The impact of Chinese involvement in small-scale gold mining in Ghana

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Ghana has traditionally been an indigenous activity, one that by law is ‘reserved for Ghanaians’.

It is an important means of livelihood for poor rural households, as well as contributing one-third of Ghana’s total gold output. A recent phenomenon, however, has been foreign involvement in small-scale gold mining, especially by Chinese miners. Chinese involvement has increased the scale of mining, especially through mechanisation, and also introduced mining in rivers. One consequence has been the intensification of water pollution and land degradation. Another consequence has been local conflict between Chinese and Ghanaian miners, with loss of lives on both sides, and a degenerating security situation. This led President Mahama to establish a high-level Inter-Ministerial Task Force on illegal small-scale mining in May 2013, which was in effect aimed at foreign miners and led to deportations of significant numbers of Chinese miners.

This paper examines this recent phenomenon of widespread Chinese involvement in illegal small-scale mining in Ghana. It explores how a ‘culture of impunity’ was able to evolve before a military-style crack-down occurred. It examines the changes introduced to small-scale gold mining and the positive and negative impacts for a range of Ghanaian actors. It analyses what the whole phenomenon tells us about the nature of the contemporary Ghanaian state and the politics of resource extraction. The paper is based on fieldwork in two locations undertaken in 2014.