African Studies Mining
Dácil Juif
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0234


Today Africa is home to about 30 percent of global mineral reserves and a significant share of the worldwide production of economically important minerals and metals. This continent is the first- or second-largest producer of platinum, diamonds, gold, phosphate, and cobalt, for example. African countries are also among the world’s top producers of copper, uranium, and oil. Minerals account for around 70 percent of total African export value (for some countries this percentage rises above 90) and about 28 percent of aggregate gross domestic product, as well as a similar share of total foreign direct investments (in 2020). The main mining regions have been situated in Southern and Central Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Botswana), West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali), East Africa (Tanzania), and North Africa (Morocco). The timing at which mining activities came to dominate the above-mentioned economies varies, and countries not mentioned here have mined metals and fuels as well, but mostly at a lower scale. The mining and smelting of very rich metal ores in Africa dates back to ancient times, and the encounter of gold in the coast of modern-day Ghana by 15th-century Portuguese colonizers resulted in this region becoming known as the “Gold Coast.” The late nineteenth century brought about the development of industrial mining with the discovery of rich gold and diamond deposits in South Africa. In due time, Western companies monopolized the large-scale, capital-intensive extraction of minerals. From the early twentieth century onward, explorations yielded substantial deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, tin, lead, iron, cobalt, phosphate, platinum, and other minerals in several African countries, which were exploited to meet the growing industrial demand for ores, metals, and diamonds in Europe. After the independence of most African colonies, the mining industry remained in the hands of foreign companies or was nationalized by the newly independent states in the 1960s to 1970s. In some cases, mineral production dwindled between the 1970s and 1990s due to the collapse of global mineral prices (noticeably copper), conflict, or white exodus. In certain regions, minerals that were previously extracted through industrial extraction continued to be mined, but at an informal artisanal level (e.g., in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), also involving women. After the early 2000s, Africa experienced a new mining boom, driven predominantly by Chinese demand. Mining has had important socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental consequences, including sectoral change, labor migration, urbanization, conflict, environmental degradation, and health problems. Moreover, a well-known body of academic research, the “resource curse” literature, has contended that the excessive reliance of developing countries on mineral production could result in poor political and economic performance.

General Overviews

The following works include books and chapters in edited volumes that are primarily concerned with mining in Africa and provide general overviews in the sense that they are thematically not restricted to one particular country or mineral. Their focus is on local developmental impact (Chuhan-Pole, et al. 2017), urbanization (Bryceson and MacKinnon 2012), sustainability (Edwards, et al. 2014), labor and/or contemporary history (Brown 2019, Katzenellenbogen 1985, Austen 1987), regulatory frameworks and development (Campbell 2009), the mineral resource curse (Rietveld and Millar 2020), and recent developments in the mining sector (Bowman, et al. 2021).

  • Austen, Ralph. “The Colonial Economies II: Regimes of Competitive Exploitation.” In African Economic History: Internal Development and External Dependency. By Ralph Austen, 155–196. London: James Currey, 1987.

    This chapter of a seminal book on African economic history by the same author provides a historical account of large-scale mining activities in Southern and Central Africa since the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the 1860s.

  • Bowman, Andrew, Tomas Frederiksen, Deborah Fahy Bryceson, John Childs, Emma Gilberthorpe, and Susan Newman. “Mining in Africa after the Supercycle: New Directions and Geographies.” Area 53.4 (2021): 647–658.

    DOI: 10.1111/area.12723

    This article surveys the dynamics of the geography of mining in Africa during and after the mining boom of c. 2000–2014, including quantitative information about global mineral prices, mining company investments and returns, resource rents as a share of GDP, etc. Additionally, the authors propose new avenues of research and policy.

  • Brown, Carolyn. “Mining.” In General Labour History of Africa: Workers, Employers and Governments, 20th–21st Centuries. Edited by Stefano Bellucci and Andreas Eckert, 151–176. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey, 2019.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvd58sjm.13

    This chapter, published in a comprehensive edited volume about Africa’s labor history, is a survey of the history of African mineworkers in North and sub-Saharan Africa from the precolonial to postcolonial period. The author emphasizes the role of masculinity in shaping labor relations and African work culture at the mines.

  • Bryceson, Deborah, and Danny MacKinnon. “Eureka and Beyond: Mining’s Impact on African Urbanisation.” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 30.4 (2012): 513–537.

    DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2012.719376

    This is the introduction to a special issue on mine-led urbanization, which compiles case studies of artisanal and large-scale mining regions in Southern-Central and West Africa. This article also gives a short historical overview of mining in Africa.

  • Campbell, Bonnie, ed. Mining in Africa: Regulation and Development. London: International Development Research Centre, 2009.

    This volume is a compilation of case studies (Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Madagascar, and DR Congo) analyzing national regulatory frameworks concerning mining—often imposed by the IMF and World Bank—from the 1980s until 2009. It underlines the need to introduce more appropriate legal, fiscal, and regulatory frameworks to achieve development in mineral-rich countries, as well as to enhance the institutional and financial capacities of those countries to be able to monitor and enforce regulation.

  • Chuhan-Pole, Punam, Andrew L. Dabalen, and Bryan Christopher Land. Mining in Africa: Are Local Communities Better Off? Washington, DC: World Bank Publications, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0819-7

    A book written by quantitative development economists using econometric methods to assess the local welfare impact of large-scale gold mining in Africa (Ghana, Mali, and Tanzania) in the context of the mineral boom starting around the year 2000. They conclude that, on average, communities proximate to mines experience positive yet limited welfare benefits. They also find well-known negative externalities, including environmental degradation, health risks, and social dislocation.

  • Edwards, David P., Sean Sloan, Lingfei Weng, Paul Dirks, Jeffrey Sayer, and William F. Laurance. “Mining and the African Environment.” Conservation Letters 7.3 (2014): 302–311.

    DOI: 10.1111/conl.12076

    A review article written by conservation scientists about the threats resulting from mining and related economic activities in Africa, such as habitat alteration, infrastructure expansion, human migration, bushmeat hunting, corruption, and weak governance. They conclude with recommendations for future research and policy measures, including an enhancement of our understanding of synergies between mining and other economic activities and improved impact evaluation.

  • Katzenellenbogen, Simon. “The Miners’ Frontier: Transport and General Economic Development.” In Colonialism in Africa, 1879–1960. Vol. 4, The Economics of Colonialism. Edited by Peter Duignan and L. H. Gann, 360–426. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    An overview chapter about the economic history of colonial mining in sub-Saharan Africa published in a classical volume about the colonial economic history of Africa. It discusses mine labor provision, finance, transportation, the emergence of industries around mines, and the effects of mining on agriculture.

  • Rietveld, Malan, and Ashley Millar. “Natural Resources: A Blessing or a Curse?” In The History of African Development: A Textbook for a New Generation of African Students and Teachers. Edited by Ewout Frankema, Ellen Hillbom, Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, and Felix Meier zu Selhausen, 252–263. Wageningen, The Netherlands: African Economic History Network, 2020.

    This textbook chapter gives an overview of the literature on the economic and political natural resource curse, discussing in depth the case of two resource rich African countries: diamond-producing Botswana and oil-producing Nigeria.

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