Boom and Bust on an Emerging Continent


Across Africa, boomtowns are increasingly emerging as hubs of African development. This story investigates if these towns are in fact unleashing Africa's potential and promote sustainable development.

  • €13,896 Budget in Euros
  • 2016 Final release date
  • 3 Round winner
  • 1 Location
  • 11 Durations in months

Across Africa, mining is on the rise. Its growth, however, is by and large not playing out according to the familiar script starring multinational extractive giants and heavy machinery. Instead, average people—most of them former farmers reeling from the decline of agriculture—are flocking to waves of resource boomtowns to ply the soil with little more than improvised tools and dreams of striking it rich.

In Tanzania, where little mining existed until the 1990s, four major gold mines employ about 3,000 workers. Meanwhile, an estimated 685,000 Tanzanians mine artisanally. Boomtowns have long been ignored and even scorned by governments and aid agencies. Disorganised, environmentally-destructive and dependent on natural resource extraction—a mode of development forever tainted by the "resource curse" theory—they are often viewed as an antithesis to sustainable development.

However, boomtowns are increasingly emerging as hubs of African development with the potential to spark rapid economic growth. New scholarship contends that artisanal mining avoids many of the pitfalls of traditional resource extraction in Africa and that boomtowns can be important laboratories for economic diversification and grassroots democratic development. Our reporting will dig beneath the surface of the continent's boomtown explosion in four African countries.

This story investigates whether these towns can in fact unleash Africa's economic potential and promote sustainable development, or whether they are doomed to relive the boom-bust cycles that have long plagued African mining. It reveals the human face of these towns and the rich subculture they comprise. In the process, the story hopes to spark conversation about boomtowns' place in African development and nudge policymakers toward thinking more closely about how their incomparable wealth might be harnessed in sustainable and equitable ways—for economic development, the environment, public health and human rights.

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