A Political Ecology of Bauxite Extraction in Ghana
Financial support through the program for the promotion of young scientists of the University of Augsburg
Sebastian Purwins, M.Sc.
Prof. Dr. Matthias Schmidt
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.
This research deals with the current developments, discussions and conflicts around the bauxite sector in Ghana and 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.
- Contested Territory: The Atewa Range in Ghana is an important forest reserve, and the source of three major rivers. The reserve includes about 17,400 hectares of upland evergreen forest, which is very rare for Ghana. However, the Atewa Range is under pressure, especially to mining exploration activities, since the reserve contains gold deposits as well as bauxite. The forest is one of several sites, were bauxite should be mined in order to develop an integrated bauxite-aluminum industry. This part of the research focus on the conflicts around the Atewa Forest and how the protest is articulated.
- Political Economy: This part of the research analyzes the conflict around the bauxite-aluminium-industry in Ghana as part of the Chinese economic-ecological double crisis (Dörre 2018) and deals with emerging as well as manifested development paths, that does not allow alternative development models
- 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.
Brining all three steps together by categorizing them in Actors, Structure and Narratives, the research aims to create a framework, which allows analyzing extraction issues in the sense of a political ecology.
- Hart, D., 1977. The Volta River Project – A case study in politics and technology.
- Amewu, 2018. Ghana Integrated Bauxite and Aluminium Development Authority Bill – Memorandum.