People living near Guinea’s mining sites are increasingly taking to the streets to protest the lack of basic services like water and electricity in their communities. At least two demonstrators were killed when security forces put down recent protests but residents and civil society leaders say they will not be deterred.
“We have had enough of false promises,” Kalil Soumah, a resident of the mining town of Boké, some 300km from the capital Conakry, told IRIN shortly after a military crackdown on protesters there resulted in the death of a 23-year-old man.
Guinea is rich in natural resources, including one of world’s largest reserves of bauxite, used in making aluminum. But extreme poverty is widespread and outside of the wealthy elite, few people – including among communities near lucrative mining operations – have regular access to safe water and mains electricity.
Residents of bauxite-mining town Boké said on 4 November that the city was quiet, with a heavy military presence in the streets, after a visit by President Lansana Conte one day after 31 October protests. But they say the calm will be short-lived if their grievances are not answered.
“Residents are observing how things proceed before deciding what to do next,” student Alima Diallo told IRIN from Boké on 4 November.
Boké residents poured into the streets and blocked the railway by which Compagnie de bauxite de Guinée (CBG) transports materials for export. The people of Boké the week before had threatened to block operations if they did not receive access to water and electricity.
“The military forces who came from Conakry did not hesitate at all when they confronted the demonstrators,” the dead man’s aunt, Ansoumane Diawara, told IRIN. “They were shooting everywhere. My nephew was struck down by a stray bullet.”
Civil society members told IRIN the lack of basic services is primarily the fault of the government, not of mining companies, but they know a way to strike at the government is to halt mining operations.
Mambia, 80km from Conakry, has also quieted down three weeks after demonstrations there. Residents rose up on 9 October, also demanding water and electricity.
|...They were shooting everywhere...|
The situation is tense following a violent crackdown by the military, and nothing has been resolved, said one observer. Local government official Ibrahima Diallo confirmed that at least one protester was killed by security forces.
“The same needs remain; the same causes for the unrest remain,” said Sékou N’fally Oularé, member of the Publish What You Pay coalition pushing for accountability in the use of mining resources.
“Nothing is the same”
Since massive demonstrations against the Guinean government in early 2007, Guineans have time and again expressed their grievances by staging street demonstrations. Most recently, on 3 November, Guineans blocked roads with wood and burning tyres in Conakry to protest high fuel prices. The military commonly puts down demonstrations by force.
“Nothing is the same in Guinea since [the 2007 protests],” Oularé said. “People stand up and denounce; even if they know they might not have an immediate impact, they do not sit by and let their rights be trampled.”
Kabinet Cissé, head of the natural resources programme for the civil society organisation CECIDE, told IRIN: “It is the norm in Guinea – when people stand up for their rights, the reaction is immediate repression. But despite the repression these [mining] communities will continue to claim their rights.”
CECIDE co-organised a civil society symposium in Conakry, 17 and 18 October, to talk about mining and development. The symposium was held just after a government mining forum in the capital which civil society leaders said excluded the views of mining communities.
The Guinea government is currently revising its mining contracts with foreign mining companies partly, the government says, to ensure that more profits from mining benefit Guineans.
A coalition of civil society groups put out a declaration on 18 October saying it is up to civil society, including labour unions, to “intensify the necessary actions and pressure” to help communities assert their social, economic and environmental rights in view of the mining industry.
The declaration cites the “impatience” of some mining communities, laying out recommendations for civil society, the government and mining companies.
Civil society members told IRIN some people living near mines do not suffer the same poor living conditions as others, largely because mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that resources go to local development.
In Siguiri, northeastern Guinea, for example, representatives from industry, civil society and the government, meet regularly to discuss local development needs and how resources are being spent, said Publish What you Pay’s Oularé. Communities like inhabitants of Mambia and Boké want to achieve the same.
Civil society members told IRIN the only lasting solution is open dialogue. “The best move the government could take would be to enter into a dialogue with communities and with civil society,” CECIDE’s Cissé said. “We cannot continue to live in a situation of permanent instability.”