In the 1990s, government authorities in Zimbabwe introduced internationally praised policies to formalize the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, using a combination of district-administered and nationally administered licensing and capacity-building measures. While "decentralization" efforts in the 1990s and early 2000s were hampered by insufficient resource and power transfers, the model was seen by environmental scholars as a source of optimism. However, as economic crisis deepened in the 2000s, national officials (a) revoked the power of Rural District Councils to regulate riverbed alluvial gold panning and (b) increased barriers to formally licensed small-scale primary ore mining. This article examines the recentralization of power in this growing informal sector, exploring how heavy-handed implementation of national reforms contributed to livelihood insecurity. The study emphasizes how national officials invoked "formalization" rationales for mining policy shifts that obscured their underlying political and economic drivers, disempowering local district authorities and deepening the marginalization of informal livelihoods.