Since the end of the Cold War, natural resources have assumed an increasingly prominent role in security, conflict, and peace studies. Scholars and development practitioners alike view the development of strong institutions, which aim to domesticate global regulatory regimes that foster neoliberal principles like privatization, transparency, and accountability, as necessary to mitigate natural resource conflict in resource-rich states, as well as enhance opportunities for peace and social justice. However, the application of environmental peacebuilding theory to resource-rich contexts has outpaced the ability of empirical research to substantiate its claims, and scholars remain unclear about the mechanisms by which institutional reforms minimize conflict risk or promote peace. This dissertation examines the extent to which the diffusion and uptake of global environmental governance standards has (re)shaped the politics of mineral extraction in Ghana and Sierra Leone. I explore claims that social and environmental outcomes have deteriorated amid efforts by Ghana and Sierra Leone to build regulatory capacity. Using interview, survey, and ethnographic data collected across multiple scales in Ghana and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016, I find that while governance reforms have produced strong environmental regulatory institutions in both contexts, these institutions have failed to drive wider social and environmental change within society. Rather, institutional reforms have contributed to patterns of development that undermine state-society relations, and reinforced conditions that promote institutional plurality on the ground. The state remains only one of several options for obtaining legitimate access to mineral resources, meaning that multiple and conflicting sets of “rules-in-use” govern extraction. This perpetuates what I term a “hollow state” in which formal state institutions are continually eroded by informal bottom-up processes. The resulting institutional terrain has produced conditions in which plural authoritative networks compete for social influence as well as access to and control of natural resources. This, in turn, has contributed to chronic, low-intensity conflict, environmental degradation, and the pursuit of elite interests and power at the expense of sustainable resource extraction and livelihood security. Overall, this research suggests a need for environmental peacebuilding theory to reconceptualize linkages between environment, development, and social stability in resource-rich states.
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