“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.

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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