Exploratory field research on hybrid governance in mining concessions in Ghana.

IOB researcher Sara Geenen is studying hybrid governance in large-scale gold mining concessions on a post-doctoral FWO fellowship. In 2015 she completed a first phase of field research in Ghana's Western Region. This research was financed by UA-BOF (Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds) and resulted in the publication of a first Working Paper.

The large-scale mining sector in Sub-Sahara Africa has boomed in recent years. But while mining does contribute to economic growth in several countries (including Ghana and the DRC), it also has negative social and environmental effects and may produce conflicts over access to land, dispossession and forced displacement and community rights. In order to mitigate the risk of such conflicts, companies are urged to assume ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR). The notion of CSR dates back to the mid-1990s, when a ‘transnational legal system’ (Szablowski 2007) emerged that was made up of a multitude of codes of conduct, standards and principles. Campbell (2012) explains how the CSR discourse successfully filled the governance voids following the liberalization of many mining industries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereby the state had in effect been relieved of its responsibilities. Companies thus became “de facto governments” (Hilson 2012), much like in the concession economies of the colonial era. Especially in areas of ‘limited statehood’, where the state is unable to perform its core functions of public goods provision and territorial control, there is a tendency to transfer responsibilities to private actors. However, much of the academic literature seems to agree that development outcomes from CSR have disappointed (Blowfield and Frynas 2005). Moreover, many transnational companies approach their concessions as ‘governance black holes’ (Luning 2012). The complexity of local ‘political arenas’ in mining concessions has been acknowledged in the literature, but has not been the object of much in-depth empirical research. This study aims to fill this gap.

The project focuses on the production of public authority, the provision of public goods and the search for legitimacy in selected mining concessions in the DRC and in Ghana. Special attention is paid to the position of customary chiefs (their agency, networks, power and authority), as well as to other elites holding resources, exercising power and seeking authority. The arrival of a TNC creates opportunities (e.g. employment, infrastructure, tax revenues, development funds etc.), which in turn gives rise to competing interests. Traditional power and resource bases may be eroded and replaced with new ones. Hence, the study considers the changing positions of chiefs and other elites in historical perspective.

The research questions are as follows:

  • How does the arrival of a TNC impact on (power relations in) a local political arena? How are local elites affected and how do they (re)position themselves, using their agency and networks (including connections with the central state)?
  • What outcomes does this produce in terms of hybrid governance? What are the implications in terms of the production of public authority, the provision of public goods and the search for legitimacy?
  • How do such local political dynamics in turn affect TNCs?
  • Who wins and who loses in this process, and how to prevent or manage conflicts and open up political space to the most marginalized?

The methodology is mainly qualitative. Data are collected from in-depth interviews with government, company representatives and community leaders; focus group interviews with community members; and a range of primary documents. The interviews also include a power mapping exercise, which involves the symbolization and visualization of power by means of tokens and colours, for the purpose of analyzing perceived power positions of different actors. This will lead to a more fine-grained analysis of elites’ agency, networks, power and authority in the local political arena.

Transnational companies and local politics. Hybrid governance in mining concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Ghana.

The large-scale mining sector in Sub-Sahara Africa has boomed in recent years. But while mining does contribute to economic growth in several countries (including Ghana and the DRC), it also has negative social and environmental effects and may produce conflicts over access to land, dispossession and forced displacement and community rights. In order to mitigate the risk of such conflicts, companies are urged to assume ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR). The notion of CSR dates back to the mid-1990s, when a ‘transnational legal system’ (Szablowski 2007) emerged that was made up of a multitude of codes of conduct, standards and principles. Campbell (2012) explains how the CSR discourse successfully filled the governance voids following the liberalization of many mining industries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereby the state had in effect been relieved of its responsibilities. Companies thus became “de facto governments” (Hilson 2012), much like in the concession economies of the colonial era. Especially in areas of ‘limited statehood’, where the state is unable to perform its core functions of public goods provision and territorial control, there is a tendency to transfer responsibilities to private actors. However, much of the academic literature seems to agree that development outcomes from CSR have disappointed (Blowfield and Frynas 2005). Moreover, many transnational companies approach their concessions as ‘governance black holes’ (Luning 2012). The complexity of local ‘political arenas’ in mining concessions has been acknowledged in the literature, but has not been the object of much in-depth empirical research. This study aims to fill this gap.

The project focuses on the production of public authority, the provision of public goods and the search for legitimacy in selected mining concessions in the DRC and in Ghana. Special attention is paid to the position of customary chiefs (their agency, networks, power and authority), as well as to other elites holding resources, exercising power and seeking authority. The arrival of a TNC creates opportunities (e.g. employment, infrastructure, tax revenues, development funds etc.), which in turn gives rise to competing interests. Traditional power and resource bases may be eroded and replaced with new ones. Hence, the study considers the changing positions of chiefs and other elites in historical perspective.

The research questions are as follows:

  • How does the arrival of a TNC impact on (power relations in) a local political arena? How are local elites affected and how do they (re)position themselves, using their agency and networks (including connections with the central state)?
  • What outcomes does this produce in terms of hybrid governance? What are the implications in terms of the production of public authority, the provision of public goods and the search for legitimacy?
  • How do such local political dynamics in turn affect TNCs?
  • Who wins and who loses in this process, and how to prevent or manage conflicts and open up political space to the most marginalized?

The methodology is mainly qualitative. Data are collected from in-depth interviews with government, company representatives and community leaders; focus group interviews with community members; and a range of primary documents. The interviews also include a power mapping exercise, which involves the symbolization and visualization of power by means of tokens and colours, for the purpose of analyzing perceived power positions of different actors. This will lead to a more fine-grained analysis of elites’ agency, networks, power and authority in the local political arena.

For this project Sara works in close collaboration with the Institute for the Analysis of Change in Contemporary and Historical Societies (IACCHOS) at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium; the Sustainability in Business Centre at the Surrey Business School, University of Surrey and the Centre d’Expertise en Gestion Minière (CEGEMI) at the Université Catholique de Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).