Rushing for Gold: Mobility and Small-Scale Mining in East Africa


  • Jesper Bosse Jønsson,

    1. is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen (e-mail:, where he also works as the co-ordinator of the Centre for Sustainable Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (SASMin). He has worked on rural development, natural resources management and small-scale mining in Southern and Eastern Africa. In 2009 he completed a PhD thesis entitled ‘Golden Livelihoods: Organizational Practices, Strategies, and Trajectories of Small-Scale Gold Miners in Tanzania’.
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  • Deborah Fahy Bryceson

    1. is a Reader in Urban Studies at the Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow (e-mail: She has done extensive research on changing livelihood patterns in sub-Saharan Africa. Her publications include: Farewell to Farms (Ashgate, 1999 with Vali Jamal), Disappearing Peasantries (IT Publications, 2000 with Cristóbal Kay and Jos Mooij) and African Urban Economies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006 with Deborah Potts).
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  • The authors would like to thank Niels Fold, Jytte Agergaard Larsen, Jonas Østergaard Nielsen, and the anonymous referees of this journal, for comments on earlier versions.


African rural dwellers have faced depressed economic prospects for several decades. Now, in a number of mineral-rich countries, multiple discoveries of gold and precious stones have attracted large numbers of prospective small-scale miners. While their ‘rush’ to, and activities within, mining sites are increasingly being noted, there is little analysis of miners' mobility patterns and material outcomes. In this article, on the basis of a sample survey and interviews at two gold-mining sites in Tanzania, we probe when and why miners leave one site in favour of another. Our findings indicate that movement is often ‘rushed’ but rarely rash. Whereas movement to the first site may be an adventure, movement to subsequent sites is calculated with knowledge of the many risks entailed. Miners spend considerable time at each site before migrating onwards. Those with the highest site mobility tend to be more affluent than the others, suggesting that movement can be rewarding for those willing to ‘try their luck’ with the hard work and social networking demands of mining another site.