image from the French website
La Grande
Gold and Diamond Mining:
Mining less spectacular than in
Sierra Leone


The seven foreign companies that entered into diamond mining concession agreements with the government between 1944 and 1977 all showed only moderate successes, and sometimes even outright failures. Liberia’s history of diamond mining, though older than that of e.g. neighbouring Sierra Leone, is definitely less spectacular. Gold mining seems to share the same fate as appears from the experiences of the few gold mining companies, which attempted to establish modern large-scale mining methods. Any analysis of the diamond and/or gold production in Liberia suffers from the disappearance of concession agreements, the absence or incompleteness of files, and from unreliable production and export data.

Historically, smuggling of diamonds from Sierra Leone into Liberia has always been excessive but the exact quantity and value of these smuggled precious stones were difficult to estimate. In Sierra Leone diamond mining operations started after the discovery of the first gemstone in 1930.  In 1958 the Government of Sierra Leone seized control of the export of diamonds. Because of the export tax imposed it became very profitable to take advantage of the weak security measures and the administrative underdevelopment of both countries to export diamonds through one of Liberia’s air or seaports. The latter’s export figures include some, but not all, of these diamonds of Sierra Leonean origin though without them being specified.

Gold production figures are misleading, if at all available. In Annual Reports of a leading government agency in this respect, such as the Ministry of Lands and Mines, it was in those days (1960s and 1970s) stated on more than one occasion that it was impossible to give the exact value and quantity of gold found in Liberia. Owing to restrictions and a purchasing price ceiling, imposed by the Government, much of the gold produced in the country was sold to local goldsmiths or smuggled out of the country. This was done to take advantage of the great difference between the official purchasing price of gold and the (rising) international price of gold in the 1970s. An Assistant Minister with years of experience told the author in 1977 that he was puzzled as the export figures for the previous year showed a (small) quantity of gold exported whereas no production of gold had been recorded in that year (1).

(1) Interview with the Assistant Minister for Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, Phillip Gadegbeku, held in September 1977 in Monrovia.
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