Conflict, collusion and corruption in small-scale gold mining: Chinese miners and the state in Ghana

Gordon Crawford, G. Botchwey

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    With the hike in gold prices from 2008 onwards, tens of thousands of foreign miners, especially from China, entered into the small-scale mining sector in Ghana, despite it being ‘reserved for Ghanaian citizens’ by law. An astonishing free-for-all ensued in which Ghanaian and Chinese miners engaged in both contestation and collaboration over access to gold, a situation described as ‘out of control’ and ‘a culture of impunity’. Where was the state? This paper addresses the question of how and why this phenomenon of pervasive and illicit foreign involvement in small-scale gold mining was able to occur without earlier intervention from the state. Findings indicate that the state was not in fact absent. Foreign miners were able to operate with impunity precisely because they were protected by those in authority, i.e. public officials, politicians and chiefs, in return for private payments. Attempting to explain why various state institutions failed in their responsibilities leads to reflection about the nature of the contemporary state in Ghana. It is concluded that the informality and corruption characteristic of neopatrimonialism remains predominant over legal-rational structures, albeit in a form that has adapted to neoliberal restructuring by an increased orientation towards accessing private sector resources and individual wealth accumulation. Public office remains a means of private enrichment rather than public service. Such findings cast a shadow over the state and government in Ghana, and tarnish its celebration as a model of democratic governance for Africa.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)444-470
    Number of pages27
    JournalCommonwealth & Comparative Politics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2017

    Bibliographical note

    This article has been accepted for publication in Commonwealth and Comparative Politics.
    This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Commonwealth & Comparative Politics on 9 February 2017, available online:


    • Artisanal and small-scale mining
    • Ghana
    • Chinese miners
    • the state and corruption
    • neopatrimonialism


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