This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Unusual Kind of Economic Development "Strategy" Between Ghana and China

For the past decade my own research has focused especially on Ghana, so I was naturally drawn to an article in today's NY Times detailing the travails of Chinese peasants who were investing in and working in illegal gold mines in Ghana. I don't claim to know anything about gold mining in Ghana, but since I do know of estimates suggesting that much of the wood exported from Ghana is harvested illegally, and so it seems reasonable to believe in the existence of illegal gold mines. What is much harder to believe from this story is that the Chinese government encouraged rural peasants to invest money in these gold mines (whose legality must have been in question in some form or another) and, even more unbelievably, that these same rural peasants from China went to Ghana to work in the mines. 

With a population rate of growth of 2 percent (a doubling time of 35 years), and a relatively young population, there is no shortage of labor in Ghana. Does a pig farmer from China make a contribution to the Ghanaian economy as a miner in a way that a cassava farmer in Ghana could not? Very unlikely. Indeed, although the story is about the plight of the Chinese peasants, the underlying story is of non-governmental foreign direct investment in Ghana, in which the workers are also Chinese and the money earned from the mining is being sent directly back to China. I don't see where Ghana benefits from this in any way that would be thought of as sustainable development.


  1. Prof Weeks - very interesting article on Ghana and the gold mines. Like you - I also have a long-term interest in Africa. But my connections are primarily in E Africa. I had not heard these details about gold mining and Ghana before.

    Yes - it seems amazing that China would be sending its own peasant laborers to work in African mines. I can think of two reasons why they might do this: (1)The first is that the Chinese workers need some sort of training from the gold mining firm and they are easier to educate because they speak the same language, (2) The second is that it allows the mining company to set aside all standards for safety and pollution. The first rationale is entirely logical, although it does screen out opportunities for African labor. The second rationale - if true - is deeply troubling. I have visited some gold mines in the USA. It's generally not economic to ship gold ore over long distances (e.g. Africa to China). Therefore the standard practice is to extract gold from the raw ore at the mining site. This process involves some very nasty chemicals (including cyanides) that can easily leach into the groundwaters near the mine. In fact, these chemicals are very water-soluble and it's quite difficult to prevent contamination of ground water even if things are done well. I really shudder to think what is happening with the ground water purity, or the purity of rivers and streams, in Ghana!!!

    Your article provides a specific example of an issue which I believe could become ugly. There is a real and credible chance that Africa could experience a new and fierce round of "Economic Explotitation". The superpowers (all of them!) are very thirsty for energy, food, and minerals. There is every chance that the relationships between the superpowers and Africa could manifest themsevles as a new Era Of Exploitation. Think of it as "exploitation on steroids". If - as your article suggests - the end result is that African infrastructure benefits little from the extraction of its resources ... then the final outcome for Africa will be incredibly ugly. The number of failed states in Africa would jump significantly in the coming decades.

    I really hope this doesn't happen - but there are good reasons to think it's a real possibility.
    DrP, Los Angeles

    1. Yes, I worry that you are right...and hope that you are wrong.