Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries. It’s ranked 160th out of 161 when it comes to health, 159th in education and 152nd in living conditions. Yet it is the world’s largest producer of bauxite and has the world’s largest reserves. Bauxite is used to make aluminium.
Successive regimes in Guinea have used mining to maintain the status quo. This has allowed the state to function despite ongoing internal socio-economic challenges. I set out the details of this in my book, Regime Stability, Social Insecurity and Bauxite Mining in Guinea.
Will it be different this time?
In September a military coup deposed the Alpha Condé government. The coup was led by a young charismatic soldier, Col Mamady Doumbouya. It was wildly welcomed in the country, but was frowned on internationally by the African Union and West Africa economic bloc.
Over the past 10 years there had been several large community protests to demand equitable access to mining benefits, improvements of good governance. There was also strong opposition to the amendment of the constitution that led to Alpha Condé’s third term.
Resource-producing communities in Guinea’s mineral regions do not benefit from the positive aspects of mining. Despite the ongoing protests, no structural changes were made. And Alpha Condé had failed to honour most of his promises.
The socio-economic reality meant that the population was looking for a change, and for many, a coup was the only way to end Condé’s reign.
The coup leaders have sent mixed signals about how much will change under their stewardship. In my view, their ability to unite the country beyond ethnic lines, restructure the government, curb corruption, appoint effective leaders, hold a peaceful transition to civilian rule, and effectively manage revenues from the mining industry during the transition will determine their ability to support socio-economic growth in Guinea.
The coup leaders have put together a national transition charter to support an effective transition toward civilian rule.
This charter also promised the nomination of a civilian Prime Minister.
On the 6th of October, Mohamed Béavogui, a technocrat with a long-established international career, was nominated as the new Guinean Prime Minister. Almost a month later a new government composed of 25 ministers, including seven women and two secretary-generals, was put in place.
There has been a careful approach to represent various ethnic groups and members with multiple experiences in the new government.
The coup leaders have taken early steps to address corruption, embezzlement of public funds and financial mismanagement by freezing all government accounts..
In September, they also stated that the only contracts and activities that will continue without revision are those related to mining, in majority bauxite mining and export ports.
These steps have given the population some hope for improved governance.
But there are deep concerns. Some of the contracts that aren’t being reviewed are dubious. And concerns about respect of the rule of law, impunity and the government’s ability to hold people to account, are also high. The horrific rape of a 25 year old woman by medical staff in Conakry during an abortion that led to her death took these concerns to new heights.
From my reading of the relationship between those in power and the country’s mineral wealth it would appear that the new leadership is bent on sustaining the security of bauxite mining activities to maintain incoming revenues. This is understandable given that it needs the funds to run the state as well as to gain international legitimacy.
But will it make the necessary changes to improve the lives of ordinary Guineans?
At a first glance, these coup leaders appear to be no different in the way that they will go about relying on the mining industry to sustain the new regime. To show that they’re taking the economy down a different path there are a number of steps they should be taking.
To cascade the benefits of mining to the wider population, there needs to be a long-term approach to development. In particular, revenues from mining need to be used to make deep-seated changes.
First and foremost, the government needs to improve good governance and anti-corruption practices, transparency, and accountability across all state institutions.
Secondly, the government needs to create an environment that promotes the respect of human rights and responsible mining. On paper, Guinea has some good quality mining legislation. The new regime needs to enforce the respect of existing quality legislation and impose relevant penalties on non-compliance.
This will require proper regulation of bauxite mining companies to root out corrupt practices. Until corruption is curbed, mining will continue to benefit only the state, mining companies and their shareholders, and the local government and business elites who in the past ten years have all been linked to Conde’s circle.
Third, the working environment of officials needs to be assessed to identify weaknesses, strengths and opportunities to improve and develop. But where gaps are identified, advice should be sourced from experts with genuine experience and expertise related to Guinea and its bauxite mining regions.
Fourth, there is need to ensure that staff are well trained, and adequately equipped to control and manage mining activities and facilitate the development of mining regions. Building capacity, especially among civil servants in relevant ministries, is key.
The government can do this by sponsoring training programmes for junior, middle, and senior government officials. In addition, senior officers should be offered international exposure and given a chance to spend time with the mining ministries of countries with large mining portfolios. Botswana and Australia, for example.
Fifth, the government needs to reform its education sector. Schools need to be equipped with software and technologies that enable children to develop skills that are currently only accessible to elites. In addition, young Guineans – all, not only the elites – need to be trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at both tertiary and diploma levels. Without this they will not be able to hold professional and highly skilled jobs within the mining industry.
Sixth, considerate management of the negative environmental and social consequences of mining activities is essential to the long-term benefit for local communities. Efforts at improving mining practices on the ground – for example aligned with the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative Performance Standard – would bring Guinean bauxite mining to a higher operating standard.
Finally, the effective participation of local communities in mine development projects before and during the mining activities needs to be prioritised. This should be done in line with requirements that have become globally recognised..
Genuine stakeholder engagement and participation is key to ensure that mining benefits the wider population, including local communities.
The jury is still out
The coup leaders have freed political prisoners. They have also frozen all government accounts and promised to improve the socio-economic situation.
The junta has also promised that mining will continue without disruption.
For now, all Guineans without distinction of ethnic group, are happy. But it remains to be seen whether or not the joy will be short lived.