Over the past two decades, “illegal” natural resource extraction has become a significant driver of environmental change and social conflict across the Global South. In response, numerous Sub-Saharan African states have engaged in governance reforms that heed calls to securitize – or, establish and consolidate state control over – natural resources. In Ghana, securitization has served to entrench the informal economy as domestic producers, marginalized in the process of reform, continue to utilize non-state institutions to maintain access. While the Ghanaian state has branded “illegal” resource extraction a major environmental, social, and national security concern, it has responded to this threat unevenly; it has violently enforced its authority in some contexts but remained relatively indifferent in others. This article explores the phenomenon of selective enforcement to explain patterns of violence that have emerged between state and society in response to both securitization and informality. Drawing on a multimethod approach, I find that natural resource governance authority remains fragmented across resource contexts, and that the configuration of authority and interests on the ground shapes the extent of state intervention. I propose a natural resource typology that identifies when the state is most likely to enforce its authority, and the degree of violent conflict likely to result. Ultimately, I contend that domestic patterns of enforcement are shaped primarily by: 1) competition with local power holders over resource entitlements and 2) global conservation and extraction priorities. While specific to Ghana, this argument can provide important insights into the relationship between informal extraction, state enforcement, and social conflict in other Global South contexts.
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