Deborah Bryceson and I have published a new article with African Affairs: “ARTISANAL FRONTIER MINING OF GOLD IN AFRICA: LABOUR TRANSFORMATION IN TANZANIA AND THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO“.
This article studies the transformative nature of ‘artisanal frontier mining’ in view of sub-Saharan Africa’s mining history. Artisanal gold production has generated livelihood earnings for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet we must go beyond a study of artisanal mining as an individual livelihood choice and consider the sector’s internal dynamics. In this sense, the concept of ‘labour transformation’ is helpful. It refers to a process in which individuals’ skill acquisition, economic exchange, psychological reorientation, and social positioning evolve towards a shared occupational identity and collective professional norms, leaving considerable scope for self-governance amongst artisanal miners. This process is captured in the notion of the ‘frontier’, which in our case refers to occupational rather than geographic locational change. However, the frontier is necessarily of limited temporal duration given the existence of gold as a non-renewable resource, the depth of the gold supply sinking beyond the exploratory and extractive reach of artisanal miners, and the expanding interests of foreign mining corporations and the state. Our argument is illustrated through a comparison of the artisanal mining experiences of two neighbouring countries, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose artisanal labour patterns are remarkably similar to each other despite their very different national political contexts and the DRC’s recent experience of conflict mineral production.