“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.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.