A Political Ecology of Bauxite Extraction in Ghana
01.01.2018 - 31.03.2022
Financial support through the program for the promotion of young scientists of the University of Augsburg
Dr. Sebastian Purwins
Prof. Dr. Matthias Schmidt
Under what circumstances does nature become figured as a resource, as stuff-waiting-to-be-sold-and-used? For a political ecologist, resources are not, they become (Zimmermann 1933), i.e. not only do they become symbols of modernisation and economic growth, but they are also connected to deforestation and pollution. Resources can become the subject of conflicts over distribution, access, or future development. Political ecology evolved with a strong focus on how power manifests in both discursive and material struggles regarding the environment (Forsyth 2008; Robbins 2012). It emerged as a way of criticising the reductionism of neo-Malthusian explanations of land degradation, or the notion of land degradation itself (Watts 1983; Blaikie 1985). This fusion of political-economic and cultural-ecological perspectives became known in Anglophone geography as political ecology (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Bassett 1988). Political ecology rejects the hypothesis that as a result of greater environmental scarcity or a lack of resources, conflicts will increase; rather, it assumes that all human decisions are inherently political (Adams 2015). Political ecology is about recognising the power that actors have at the moment of deciding what, how, and where to conserve (García-Frapolli et al. 2018)
This research deals with the politicization of bauxite and the Atewa Forest in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The research is separated in three section. Each section represents an individual research question, while at the same time all three are linked and must be seen together in a broader picture.
Bauxite has been found to be a major source for aluminium in an industrialized world. Ghana’s bauxite reserves are estimated at 554 million metric tons. Despite the rich reserve base, and being the third largest producer of bauxite on the African continent, the raw material is mined in only one mine since 1942. In addition, its exports accounted for 0.6% of total minerals exports and 0.22% of total merchandise exports in 2014. What was once described as “Ghana's most useful resource” (Hart 1977) seems to have surprisingly little economic importance for the country. However, against the background of the new scramble for Africa's resources, these undeveloped bauxite deposits have sparked China's interest. Moreover, since there is currently no competitor in the bauxite sector in Ghana other than China, Ghana has “a unique opportunity to establish an integrated aluminium industry” (Amewu 2018) making use of the large bauxite reserves in the country.
- Contested Territory: What actors are involved in this conflict, and what strategies and techniques does the alliance, which is against bauxite mining at Atewa Forest, use? This question is very much based on the political ecology approach formulated by Schmidt (2013): (a) identifying the key actors and their relations, (b) detecting the different scales on which they act and (c) recognising what interests they follow. The aim is to elaborate on the politicisation of nature, and by using actor mapping to gain a differentiated perspective on involved actors.
Read more on this:
Purwins, Sebastian (2022): Bauxite mining at Atewa Forest Reserve, Ghana: a political ecology of a conservation-exploitation conflict. GeoJournal, 87, 1085-1097. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-020-10303-3
- Political Economy: How is China's involvement defined through the Sinohydro deal with Ghana, and what characterises the investment contract between both parties?
Read more on this:
Purwins, Sebastian (im Druck): Same same, but different: Ghana's Sinohydro deal as evolved 'Angola Model'?. Insight on Africa https://doi.org/10.1177/09750878221114381
- Narratives and Future Making: There is large political ecology literature on how local resource communities resist and struggle over resources. However, in this part it is elaborated how bauxite is becoming a strategic resource and how it is linked in the governments agenda of ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ where the development of an integrated bauxite-aluminium-industry is referred as key in moving Ghana beyond aid.
How does the government legitimise its plan to mine bauxite, and how is the narrative constructed to justify bauxite mining at Atewa Forest?
Read more in this:
Purwins, Sebastian (2022): "Come what may, we bring those resources to play": narratives, future‐making, and the case of bauxite extraction at Atewa Forest, Ghana. Area, 54(2), 233-241. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12765
Purwins, Sebastian (2021): Die (Wieder-)Entdeckung von Ghanas Bauxit: Akteure, Strukturen und Narrative. In Matthias Schmidt, Hubert Zapf (Eds.): Environmental Humanities: Beiträge zur geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Umweltforschung (pp. 161-180). Göttingen: V&R Unipress. https://doi.org/10.14220/9783737012669.161