Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Godwin Arku

2nd Supervisor

Isaac Luginaah



Youth unemployment remains a prevalent problem in sub-Saharan Africa and many of its governments are grappling with it. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), however, is gaining prominence in generating employment avenues for the youth. In fact, ASM provides jobs for thousands of youth and is considered to be ameliorating hardships in many rural areas. ASM has therefore been broadly acknowledged as a ‘poverty-driven’ activity. Given the sector’s contribution (both legally and illegally) to rural livelihoods, governments and development partners interested in poverty reduction are uncertain of how to deal with the growth of ASM. Policymakers and development partners seem confused about the place of ASM on their development agenda, and question ASM’s viability as a long-term youth employment avenue. Furthermore, the destructive nature of ASM raises questions about its impact on environmental sustainability. This research, conducted in the Upper East Region of Ghana, contributes to the discussions on ASM by investigating what is pushing an ever-increasing number of youth into the sector. Theoretically, this thesis is grounded in rural livelihoods studies, health geography and risk perception. Qualitative methods consisting of semi-structured interviews (n=70) and focus group discussions (n=5) with youth and key informants were employed in this research.

The findings of the research suggest that besides geographical proximity to minerals, extreme poverty experienced at community, household and individual levels is the most important motivating factor for youth participation in ASM. Youth’s awareness of the occupational risks of ASM does not translate into appropriate workplace safety behaviors. The perceived benefits of ASM seem to outweigh the cost of associated health risks or environmental damage as a result of their activities.

These findings provide some relevant policy options for the government and all stakeholders. First, policies which promote income generating opportunities for youth besides agriculture and ASM should be exploited. Second, in designing employment programs, youth opinions and interests should be considered in order to attract them to the alternative employment sectors. Finally, given that poverty is pervasive in the research area, a holistic approach to poverty reduction is needed.