Society

Guinea: The plunder of Africa’s God-given resources continues

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A technician checks operations at the bauxite factory of Guinea's largest mining firm, Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee (CBG), at Kamsar, a town north of the capital Conakry. PHOTO | AFP

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Summary

  • Guinea is a small, mineral-rich West African country, named after the Gulf of Guinea, bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The country has been in the news this week following what appears to be a military coup which ousted incumbent President Alpha Condé after hours of heavy gunfire near the presidential palace in the capital, Conakry.
  • Under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, the people voted overwhelmingly for independence and the French withdrew quickly.
  • Guinea declared itself a sovereign and independent republic on 2nd October 1958.

Guinea is a small, mineral-rich West African country, named after the Gulf of Guinea, bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

The country has been in the news this week following what appears to be a military coup which ousted incumbent President Alpha Condé after hours of heavy gunfire near the presidential palace in the capital, Conakry.

The land that is now Guinea belonged to a series of African empires and was part of the route frequented by predominantly Muslim, North African trade merchants until it was colonised by France in the 1890s and made part of French West Africa. From the 16th Century when European traders arrived, slaves were exported to work in the Caribbean’s and Americas using traditional slave practices.

Under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, the people voted overwhelmingly for independence and the French withdrew quickly. Guinea declared itself a sovereign and independent republic on 2nd October 1958.

Although rich in mineral resources, years of unrest and mismanagement has left the country as one of the poorest nations in the world.

The coup leaders said they had taken over because of rampant corruption, mismanagement and poverty. Calling themselves the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development, they said the Constitution had been dissolved and that there would be consultations to create a new and more inclusive one.

Numerous reports say the coup led by an elite unit headed by Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya, a French legionnaire, before returning to Guinea to head the Special Forces Group, an elite military unit created by President Alpha Condé. Interestingly, Doumbouya is married to a French woman who is an active duty member of the French National Gendarmerie.

Guinea is the world’s second largest producer of bauxite, which is used in the production of aluminium, a big component in the making of automobiles and beverage cans.

The country is also home to the world’s largest iron ore reserves but years of wrangling and corruption over the largest project Simandou, have left the minerals untapped.

Prices of bauxite and iron ore on the world markets spiked on the news of the military coup.

There have been several high profile cases of corruption in the mining industry in Guinea since 2010 after the election of Alpha Condé as president, involving large multinational companies such as Rio Tinto, BSGR and Vale.

The much publicised allegations of corruption against President Condé’s government involved bribery from the US hedge fund Och-Ziff in August 2016 during which Samuel Mebiane, who worked for the company, was arrested and charged in America with bribing Guinean and other African officials, on behalf of Och-Ziff to receive mining rights and access to secret information.

Mebiame pleaded guilty to conspiring to make payments to African members of the government in December 2016.

In September 2015, after an investigation against Mohamed Alpha Conté, the president’s son, was charged with embezzling public funds and receiving benefits from French firms involved in the mining industry.

Multinationals have been able to maintain a stranglehold on Guinea’s mining industry by bribing high profile public figures over the years.

Although Guinea’s mining industry provides much-needed tax revenue for the government, thousands of jobs, profits to mining companies and their shareholders, it has profound human rights consequences for the rural communities that live closest to the mining operations.

Mining companies take advantage of the ambiguous protection for rural land rights in Guinean law to expropriate ancestral farmlands without adequate compensation or for financial payments that cannot replace the benefits that communities derived from the land.

Damage to water resources that residents attribute to mining, as well as increased demand due to population migration to mining sites, reduces the communities’ access to water for drinking, washing and cooking.

Women, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are forced to walk longer distances or wait for longer periods for the resource from alternative sources.

The dust produced by bauxite mining and transport smothers fields and enters homes, leaving families and health workers worried that reduced air quality threatens their health and environment.

The population sees the financial investment the companies are making, they see taxes being collected, trucks taking bauxite from their farmland abroad (for export), they breathe the dust, and they ask, “What do we get out of it?”

The government claims it is using full State power to ensure that Guinean laws (relating to the mining sector), which are antiquated, are respected to oversee the activities of mining companies.

But the government’s focus on the growing bauxite sector oftentimes appears to take priority over the social and environmental protections because of their incestuous relationships with the multinational actors.

GUIN

A screengrab taken from footage sent to AFP by a military source on September 5, 2021 shows the President of Guinea Conakry Alpha Conde after he was captured by army putschists during a coup d'etat in Conakry on September 5, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

As Guinea’s bauxite boom continues, it is imperative that the government’s capacity and willingness to oversee the mining sector and protect the rights of the community members keeps pace.

Although the Guinean government bears the primary responsibility for protecting communities, mining companies have an obligation to ensure that their activities do not impact negatively on the environmental, social and human rights of the residents.

I trust that the recent change of government is not just another opportunity for the officials to jump into bed with the mining companies for business as usual.

For how long is Africa going to allow its resources to be exploited only for its people to remain permanently impoverished?