Mining communities across Guinea have been plagued by social unrest, especially in the Boke region where protests, often triggered by the lack of running water and electricity, has resulted in the loss of lives and properties. In the aftermath of such protests, the government's response has been to intimidate and arrest protesters, sack local officials, and sometimes promise to stabilize the electricity supply.
This year, the region was declared a 'special economic zone', a designation aimed at attracting investments and facilitating job creation. However, these promises have not materialized and job creation initiatives have failed due to compounding circumstances including poor management of resources. Data on jobs created is inconsistent, officials at the Ministry of Mines claim the number of direct employment at a few thousands while urban unemployment had doubled from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2015[i].
According to government data, Guinea's bauxite reserves are estimated at over 40 billion tons, of which more than 57.5% are located in the region of Boke, where a dozen companies are currently exploring and exploiting the mineral[ii]. A report by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) states that Guinea received about $293 million from 45 extractive companies in 2015 which represents more than 24% of total revenues excluding bilateral and multilateral aid[iii]. In 2016, according to data from the World Bank's Market Outlook for Commodities, production of bauxite almost doubled[iv].
The Push Factors: Unemployment, pollution, and shrinking arable land
Mining communities have often been neglected at the hands of both mining companies and the government. For more than half a century, the Compagnie des bauxites de Guinée (CBG) has been operating several mines in the region and the inhabitants have been finding it difficult to understand why their cities and towns have reaped very little benefits from the mining boom. For example, why mining companies' have access to modern amenities such as clean running water, while they have to settle for non-running, polluted water as a result of the activities of the mining companies.
Regions considered to be the bastion of the regime are primary beneficiaries of government development projects, leaving mining communities to fend for themselves. For example, the Minister of Public Private Partnership, who was also the lead negotiator of the deal, announced a $20 billion mining deal and unveiled a list of projects to be executed in the initial years of the deal. This announcement triggered protests in Boke, as none of the projects were earmarked for that region.
The arrival of new mining companies has made life for Boke residents more difficult. The residues from the bauxite, often transported using dumper trucks, have become pollutants found in residential areas, cashew nut plantations and water streams along the way.
The 2017 report by the Bureau guinéen d'études et d'évaluation environnementale states that the concentration of a pollutant called Particulate matter PM10 is 5 to 8 times higher than normal in some areas.[v] As the production increases so does the need for new land fields to extract bauxite from. As a result, whilst farmers struggle to get the financial compensation promised to them, they are also left with minimal land for their farming activities due to the diminishing size of arable land.
Durable solutions for Boke and beyond
Unemployment and pollution are a painful reality and the government of Guinea should address these issues thoughtfully and thoroughly. Residents of mining communities deserve to be respected and told the truth, in order to remain credible. On the other hand, overselling achievements could send the wrong message; when officials equate funding from foreign and private investors (as is the case in the 20 billion deal or the other 20 billion for the National plan for economic and social development) to government funds, that could push protesters onto the streets demanding their "share" given that the majority of citizens are not versed in economical jargons and believe what they are told by their officials.
The government should also take full responsibility for its actions or lack thereof, and avoid attempts to shift the blame through the politicization of real economic issues and the suffering of its citizens residing in mining communities. The perception from the residents in these communities is that their fellow citizens from other parts of the country are "taking their jobs". This thinking should not be amplified by the government, given that the local content policy, developed by the government aimed at strengthening the skills of both mining and non-mining workers,' does not differentiate between citizens [vi]. Analyzing the scarcity of employment through this lens, rather than thinking the issue through and providing durable solutions, risks putting residents of such communities up against citizens from the rest of country. Civil society organizations and leaders have the partition to play in educating citizens to value and not destroy public properties and to mend and foster relationships between local authorities, mining companies, and communities.