Social Explorations of Resource Extraction

Tag: Africa

Reversed rushes? Expulsion as a dominant feature of gold miners’ mobility in Guinea and Mali

By Matthieu Bolay, Université de Neuchâtel

When I was carrying out fieldwork in Guinea and Mali between 2010 and 2014, some ministry officials, with whom I discussed the topics of mining and migration, used the nineteenth century US gold rush as an analogy to explain why thousands of people choose to live in temporary settlements across West Africa. Indeed, these artisanal gold miners mainly rely on non- or semi-mechanical excavation methods to extract ore and predominantly use gravitational techniques to purify it, thereby supposedly placing their future in the hands of chance and the hope that their lives will be transformed once they strike gold.

Yet, although this is an appealing – and popular – analogy for artisanal mining in West Africa, the image of the “gold rush” has been demonstrated to be rather problematic when the actual mobility dynamics of artisanal gold miners are considered. Continue reading

When the Bulldozer comes – Burning bridges or renaissance in the making?

Kai Roder, University of Leipzig

For over a decade the Tanzanian state has tried to enlarge its share of mineral revenues generated by foreign large-scale mining (LSM) companies. Previous reforms – such as increased royalties and the mandatory stock listings of LSM companies in Tanzania – had not yet been implemented or did not provide the desired results. Consequently, the Tanzanian government under president Magufuli recently decided to look after the issue once again, thereby drawing upon a discourse of resource nationalism. According to the main argument, all natural and mineral resources found in Tanzania (such as gold, oil & gas, uranium and diamonds) belong to Tanzanians who in turn should profit from them. Consequently, an export ban on gold and copper concentrates, Tanzania’s main mineral export, was launched in March 2017. This ban on concentrates was supposed to result in the development of value adding activities in the country, particularly via the construction of smelters. Moreover, this export ban kicked off a series of events that are about to turn LSM in Tanzania upside down. Continue reading

Negotiating Mozambique’s new commodity frontiers from the perspective of a conservationist

By Kate Symons, University of Edinburgh.

[C]onservation is not a priority….. they [Frelimo] want economic growth at any point. So if they find …… coal and gas and other minerals it doesn’t matter where they are found, their priority is to develop those industries and I think they will worry about ecosystems ……. as an afterthought. Right now their main focus is growth, economic growth. (Interview with government official, discussing the governing party’s view of conservation in the context of a resources boom, 14 May 2014).

Politics, says anthropologist James Ferguson, is about getting what you want. And the practice of politics is about engaging particular strategies and discourses – ‘arts of government’ – to achieve particular ends. During fieldwork in 2013 and 2014 in Mozambique, I spent time with conservationists who were increasingly anxious about the country’s resources boom. Extractives-based accumulation is currently intensifying throughout the country, and sites frequently overlap with conservation areas. For example, the Cabo Delgado gas fields lie largely within WWF’s Rovuma Basin Bioreserve. In Niassa National Reserve, widely viewed as one of Mozambique’s most important protected areas, there are rumours of an alteration to the reserve’s boundary in order to permit ruby mining. In the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR), where I spent six months, there has for several years been the threat of a deep-water coal port, with significant ecological consequences for the marine reserve.

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The creation of a “lessons learned place” – Notes on doing research in the coal mine area of Tete, Mozambique

By Nikkie Wiegink, Utrecht University

“More studies, more studies! Ok, it is necessary to do those studies, but to what end?!” Carlos (a pseudonym) was furious. It is October 2016 and one of my first discussions with Carlos in which I ask him about his opinion on a critical report of Oxfam on the living conditions in Mualadzi, a resettlement area where 736 households have been relocated for a coal mine of the Australian company Rio Tinto (later taken over by an Indian consortium called ICVL) in Moatize, Tete province Mozambique.

Only recently, Tete was described as the “El Dorado of coal” (Kirshner and Power 2015) and with grant investments by companies such as Vale and Rio Tinto it was seen as the start of Mozambique’s promising extractive future. Yet, due to the low coal prices, transportation difficulties and, more recently, a series of attacks on coal trains by armed combatants, the boom has turned into somewhat of a bust. Nevertheless, the impact of the coal industry in Tete is tremendous and the involuntarily resettlement of thousands of people is one of its more controversial consequences. The governance practices that surround these dislocations are a topic of my research on the extractive industry in Tete, hence my discussions with Carlos, a reassentado (resettled person) from Mualadzi, about the Oxfam study.

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The Lost Gold of Burkina Faso – A Parliamentary Inquiry into the Mining Sector

By Katja Werthmann, Institute of African Studies, University of Leipzig

Recently, Burkina Faso celebrated the second anniversary of its popular uprising on 30 and 31 October 2014 that put an end to the Compaoré regime after 27 years. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held in November 2015. The new government under President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thiéba faces a number of daunting challenges and expectations. One of the challenges is a reorganization of the mining sector. According to a report published in October 2016 by a parliamentary commission of inquiry on mining titles and the social responsibility of mines, the Burkinabè state suffered a profit loss of almost a billion US dollars between 2005 and 2015 due to corruption, mismanagement and speculation in the mining sector.

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Shining diamonds: of global connections and local lifeworlds

By Robert Pijpers, University of Oslo

Resources are all around us, they are in the screen you are now looking at, in the Olympic medals that have recently been generously awarded at the Olympics in Brazil, in the cars, bikes and trains we use to transport ourselves with and in the houses we live in. For many of us, resources are in the ground they are working on – digging, breaking, sifting, washing this ground in order to extract that valuable product, be it coltan, stone or diamonds – or operating machines, managing human resources, building mining infrastructure, functioning in the boards of companies and trading on the stock market. For others, resources are the reason for resettlement and dispossession, for conflict and for environmental disasters. In other words, resources and their extraction are a crucial daily reality for everybody, be it in the (potentially combined) form of production and consumption, as challenge and opportunity.

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Gold fever in Sakolabada, Mali

Sakolabada is a new town which completely depends on gold mining. Officially, it doesn´t exist, it doesn´t show on any official administrative map.  However, in this non-existent town, life never stops.

In this film from July 2016, Sidylamine Bagayoko (University of Bamako-ULSHB) explores some of the urgent dynamics associated with artisanal gold mining and (informal) settlements in Mali.


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