Tag Archives: natural resources

Could African mining operations mimic the effects of conflict?

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.00.58 PMIn recently relocating to central Africa, I have shifted my focus away from the impact of large-scale natural resource extraction, e.g. gas and oil, to small scale mining. This is no small industry, as it is estimated to employ 40 million people worldwide. It is well-known that artisanal and small-scale mining operations (ASMs) undergird long-standing conflicts. These mines both drive and sustain violence, giving insurgents a reason to seize power and geographic strongholds while also generating income to pay soldiers and buy weapons. The most well-known of these conflicts is that in nearby DRC.

Less studied is the lower-impact ASMs that operate in non-conflict zones. As an example, Tanzania hosts seven notable gold mines (which produce about 2% of the world output), but countless other smaller mines that produce copper, silver, diamonds, tanzanite, etc. In contrast to non-lootable resources that often require local government cooperation, Tanzanian mines are privately owned by foreign companies, which allows them to function outside the confines of the state. The Tanzanian government owns only a minor interest in a handful of private enterprises, e.g. Kiwira, Williamson Diamonds. Mining and quarrying constitute just 3% of the Tanzanian GDP, and this would be larger if the government were able to become a more significant actor in such ASMs.

Tanzania is interesting in that its natural resource history of control is inverted. Typically, extraction begins in a Wild West manner in developing countries, with governments seeking greater control as they recognize the financial boon, e.g. Nigeria’s oil. However, the Tanzanian government exercised strict control over the industry when mining first began to a notable degree in the 1970s. Through the 1980s, claims were opened up to individual investors. Then, the mining industry became even less centralized when more international corporations arrived and more minerals were exported internationally in the 1990s. These taxable international exports are key to the Tanzanian state being able to use that revenue for social service investment and possibly avoid some pitfalls of the resource curse.

My current interest in unregulated ASMs in non-conflict zones is centered on the non-measured effects these mines have on nearby communities. I would offer the (still not fully researched) hypothesis that ASMs could mimic the effects of civil conflict.  Both mines and localized conflict/violence:

  • create patterns of displacement that separate people from their typical forms of livelihood, family support systems, and bottom-up governance
  • stymie other economic sectors outside of mining, e.g. farming, and drive residents to new and often illegal forms of income generation
  • militarize areas with shored up security forces and a higher number of weapon to protect mines and fighting strongholds
  • cause environmental degradations as people seek out resources and land in a non-sustainable manner

If we consider the gender dynamics of this comparison, there are other similarities. Both mines and civil conflict:

  • create patterns of displacement that separate men from kinship networks of accountability for their behavior towards women and women from kinship networks that protect them from gender-based violence (GBV)
  • stymie other economic sectors outside of mining, e.g. farming, upon which women disproportionately rely (women do the majority of agricultural output in sub-Saharan Africa); ASMs could also drive women into dangerous sex-work
  • militarize areas, and we know that having lots of armed men in hypermasculine environments increases rates of GBV
  • cause environmental degradations that disproportionately affects women–who are the primary food and clean water providers to children

Both ASMs and civil unrest also contribute to (and can be a result of) autocracy and corruption that marginalizes women. They could hinder democracy that would be more inclusive of women voting and running for office.

Although it is a few years old, this interesting article found that Congolese women living close to ASMs are indeed to more likely to have suffered sexual violence, particularly if those ASMs host at least one armed actor.


As demand for minerals, largely through the electronics industry, can only multiply the number of ASMs in operation, this line of inquiry is promising for security researchers of all regions.