Archive for April, 2016

The following article by Dr Muriel Cote is one of the last posts in the New Political Topographies series, which was the theme of the 2015 CAS conference and attended by all contributors. The conference examined how the proliferation of new political actors and new modes of political action have affected political order in Africa. Muriel is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zürich and undertook her phD at Edinburgh on land tenure in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso became 4th African producer of gold in 2012, at the time of a global mining rush. Since then, gold production has become the main engine of the Burkinabè economy, largely driven by industrial projects undertaken by foreign mining companies.  The rush reminisces Ferguson’s extractive enclave economy, where foreign capital ‘hops from useful area to useful area, overlooking all places and peoples in between’ (Ferguson 2005). But what happens after the gold rush? In many places it is hard to tell yet because many projects are still ongoing. But in North Burkina where I have conducted most of my fieldwork, artisanal miners have reinvested the open pits left behind after an industrial project ended. The British company AMARA completed a project in a couple of years, and after reaching its extraction goals in 2014, the company hoped to a different place, developing new projects in neighbouring Ivory Coast and in Sierra Leone. When the company staff left, artisanal miners moved back in, they even found again the entrance accesses to the 100 meters deep shafts they had been digging since the 1980s, before AMARA evicted them.

Rather than a case of ‘failed enclave’ this story better fits what Watts (2012) has described for the oil complex as a permanent frontier of exploration and abandonment. Wondering about what happens after the gold rush took me back, somewhat counter intuitively, to exploration again, to artisanal exploration. Enclave extraction is not the end of the road, and in fact the process of ‘discovering’ ‘useful areas’ is part and parcel of securing enclaves, of making them investible. This is why here, and through the case of a particular enclave project in North Burkina, I want to reflect briefly on, and draw attention to, the territorialities of exploration.


AMARA’s pit reinvested by artisanal miners in Bakou, January 2016 (photo: Arne Gillis)

AMARA’s pit reinvested by artisanal miners in Bakou, January 2016 (photo: Arne Gillis)


Exploration appears benign at first sight because it is less physically intrusive, and less politically explosive than extraction, but it is in fact a fundamental moment of enclave-making. As Rubbers (2013, 9) notes, ‘’mining investments do not colonise a terra nullius; they are taken into a social space already structured by various fields of struggle and agency logics’. Exploration is one such ‘social space’ – and it is expanding. In 2001 only two exploration permits were granted in Burkina, while in 2012, 660 were held (ITIE 2014).


Map of exploration permits in Burkina Faso in 2014 (ITIE 2014)

Map of exploration permits in Burkina Faso in 2014 (ITIE 2014)


A first ‘field of struggle’ that structures the social space of exploration is the global virtual market place (Megret 2011). Mining companies are registered on specialised markets such as the Toronto Stock exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchange in Canada, which facilitate the generation of liquidities necessary for large-scale mining investments. In order for large-scale mining projects to become investible, liquidities must be made available. The process typically stages relations between Juniors and Majors, a mining jargon to refer to companies that specialize respectively in exploration and extraction. Exploration reports provide geological promises represented as facts that, within a favourable conjuncture, become attractive to a Major. In the words of the chief executive of Kinross Gold’s, considered one of the largest Major companies, Juniors are like fishing lines in the sea, and “the more lines you have in the water, the more chance you have of catching a fish’.[1] In North Burkina, the Major AMARA was able to undertake an extraction project as a result of several years of exploration and web-based marketing by the Junior OREZONE. In 2012 OREZONE exchanged its 124 km2 permit to the Major CLUFF GOLD (later rebranded AMARA Mining) for the equivalent of 26.5 million dollars. The sale provided OREZONE with liquidities to further advance its extraction projects in Bomboré and Bondi a few hundred kilometres further south. Virtual information and asset exchange is key to the exploration playing field (Luning 2012). More specifically it could be argued that the virtual territoriality of exploration is precisely what makes enclaves investible.


Exploration concessions included in Orezone's SEGA project zone (Orezone 2010)
Exploration concessions included in Orezone’s SEGA project zone (Orezone 2010)



But gold also gets discovered from the ground, and who does actually discover gold? A Second ‘field of struggle’ that structures the social space of exploration is the concession, both as a site and a relation. Mining exploration concessions are sites populated by small-scale miners and Juniors where typically, the first tip off the latter. In the case of the same AMARA project, the Canadian Junior OREZONE that acquired an exploration permit in 2001 did not repress illegal small-scale mining on its exploration permit. When I discussed this situation in 2011 with a chief geologist working for OREZONE, I was told that (political) concessions must be made to small-scale miners: ‘you cannot put a policemen behind every small-scale shaft, and anyway, the presence of small-scale miners is a good sign for us, it means there is gold, they show us where to dig’. Small-scale miners I conducted research with on this same permit in 2011 and 2012 indeed complained that the Canadians were ‘following them’, systematically closing down their shafts soon after they proved promising. Below is a map drawn by these small-scale miners, where each green sticker represents an artisanal shaft covered up by the Canadian company to undertake exploratory drillings in the same spots. For extractive enclaves to be built, ‘useful areas’ must be discovered, and Juniors must know where to dig. For Juniors to know where to dig, exploration concessions cannot be cordoned off, but instead strategic forms of engagement must take place. The politics of underground access within porous exploration concessions makes these sites another key piece of the territoriality of exploration.


A map of shafts in Bakou indicating those closed by OREZONE, April 2011 (photo: Muriel Côte)

A map of shafts in Bakou indicating those closed by OREZONE, April 2011 (photo: Muriel Côte)


Asking about what happens after the gold rush shines a different light on extractive enclaves. Firstly it shines a light on the frontier dimension of enclave economy, and to the fact that extraction is not the end of the road but part of a recursive process. In this recursive dynamics, exploration is as important a step as extraction in the conditions under which enclaves are secured, in the sense of being made investible. Secondly, looking at extractive enclaves from the point of view of exploration dynamics bring to light new territorialities to those envisaged through the lenses of security and extraction. The political economics of exploration accounts a great deal for the conditions under which extractive enclaves become secured, but a lot of this plays out through the virtual territoriality of the stock and share market places. Another territoriality of exploration is in the porosity of concessions. Extractive enclaves draw attention to the imperative of cordoning off extraction areas, making them impenetrable on the ground, an impermeability that is strategically reflected on maps with neat boundaries, as many rhetorical assurances of excluding competing claimants; but what allows outright exclusion and dislocation under extraction are strategic forms of engagement with competing claimants under exploration. In the case presented above it is precisely the porosity of concessionary boundaries that allow a Junior to be tipped off about the location of ore deposits, which may further become attractive to potential enclave makers. Understanding political topographies of extraction includes piecing together the territorialities of speculative concessionary politics. The virtual and porous territorialities of exploration are also key dimensions that make enclaves im/possible, and that shape the frontiers of global capitalism.


AMARA gold mine in Bakou, Burkina Faso (photo: Muriel Côte, December 2014)

AMARA gold mine in Bakou, Burkina Faso (photo: Muriel Côte, December 2014)



Ferguson, J. 2005. “Seeing like an oil company: Space, security, and global capital in neoliberal Africa.”  American Anthropologist 107:377–382.

ITIE. 2014. Rapport de conciliation des paiements des sociétés minières a l’état et des recettes perçues par l’état desdites sociétés pour l’exercice 2012. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: Initiative pour la Transparence dans les Industries Extractives, ITIE.

Luning, Sabine W.J. 2012. “Processing promises of gold: A minefield of company-community relations in Burkina Faso.”  Africa Today 58 (3):23-39.

Megret, Q. 2011. “De l’inscription en bourse à l’exploration en brousse: La double vie d’une multinationale minière junior.”  Carnets de geographes 2.

Orezone. 2010. Technical report of the mineral resource estimation of the SEGA (Tiba) gold project. Ottawa: Orezone.

Rubbers, B. 2013. “Les sociétés Africaines face aux investissements miniers.”  Politique Africaine 131 (3):5-25.

Watts, M. 2012. “A tale of two gulfs: Life, death and dispossession along two oil frontiers.”  American Quarterly 64 (3):437-467.


[1] Financial Times, January 14th 2014, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/4869ecf4-76c5-11e3-a253-00144feabdc0.html#axzz434QVVgRF

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