Guinean army forces have massacred over 150 unarmed people protesting on Monday against the country’s unelected leader. The head of the military Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in a coup following the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conté in December. Protests broke out in the capital Conakry after it seemed likely Camara would stand as a candidate in a presidential election postponed to January. Opponents are demanding he honour a longstanding pledge to stand aside and transition Guinea to civilian rule (photo of arrest in Conakry by AFP via Al Jazeera).
By the middle of the afternoon Donka Hospital in Conakry had admitted hundreds with bullet wounds and injuries from beatings. A number of women in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces who also went on a looting rampage. The UN, the EU, the AU and the US all expressed their condemnation of the massacre but none are likely to act against “a domestic matter”. Of more interest is the attitude of the the international mining companies who stand to make large amounts of money in the country.
Guinea has the world’s largest concentration of bauxite (aluminium ore) with 30 percent of the world’s reserves. US giant Alcoa in partnership with Canadian Alcan have exclusive rights to mine bauxite in Guinea’s Sangaredi Plateau. Together they run Cie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) the world’s largest bauxite mine. Bauxite is used in cement, chemicals, face makeup, soda cans, dishwashers, siding for houses, and other aluminum products and is a highly profitable industry for the two multi-nationals.
Guinea’s relationship with the Russian giant UC RUSAL is not so healthy. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s company are in a row with a Guinean court. The court cancelled the sale in 2006 of the Friguia refinery which UC RUSAL had bought for $20 million, far below independent valuations of $250 million. Russia is claiming the refinery is now their legitimate property.
Rio Tinto is also in trouble with Guinea. It is challenging a decision the government made last year to take away control of an important iron ore project. Government told Rio its licence to mine has been rescinded. The mine at Simandou is one of the world’s largest undeveloped iron ore deposits, with potential to generate more than $10 billion a year. The mine is crucial to Rio to ward off takeover threats from BHP Billiton and analysts say Guinea’s move is an attempt to get a better bargaining position at a vulnerable time for the buyer.
But the latest protests have made Guinea vulnerable too. Camara is playing for high stakes. Though the country remains an economic basket case, he and his cronies can earn millions in company kickbacks. But he needs the big companies to stay. If he cannot control the streets they will take their mining dollars elsewhere. For Guinea’s millions of desperately poor neither outcome will help them much.