Robert Pijpers. Photo by Maria Elisson.

Mines for better or worse

The reopening of the iron ore mines in 2006 sparked new hope to people in Lunsar, Sierra Leone. After many years of civil war and harsh living conditions, job opportunities and better times were to come back. However, the reality turned out to be less straightforward.

“The mining company employed people, but many of them were “strangers” from Freetown or other areas in Sierra Leone. This has created some tension in Lunsar”, says Robert Pijpers, who is a PhD Scholarship Holder at NAI, as part of his studies in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo.

The London based mining company needed workers who could read and write, or had a more advanced education. Howeve, according to the company´s assessment, few people in the villages around the mine have these skills.

Even though the government is responsible for the educational system, many who were not employed turned their disappointment and demands towards the mining company.

Micro politics
Robert Pijper’s research focuses on power relations at the local level in Lunsar:

“I look at the micro politics of large-scale mining, an aspect which is often overlooked. Foreign investments in Africa need to get more attention, but not only in terms of big money or national policies”.

One example of Lunsar micro politics is a land survey that Robert Pijpers participated in. A range of stakeholders were to agree on boundaries between plots of land around and inside a village. Landowners, politicians, village elders, company consultants and representatives of youth organisations walked around for days negotiating every border marker.

“Some landowners feel they have lost their authority over the land, because of the mining concession and that they are not treated as important people by the company. This feeling creates tensions”.

Familiar area
Robert Pijpers has links to Lunsar from his childhood. He spent some years there in the 1980´s, and has returned every year since 2003. In 2012 he began his PhD studies.

“It’s an advantage being so familiar with the area. I know people and can get access to almost every group in society”.


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