Symposium on the history of extractive industries and African development


By Bjørn Bakke

Late January 2018, six scholars from the Fate of Nations research-group travelled to Ghana. Our goal was to co-host together with the University of Ghana a symposium on the history of extractive industries and African development. In addition, we were lucky enough to experience Ghana - a country brimming with nature, warmth and history.

Our first objective in Ghana was to visit Goldfield's gold-mine at Tarkwa. The roads to Tarkwa were long and winding, and led us to experiences we will treasure for all our life. The first stop on our trip was at Kakum National Park. There we walked along a jungle-path, before we reached our destination: the Kakum canopy walkway. The walkway offered an immense view of the beautiful jungle foliage, and on the walk down one of the younger (at heart) amongst our group unsuccessfully attempted to climb a rotting bamboo-tree - to the amusement of everyone present. Having enjoyed the sights and heat of the jungle, we continued onward to Tarkwa.

That night we slept at Busua Beach Resort, which boasts Ghana's greatest beach. It is also noteworthy for the fact that merely a 20-minutes walk from the resort you can find Dix Cove, a newly renovated slave castle overlooking a picturesque Ghanaian town. Sadly we did not have much time to spend at Busua or in Dix Cove, as our appointment at Goldfields was approaching.

The employees at Goldfields were very welcoming, and following a course on mine-safety we were guided into the mining area. The Tarkwa gold-mine is an open-pit mine of astounding proportions. Our guide informed us that one ton of ore only contained about 1 gram of gold - so the crushers were massive, allowing for a high volume of ore to be crushed. After being crushed in Tarkwa, the gold was sent by helicopter to Accra and loaded onto planes and sent to South Africa for further processing. Thus, the gold mine does not bring huge profits for the Ghanaian people. However, one positive side-effect from the mine might be their emphasis on safety, including traffic safety.

The next day we got back to Accra where we visited the History Department at the University of Ghana, as well as the National Archives of Ghana. A day later, the conference began. Perspectives from two Fate of Nation's pillars were represented: Regulations and International institutions. We enjoyed presentations on the history of Ghanaian and Scandinavian regulations and Galamsey-mining in Ghana and recent Chinese involvement in the business. The colonial heritage was discussed in a paper focusing on Nigerian regulation of natural resources. The international institutions perspective was also forthcoming, as presentations on the African Union's attempts to influence the mining sector were discussed as well as the World Bank's development efforts in Ghana. All in all, the conference was a success. We learnt a lot, and met many new academic friends.