On April 23rd 2008, close to Sefadu in the Kono District of Sierra Leone, hundreds of young people invaded a company-held alluvial mining site and proceeded to load the diamondipherous sand into buckets and onto trucks. They continued this illegal action for five days as their numbers multiplied to more than a thousand, until overpowered by the police and military. Clashes broke out, and some youth turned back towards the main city of Koidu, where the attack on the sand hill degenerated into general violence and vandalism which lasted for several days.
At first glance this bold and defiant act appears to be further evidence of the changing social norms of youth in the post-war context, who are less deferent to authority, and more demanding of their rights. However, two months later, in an apparent u-turn of their original position, these same youth had become staunch supporters of the APC party, and youth groups had aligned themselves behind the government of the day. What grievances were at the heart of the illegal act, and how can this apparent reversal on the part of youth be explained?
The study considers what this case can tell us about the agency of youth in post-war Sierra Leone. Applying Honwana’s conceptual dichotomy of tactical and strategic agency (2005), I argue that, despite the evidence of eroding social norms of deference and reciprocity among youth in Sierra Leone, patrimonialism continues to shape, and to limit, their engagement in the public domain.