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  • Introduction:Contestation over the Mining Boom in Africa
  • Bettina Engels (bio)

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The extractive sector has been expanding worldwide and particularly in the Global South, notably in the 2000s. This expansion is related to the recent "resource boom," high world market prices for raw materials, as well as the climate and financial crises. While in the 2010s the "supercycle" of the extractive industries largely came to an end (Bowman et al. 2021), developments that were related to it, namely changes in land and labor regimes, remained, and in some areas the mining boom continued uninterrupted. Since the end of 2020 prices and demand for mineral and metal resources have again been rising, with new large-scale mining (LSM) projects underway. This time it is particularly the growing demand for critical raw materials (copper, lithium, nickel, and cobalt) that are essential for a carbon-neutral transformation of the global economy and national energy systems that are driving up prices and promoting a new, often called "green," commodity boom or "green extractivism" (Voskoboynik and Andreucci 2022).

During the 1990s, pressured by the "structural adjustments" endorsed by international financial institutions, many national governments supported the mining sector through legal reforms and policies of liberalisation and privatisation. In combination with increasing investments, national reforms resulted in a massive expansion of the mining sector in many states. Mining is consistently promoted by governments, international financial and economic institutions, and mining companies as a "win-win" scenario for development. [End Page 13] Recently, in the context of the climate crisis, it is moreover presented as an inevitable means to a low-carbon future. Yet it is evident that resource-rich states do not necessarily feature a higher level of economic development than others, nor better living conditions for the population. From the mid-1980s onward this was evaluated in discussions on the "resource curse" (Auty 1993; for a thorough critique see Gilberthorpe and Rajak 2017 and Lahiri-Dutt 2006).

Many African countries are mineral rich and their economies depend on commodity exports, with primary commodities accounting for over 60 percent of exports. In many cases the top two or three commodities compose more than 80 percent of exports (Pereira and Tsikata 2021, 16). Both Burkina Faso and Mali are cases in point, as the contributions to this dossier highlight. In 2021 gold composed more than 80 percent of Mali's total exports (2021),1 and the mining sector accounted for over 70 percent of Burkina Faso's export earnings, representing 15 percent of the state budget (2021).2 These countries are obviously strongly affected by volatility in world market prices for commodities. The negative economic, social, and environmental impacts of the extractive sector are well known: loss of agricultural land and pasture, scarcity and pollution of surface and groundwater, soil and ecological degradation, noise, and the rising cost of living in mining areas impact large parts of societies, particularly poor and marginalized social groups. In many states mining regions are among the poorest and least developed. This holds particularly, but not exclusively, true for the Global South.

In view of this, it is hardly surprising that worldwide resource extraction is contested and frequently accompanied by protests (Bebbington and Bury 2013; Bebbington et al. 2008; Engels and Dietz 2017; Özkaynak and Rodríguez-Labajos 2012). Worldwide, mining-related conflicts have increased considerably in the last two decades (Christensen 2019; Kotsadam et al. 2017). These conflicts concern the loss of land; inadequate compensation and the lack of participation in the process of awarding concessions; forced resettlement; the health and ecological effects of mining; demands for employment; distribution of profits, taxes, and duties; and the representation of culture in development policy and development discourse. Land users and local communities complain that customary land use is not recognized, and compensation is only paid for buildings and land for which formal titles exist (Arellano-Yanguas 2012; Perreault 2013).

Mining Conflicts: Conflicts over Land, Labor, and Political Authority

Henry Bernstein has suggested four core questions of political economy: "Who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? And what do they do with it?" (2010, 22). These questions provide a useful starting point for the analysis of [End Page 14...