Shelf Projects: The Political Life of Exploration Geology in Senegal

  • Robyn d'Avignon New York University
Keywords: exploration geology, shelf projects, Senegal, discovery, conflict


Since the early 2000s, southeastern Senegal has emerged as a premier gold exploration and mining frontier. At present, the Sabodala gold mine, owned by the Canadian company Teranga Gold, is the only operational gold mine and mill in Senegal. But two more open-pit gold operations are scheduled to open this year, and several other companies have announced discoveries of industrial-scale deposits. By documenting the shifting ownership and exploration of the Sabodala deposit, this article draws attention to how the protracted phase of mineral research shapes the political life of mining operations in Africa and elsewhere in the global South. Geological exploration in colonial and post-colonial Senegal, as in much of Africa, has relied heavily on the expertise of indigenous miners and smelters. Mining Sabodala has thus unearthed multi-vocal and contested histories of gold discovery. Historians of science have established that field assistants and experts in Africa have produced agronomic and medical knowledge typically credited to “the West.” By extending this argument to gold exploration, the article brings African history into dialogue with an emergent anthropology of subterranean knowledge production.

Author Biography

Robyn d'Avignon, New York University
Assistant Professor of History
01 Mar 2018
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