Not so fast (Guinea revisited)

In my previous post, I wrote:


“In the interests of an uninterrupted flow of natural resources from Guinea to the industrialized world (under terms favourable to the latter) and business as usual, expect more silence from Western policymakers and the media on what becomes of the government of this poor West African country and its people.”


Things might not be so silent after all. Captain Camara, who took power in a bloodless coup hours after the death of President Conté, has claimed to have blocked the mining sector and pledged to review mining contracts and stamp out corruption. He announced that gold extraction had been suspended for a start (see this article). This could shake things up.


Alexandre Foulon)

Bauxite extraction in Guinea (Photo: Alexandre Foulon)


As things stand today, too much of the mining and exploitation of other valuable resources in much of Africa happens under dubious contracts, by which foreign multinationals pay off local officials to sign deals that give the bulk of the country’s wealth to the multinationals at giveaway prices. Valuable minerals and other resources are hauled off leaving very little, if anything for the people in the country (except perhaps a small boost in employment, a token payment for the government coffers, a wad of cash in the pockets of the government officials negotiating the deal, and a dose of environmental degradation as a souvenir). This kind of scramble for resources is at its worst in situations of conflict – the conflict itself inevitably becomes linked to this scramble. See this article, this article and this report for an idea of how bad things can get – the DRC is a prime example.


The silence of powerful policymakers and the media on the situation in Guinea to date is, to an extent, a sign that foreign multinationals and their backers (policymakers in their home countries) have been happy about the way things are – mining contracts are lucrative for them. The question is: how far will the new military administration go in changing this? Of course it is entirely conceivable that Captain Camara is playing to the gallery, making noise as a strategy to ensure that the current ‘arrangements’ for distributing the spoils of mineral wealth are reconfigured in his favour. He may also be making announcements like this in an effort to boost his popularity and shore up local support, but is not serious about following through with reforms. But if he is in any way genuine and determined to bring about reform, then things could get interesting.


Having taken power by force, Captain Camara is, of course, subject to obligatory condemnation by other countries for his disregard for the democratic process. But whether this condemnation ends up as a kind of formality for the gallery, or develops into something more serious (with pressure that will hurt), will probably depend on how willing he is to ‘play ball’ with the foreign multinationals and their backers in maintaining the status quo.


If it is to be a continuation of the same game with a new player, then the players (with the exception, of course, of the people of Guinea) will be happy, and talk of the situation in Guinea will fade away. The same applies if the new military rulers can be quietly convinced (behind the scenes) to play ball. But if Guinea keeps popping up in the news, complete with indignation about the flagrant abuse of democracy and human rights, then it just may be that some changes in how valuable resources in Guinea are handled are on the way. Let’s not hold our breath just yet…

Pan-African News Wire)

The coup leader (Photo: Pan-African News Wire)

4 Responses to “Not so fast (Guinea revisited)”

  1. There has been some speculation that Kabila’s proposed “mining reform” was going to be much like this; a lot of public noise without any real meaning behind it. The Chinese agreement, however, certainly shook things up, so he may have been sincere. It will be interesting to whether Kabila survives his bout of insubordination. Will the conflict in DRC change his mind on contract reform and the Chinese deal, or will he need to be taken out?

  2. Yes indeed. Good points and good questions. It could be that Kabila thinks he (but not necessarily the DRC) can get a better deal from the Chinese. But then again, double-crossing the Western powers-that-be is a risky endeavour… If the conflict goes continental again, Kabila will likely have Angola on side again, and surely the West can’t be too overt in supporting another Rwandan invasion… Or perhaps the situation now is enough of a threat for him to switch sides (but how would China respond to that?). Let’s hope another assassination/plane crash is not on the cards..

  3. Well, as I mentioned out in the Congo article, Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front, now that China’s manufacturing is diving off a cliff, Beijing may be rather receptive to at least a postponement of the deal until things recover. And that could be years on. I saw some numbers lately that since Jan. 2008, some 67,000 factories have closed in Guangdong province. Imagine that!

  4. Then if China pulls back, and Kabila caves in and returns to the Western fold, it could ironically prevent a lot of Congolese deaths…

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