“When mining stops, the people there are left in extreme poverty”: on Africa’s foreign-owned mining enclaves

A man walks on rail track near the bauxite factory in Guinea in 2008. Image: Getty.

The town of Fria in Guinea was built around bauxite mining in 1957. It used to have good facilities: water, electricity, schools, housing and hospitals. But since the last company mining there began to decrease activities in 2008, after the financial crisis and a fall in aluminium prices, the population has increasingly lived in poverty with high rates of unemployment. Families that used to provide for their extended families cannot today afford to care for the needs of their own children and immediate relatives.

In 2009 Julien Brygo, a French photojournalist, wrote:

Many of the benefits the locals used to enjoy are being lost. While accommodation remains free, the children’s nursery is closed, the swimming pool, athletics tracks and sports stadium have fallen into disrepair, water and electricity are now rationed. The Pechiney hospital, as the locals still call it, long recognised as the best in Guinea, is no longer regularly supplied with medicine.

Russian parent company RUSAL finally closed the mine in 2012. The move left more than 1,000 permanent employees and 2,000 outsourced workers without pay. One resident spoke of a starving population who were “selling their property, their homes, and plots of land and even furniture to survive”.

Fria’s sad decline is because it is an “enclave”, a town built to respond to the needs of a refinery, run by a succession of companies before RUSAL took up operations 16 years ago. It is just one of an increasing number of makeshift towns built around rural mineral extraction sites in African countries including Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Sudan, and Nigeria, which are being driven by growing foreign investment in mining.

These new urban developments are sustained, managed and controlled by the mining companies. And although the nature of these towns vary between countries and what is being mined, they all share some common characteristics. They are all administered by foreign companies in accordance with the norms of “home” states, such as the US, France and Australia, and mostly managed by foreign nationals – with heavy support from outside investment.

It means these enclaves develop economies that are totally disconnected from the wider realities of the host countries. And in the case of Fria, the danger is that when mining activities stop, the people living there are left in extreme poverty with no alternative livelihoods.

Sharing the benefits

The Fria mining site. Image: author provided.

Despite slow economic growth in Guinea between 1958 and 2008, the mining sector is the largest contributor to the state’s export revenue and its most stable source of tax revenue. In 2008, Bauxite – the main source of the world’s aluminium – accounted for about $596m (40 per cent) of the country’s total exports. Industrial mining activities provided about 22,000 direct full-time jobs and created over 50,000 indirect jobs.

And enclaves come with some advantages. In Guinea, for example, because high amounts of electricity are needed to extract alumina from bauxite, the enclaves benefit from 24/7 electricity. And although much of the highly skilled expertise is provided by expats from abroad, the mining sector still offers job opportunities to nationals, sometimes creating collaborations between mining companies and local education centres.

In Guinea, bauxite mining is the second-largest employer after the civil service. Then there are the jobs needed to run operations: drivers, technicians, engineers, cooks and security agents. And because many of those involved in operations are Western foreigners, the infrastructures are built to those standards and often health services are the best in the country.

In two other Guinean enclaves, Kamsar and Sangaredi, employees and their families live with 24/7 access to water and electricity, reliable healthcare, subsidised food, supermarkets, air conditioning, good schools, free housing, good roads and cultural spaces. Everything has been built to meet the standard of living expected by foreign expatriates. Though the state provides some security services and administrative officials, these staff, too, benefit from the lifestyle created.

But life in an enclave is totally different from that lived by the majority of Guineans outside of it. Less than 15 minutes’ drive away and you step outside the enclave bubble and into the realities experienced by the majority of Guineans. Much of the population faces poverty with no access to basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and health services. Life in the enclaves is what the majority of Guineans would like to see the mining sector provide to wider society.

There are some formal and informal economies that crop up just outside the mining enclaves, which enable at least some other Guineans to benefit from the mining sector. For instance, outside of Kamsar there is a large market created to meet the needs of the mine workers and their families and which draws in local entrepreneurs from elsewhere in Guinea who want to take advantage of the higher salaries linked to the enclaves.

But after 50 years of development of the extractive industry, Guinean society as a whole is yet to benefit significantly from the revenues of its mining sector. And worst of all, when mining activities stop, it is the general population who have never benefited from the mining who also end up with environmental damage such as land degradation and pollution.


What’s left?

After the investment is gone, most of the services provided in the enclaves disappear as do the jobs. Towns like Kamsar and Sangaredi are still attractive now, but unless the government intervenes to make sure the rural economy is developed and unless mining revenues are more fully fed into the overall economy, these towns won’t contribute to sustainable development in Guinea.

Talking to people in local communities near bauxite mining areas in Guinea, I found many expressed dissatisfaction about the division between those inside and outside the enclaves. It doesn’t help that in Guinea, in contrast to places like Sudan, Nigeria and Angola, mining activities happen in close proximity to local communities, meaning company transportation passes through local towns. Some have resorted to addressing mining companies directly with specific demands for the development of their towns in return for the stability of mining activities.

Between 2007 and 2012, for example, mining firm Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) (part-owned by the Guinean goverment), was the victim of several youth-led protests in Kamsar demanding more support to improve their livelihoods. Protests lead to the temporary disruption of mining activities which in turn can lead to lost revenue for the company. To avoid the disruption of their mining activities, CBG told me in 2014 that it had responded to the youth protests by implementing several community projects. One of these projects, “Toutes Petites Entreprises”, was created to promote, support and sponsor local youth led enterprises and to ensure that the CBG offers job opportunities to youth living in neighbouring local communities. These initiatives have contributed to improving the relationship between CBG and neighbouring communities. But more remains to be done in order to ensure that mining revenues benefit wider Guinean society.

In order to avoid further clashes with local communities, mining companies such as CBG urgently need to work together with the state to ensure that profits from mining benefit all. And to prevent mining companies leaving ghost towns like Fria, plans must be put in place to promote the kind of economic development that will sustain the population long after mining has finished.The Conversation

Penda Diallo is a visiting research associate at King's College London.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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