Environmental and Social Change in Southwestern Sierra Leone: Timber Extraction (1832-1898) and Rutile Mining (1967-2005)




Akiwumi, Fenda Aminata

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation evaluates environmental and social change in southwestern Sierra Leone, West Africa as a consequence of externally generated trade in timber in the 19 th century and rutile (titanium dioxide) mining in the 20th century. Using a conceptual model based on world-systems theory it sought to investigate interactive connections between external trade, social change and environmental change. A mixed method approach was used in a primarily qualitative case study of context bound information. Archival records and tabular analysis of data in the form of export figures revealed that timber extraction caused environmental deterioration locally but did not support the widespread deforestation proposed by earlier research work. Further, earlier analyses were based on a limited sample of timber export figures. These studies did not take into account timber exports recorded in forms other than timber logs/loads such as a variety of dimensions, monetary value and ship tonnage. Nor did they give ample consideration to the significant amounts of other tree species destroyed to facilitate the export trade but not accounted for in export records. In the 20th century, reservoir construction for mining caused flooding of fertile alluvial agricultural land, deforestation, and the creation of tailings piles over a portion of the mine lease area. In both time periods, extraction areas were characterized by a complex political ecology with profound changes to the traditional social hierarchy. New social structures emerged from an influx of in-migrants or "strangers" some of whom acquired the means of production to become power figures in local communities. In the 19th century the colonial government intervened forcefully to modify traditional political systems to facilitate trade. Opportunities presented by new land-use practices like logging and mining led to rivalries over land rights within ethnic groups which frequently escalated into full-scale war more commonly in the volatile and diffuse atmosphere in the 19th century than in the 20th century nation-state of Sierra Leone. In the mining era conflict was over land ownership for the benefits of surface rent payments and royalties and in-migrant hegemony. Historical records from the timber era and production and financial data from mining rutile confirm unequal exchange between core countries to which raw materials were exported and Sierra Leone. These extraction industries linked the labor of indigenous people in southwestern Sierra Leone to a global market. In addition to such core-periphery inequities on a global scale, core-periphery microcosms were reproduced locally. Local agency facilitated and perpetuated exploitation of dependent and slave labor in the 19 th century and cheap wage-labor in the 20th century. Transportation networks in this region were constructed primarily to remove raw materials from extraction site to port for export to core countries. Comparative case studies on the extent to which extraction and production processes for the benefit of core countries cause environmental and social change in peripheral areas of the world-system will inform the conceptual model by providing more empirical evidence to substantiate the theory.



Africa, West, world-systems, environmental deterioration, social change, core-periphery inequities, environmental degradation, lumber trade, international trade, Sierra Leone


Akiwumi, F. A. (2006). Environmental and social change in southwestern Sierra Leone: timber extraction (1832-1898) and rutile mining (1967-2005) (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


Rights Holder

Rights License

Rights URI