Image copyright Emmanuel Charo Image caption Mines in the favelas are responsible for most of Guinea’s 45,000 deaths per year, according to the World Health Organisation
More than half of Guinea’s mining sector is under foreign control, experts warn, as a growing fear grips the west African country: demand is outstripping supply.
Omicron, Guinea’s first state-owned copper and cobalt miner, opens for business in September – six months after the government released billions of dollars from bonds.
The firms on which the government sold the gold, iron and bauxite reserves now control them too.
On Tuesday, thousands of people held a huge anti-mining protest in the country’s capital, Conakry.
“The protesters wanted to highlight the environmental and social damage wrought by the [mining] companies, not only in Guinea but also by other mining countries such as Namibia and Tanzania,” said Louise Roug, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
But the institutions which have overseen the sale of Guinea’s resources are highly dysfunctional.
According to the government’s own book, just 12 out of 44 directors of companies granted uranium licences are Guineans.
The civil service had refused to register a political party known as MODFOR – which advocates for the rights of Guinea’s poor – until it proposed a competition commissioner in 2009.
Image copyright AFP Image caption The country is witnessing the rise of a new breed of activists and community leaders
Guinea is in the midst of an increasingly erratic relationship with the international community.
The country struggles to satisfy its financial commitments to the Paris Club and yet has to spend a growing share of its government revenues on services for the tens of thousands of people who live in the country’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Last year, after a decree allowing the state to slash VAT by 30% was announced, prices in Conakry’s deprived neighbourhoods rocketed.
International development agencies report that the sale of the country’s resources has played a huge role in this phenomenon.
The government says that rising demand for raw materials in China means there are “new opportunities to create new jobs for the poor”.
Read more about the relationship between Guinea and multinationals
Traditionally, the world’s biggest economic power of Guinean descent was Portugal, which granted independence in 1960, before handing it over to France the following year.
Fuelled by that relationship, a small cluster of elite relatives live in wealthy gated communities around the Lisbon city centre.
In 1992, after a prolonged period of global neglect, Guinea declared itself independent again, but in a much diminished form.
Guinea’s mineral wealth should be its one unassailable asset, but the industry is still the most frequently cited source of corruption.
“There is no economic activity in the country that is not corrupt or subsidized,” said Henri Dabou, professor of environmental and social anthropology at the University of Cali in Colombia.
Image copyright AFP Image caption It has been alleged that some MPs and senior police officers have benefited from contracts with the industry
The country’s mining firms almost all have some political links.
In June 2006, the government began selling off mining concessions that once belonged to an obscure 1970s private sector firm called Avucatei – in a process known as “Polvo”, for “gold sale”.
The state treasury issued bonds worth more than $4bn – much of which has since been paid out.
From 2008 to 2011, no new mining operations were started, but the money already in place will help the country until 2022.
As a result, the world’s main copper and cobalt producers increased production. They have now raised prices, making them even more profitable.
There are also fears that increasing demand and the global rising prices of the metals, coupled with crumbling social infrastructure, will lead to prolonged conflict.
The same is true for cobalt – which is used in electric cars and in a range of other applications.
The shift has become especially acute within the next six months, since the International Monetary Fund announced it would use the metal as an inflation hedge – hoping to ensure future inflation is less than zero.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Five women with cerebral palsy could not go to school because of inadequate sanitary facilities
As women like Mary Jobon, a mother of four, prepare to go back to school, they are aware that the industry’s dramatic growth over the past few years means many of their country’s poorest families are reaping enormous benefits.
Mining companies have paid more than $700m (£500m) into the government treasury.
But education does not only benefit parents, Mary’s husband says.
“I feel comfortable having my children educated now because for the past two years, I have been able to pay my children’s school fees.”
In fact, expectations in the political sphere are equally