Find a Security Clearance Job!


Back to the Table of Contents


The project, which included raising the ore concentration plant's capacity to 3 million tons a year, as well as restoration of the railroad and other facilities, was being carried out by a subsidiary consulting firm of United States Steel.

The largest operation in early 1984 was the Liberian-American-Swedish Minerals Company (LAMCO), a joint venture that accounted for about half of Liberia's annual iron ore output. Seventy-five percent of the company was owned by a consortium in which the government held a 50 percent interest; a Swedish consortium held 37.5 percent; and Liberian and foreign private interests had 12.5 percent. The remaining 25 percent of LAMCO was owned by the Bethlehem Steel Company of the United States. In June, however, Bethlehem's holding was acquired by the Liberian government, and the company committed itself to buy 2 million tons of iron ore annually for the next three years. LAMCO was granted its concession in the Nimba Range near the border with Guinea in 1953 but began shipping ore only in 1963, when the port of Buchanan, which the company had constructed, opened for traffic (see Ports, this ch.). The mine's capacity was about 12 million tons of ore a year from a deposit at the start-up of operations having a proven reserve of some 250 million tons of 60 to 70 percent iron content. In the late 1970s output dropped to about 9 million tons, and American and European ore demands declined.

The LAMCO ore deposit under exploitation was nearing depletion in the early 1980s. Feasibility studies on opening another major deposit in the concession were carried out, but a substantial investment estimated at about $300 million was required; the project remained in abeyance in mid?1984. There also were proposals to move the potentially large output from ore deposits across the Guinean border via the LAMCO rail line to Buchanan if they were developed. In 1983 LAMCO's production had declined to 6.6 million tons. The company reported losses, but its exact financial situation was unclear in mid?1984.

The second largest iron mining operation was in a 30-squaremile concession located 50 miles north of Monrovia that had been granted in 1958 to the German-Liberian Mining Company. The firm was owned jointly in equal shares by the government and a consortium of German steel companies. Actual operations were carried out by the Bong Mining Company (BMC), some two-thirds of whose shares were owned by the German consortium and one-third by Italian steel interests; the ore was shipped to the plants of these two shareholder groups. The ore body had an average iron content of about 38 percent, which was increased to about 65 percent by concentration. Pelletizing, which required a high energy input, was also carried out. The profitability of the mine slumped as the 1970s progressed because of rising petroleum fuel costs. The production from the mine, which began in 1965, was shipped to the BMC pier at Monrovia port over a company-built rail line. By the early 1970s the output was over 5 mil lion tons a year. From 1974 through 197$ output was generally over 6 million tons, and from the late 1970s to 1983 it averaged more than 7 million tons. At that rate reserves were expected to last to the mid? or late 1990s.

The existence of diamonds was reported in Liberia in the late nineteenth century, but the first confirmed discoveries were in 1906, when stones were recovered from alluvial deposits that were being panned for gold. Since then they have been found in various parts of the country, but the major locations have been in Lofa and Nimba counties. Most mining was carried out on a small scale using crude equipment. Output remained quite small until after World War 11. In 1950 finds in the lower parts of the Lofa River, as well as subsequent discoveries, resulted in mass dia mond rushes that involved tens of thousands of potential prospectors. Many of them were from the rubber plantations, and their departure caused serious disruption in rubber collecting. In 1958 the government passed legislation to control prospecting, mining ,and trading in diamonds. At the same time substantial fees were established for licenses.

Data on diamond production have not been considered reliable. Liberia's use of the United States dollar as its unit of currency and domestic factors in neighboring Sierra Leone, where 3 substantial quantities of diamonds were also produced, were believed to result in extensive smuggling of the precious stones into Liberia. Published production figures are for the quantities ex ported. Both gem quality and industrial stones are found, and annual export earnings vary depending not only on world price fluctuations but also on the relative quantities of each category. In 1970 some 800,000 carats having a value of $5.7 million were ex ported. In 1976 only 320,000 carats were exported, but earnings totaled $16.6 million, or 3.6 percent of the value of all exports. Prices soared, and in 1979 the value of diamond exports reached a high of $39.6 million, or 7.4 percent of total export receipts. In 1983 some $17.2 million was received from the sale of 330,000 carats of diamonds.

Gold, mined almost entirely from alluvial deposits, was the only other mineral producing export earnings in 1984. Mining began in 1881 with the establishment of a Liberian-owned company. Other operators and individual miners exploited gold-bear ing alluvial deposits in the early 1900s, but the total amount of gold recovered before War World I was quite small. Sub sequently, gold was found in numerous river and stream deposits throughout Liberia, and placer mining became widespread. Out put varied greatly, however; many deposits were small and were soon exhausted. In 1938 some 2,080 ounces were exported. In 1943 a new discovery of the mineral in Grand Cape Mount County led to a gold rush; that year almost 31,000 ounces were ex ported, and nearly the same amount was exported in 1944. A de cline in output subsequently occurred, but in 1950 exports still were above 12,000 ounces.

Available data on gold for the 1950s and 1960s were based on purchases by the Bank of Monrovia, to which by law gold had to be sold. During the two decades the amount bought in most years was under 2,000 ounces. Until the late 1970s purchases continued to remain small because the fixed purchase price was $35 an ounce at a time when open market prices were substantially higher. Gold mining had also been restricted to Liberian citizens. These regulations were altered by the Gold-Diamond Act of 1979, which revised the earlier 1958 legislation on diamond prospecting, mining, and trading to encompass gold as well. The law permitted foreigners to participate with Liberian owners of gold claims in developing the deposits. Approval was also given brokers and dealers to purchase and export gold, and a gold appraisal office was established in the Ministry of Lands and Mines to facilitate exportation. Provision was also made to adjust the local price of gold regularly, depending on world prices. A thriving open market reportedly developed. From 1,086 ounces exported in 1979, the amount rose to 7, 243 ounces in 1980 and to almost 19,200 ounces in 1981. A substantial drop occurred in 1982, but nearly 15,400 ounces were exported in 1983. The revised law had apparently resulted in some foreign investment, and one company was reported to have introduced mechanized digging equipment.

Back to the Table of Contents

Join the mailing list

Unconventional Threat podcast - Threats Foreign and Domestic: 'In Episode One of Unconventional Threat, we identify and examine a range of threats, both foreign and domestic, that are endangering the integrity of our democracy'