed. First, the paper examines Sierra Leone’s legal, policy and regulatory reforms that have shaped the development of a number of laws and policies, including the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009. Second, it analyses institutional reforms resulting from the splitting of policy making and regulatory functions, especially the decentralization of the artisanal mining licencing process. The paper argues that beneath these changes, there exists intractable continuities of informality that make reforms in the sector superficial, unsustainable, and potentially a barrier to attaining the SDGs. Underlining these continuities, the paper suggests, is the role that ASM has traditionally played in a political economy that links powerful local Chieftains with national politicians in mutually beneficial relationships, which invariably render formal state regulators such as the National Minerals Agency and Environment Protection Agency largely uncoordinated, and operationally weak. The paper concludes by arguing that that the persistence of informality in the sector needs to first be dismantled as a rational strategy for those who profit from it, and only then can sustainable mining reforms be linked to broader development initiatives, such as attaining the SDGs.