During the 2008 global financial crisis, gold-backed reserves became a ‘safe haven’ for capital investment, causing gold prices to hit historic highs. Globally, small-scale gold mining activities proliferated as prices climbed. Along the banks of Ghana's Offin River, abandoned, waterlogged mining pits now stretch for kilometres where agricultural and other land uses recently existed. While small-scale mining is a right reserved for Ghanaian citizens, many mining sites are foreign-operated and almost all go unremediated. There is thus a stark tension between Ghanaian minerals laws and environmental regulations and the ongoing transformation of rural landscapes. Based on 112 interviews and long-term observation in Ghana since 2010, this article untangles the relationships and practices mediating ‘illegal’ foreign mining operations. Shifting subjectivities, performances and practices bring land grabbing into being as state actors weave together legal and extra-legal domains to facilitate, and profit from, foreign mining. Other officials experience fear and frustration in the face of powerful mining interests, demonstrating the complex workings and conflicts between government actors and agencies. Detailing co-productions between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ domains in official licensing procedures complicates understandings of the state and its role in foreign land grabbing, breaking down the ontological binaries — rational/irrational, official/unofficial — used to uphold an image of state legitimacy and cohesion. Finally, given the spatial extent of small-scale mining deals and ensuing social and environmental transformations, the authors urge land-grab scholars not to dismiss the importance of small-scale deals alongside larger transactions.
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