The University of Arizona

Large-scale mining and ecological imperialism in Africa: the politics of mining and conservation of the ecology in Ghana

Jasper Abembia Ayelazuno, Lord Mawuko-Yevugah


The article draws on the insights of political ecology to illuminate the politics shaping the enforcement of environmental regulation in the mining sector of Ghana. We argue that the Ghanaian state uses strong-arm measures against artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operators, particularly, the subaltern classes engaged in the industry for survival. Periodically, the state deploys the military and the police to clamp down on ASM for destroying the environment, but treats with kid gloves foreign companies engaged in large-scale mining (LSM), wreaking similar disastrous ecological effects on mining communities. The state believes that LSM by foreign companies is a source of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign mining companies should be incentivized to come and stay in the country. Presented in broad-brush strokes as illegal (galamsey), the Ghanaian state sees ASM as an environmental menace to be fought with all the coercive apparatuses that it can command. Disputing this claim, the article argues that mining-FDI is essentially ecological imperialism, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem of mining communities whose livelihood strategies are in conflict with the accumulation and political interests of foreign mining companies and the Ghanaian political class respectively. The article demonstrates that concerns over the harmful impacts of mining on the ecology of Ghana are neither class-neutral nor free of politics. They are rather highly imbricated in power structures and relations, in which the interest of the ruling class is supreme in the enforcement of environmental regulations in Ghana. The paradox of the biases of the Ghanaian state against ASM, particularly ASM operated by its own citizens for survival, and in favor of foreign mining companies engaged in LSM for profits, is explained with the insights of ecological imperialism.

Keywords: Large-scale mining, artisanal and small-scale mining, Operation Vanguard, Ghanaian state biases, ecological imperialism

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