Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is of growing importance for the livelihoods of an increasing number of Africa’s rural population. Therefore, the sector is increasingly being recognized by African governments, donor institutions and researchers for its role in national development processes. This paper reviews four issues that drive the dynamics within ASM and situates the sector in broader development and formalization problematics. These issues are (i) ASM as part of livelihood portfolios, (ii) the organizational dynamics of ASM, (iii) ASM conflicts with large-scale mining companies, and (iv) ASM in alternative trade regimes based on ethical standards. In conclusion, the paper stresses the need for a context-sensitive formalization and strengthening of ASM: Domestically led mining operations potentially constitute a necessary means for African states to better balance the co-existence of national and large-scale foreign-owned mining companies.