Guinea: Village Teacher ‘Teaches’ Mining Giant Lesson
…Testament to the Unflagging resolve of Yacouba Camara
Mining companies in Guinea have assumed the notoriety of using state security (army and police) to violently evict indigenous residents- disregarding their livelihood. This brazen act of relocating locals against their will for mining companies to operate, had over the years stirred the human rights impulse of Yacouba Camara.
He’s a public school teacher of 28 years and spokesperson for the Kintinian group of complainers. His advocacy inclination can be traced in the aftermath of the army clamp down on local resistance to evictions from the land of their nativity in Kintinian, Siguiri Region.
Since then in 2016, Yacouba has been working basically on relocation and resettlement issues in the Siguiri Prefecture in the Kankan Region, a remote district in the far northeast of Guinea.
The revered village teacher is credited with mobilizing action against AngloGold Ashanti de Guinée S.A. (SAG) and the Guinean security forces. His modus operandi has been to lead community efforts in challenging the egregious land eviction of locals to mining concessions. This approach had been bearing fruit; for instance ensuring that the army and the company appeared in court and before international redress and accountability mechanisms to answer to allegations of human rights abuses respectively.
The army is said to have been acting under the guise of expelling illegal miners from the area. But the true intent, according to Yacouba, was to throw the people out of their ancestral land to accommodate SAG. “Families were driven out of their homes and forcefully resettled without adequate compensation. “They have always wanted to evict the locals from their farmlands, so whatever happened was simply an alibi.”
There were suggestions of a gold rush in the area that caused the killing of more than twenty villagers in 2018. Media accounts quoting hospital and security sources, have it that shooting erupted on the mine leaving 23 people dead and dozens more wounded.
The Company’s activities are concentrated in 12 villages with an estimated population of 40,000 people. These villages include: Kintinian, Boukaria, Balato, Fatoya, Kofilani, Samany, Kourouni, Kamatiguiya, Setiguiya, Kourouda, Lenkekoe and Fenserekolen.
Informal or artisanal small-scale miners from these villages and elsewhere are said to have invaded the company’s pits in search of gold. This has been something done mostly in the rainy season when the mine pits are flooded.
An official told the AFP that “The Siguiri region has abundant deposits of gold… which attracts gangsters and clandestine diggers from nearby communities and neighboring countries.” Interestingly, the official blamed the violence on repeated clashes between villagers over land rights. “The villagers are armed, the clandestine arrivals are armed and the mining zones are over-crowded,” the official said.
The villagers’ reported fight over land could not be more self-indicting of the officials because the government gave out all the land without regard for the livelihood of the locals. The scramble for land therefore, in this instance, “fight with arms” could be understandable.
The story adds: “It is commonplace that multinational concession companies are granted operating rights with little or no consultations with community residents. There was no free, prior and informed consent of the people. Those who resisted their resettlement, had to face the wrath of the army, as the state sought to protect their investment,” observed Saa Pascal Tenguiano, the former head of Centre du Commerce International pour le Developpement (CECIDE), a local NGO that had been working with Yacouba.
Ultimatum Paid off
According to Yacouba, AngloGold Ashanti issued an ultimatum in March of 2015 that paid off. In the fashion of his local resistance the Company warned the Guinean government to secure Area One by the end of August for its expansion or risk termination of all of its operations in Siguiri, by May the following year. The warning appears to have pushed the government to swiftly move ahead with the evictions.
Apparently, the company had goaded the government to effect eviction in the face of mounting local agitation following failed resettlement dialogue. It was less surprising that then President Conde visited the area to cow the locals into submission.
“When the President left, local authorities led by the Commissioner follow-up on the President’s mandate to have us forcefully relocated. There was a deadlock. More than ten representatives of the communities were arrested, followed by the deployment of a special unit of the Army, which resorted to looting of businesses and the repression of locals,” Camara explained to the MRU-CSO Platform.
He said an agreement was hastily signed by people pliant to the government- purportedly posing as representatives of the affected communities. This scheme was however rejected by the aggrieved residents.
Release from detention
Yacouba and his team were undaunted high handedness of the army; they used tact to secure the release of those who were in detention a few days later. Yacouba followers found inspiration in his tenacity to hold fast to the conviction of pursuing a legitimate campaign.
Going forward, he felt encouraged to mobilize the local population to further oppose their forceful removal from their habitat. His approach has since been a combination of strong actions: organizing mass protests, producing video documentaries to expose the damages done by the company and filing litigations before local courts and the accountability watchdog of World Bank, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).
Personally, Yacouba’S drive has been sustained by the respect and cordiality of the local authorities. This is reinforced by the fact he is a school teacher, teaching children of victims of land grab as well as local authorities in the cited communities.
He believes his knowledge of the World Bank accountability system, where he had filed complaints against the company, with the help of MRU-CSO Platform`s affiliates, appears to also provide some deterrent and/or protection for his person; for he is yet to suffer any physical violence.
He insists that the hostilities against the people by state security has strengthened his resolve to continue to campaign against the unfair land deals and environmental plunder in the region.
While highlighting the excesses of the Company and the state security, Yacouba pointed to what he deems as the impact of his advocacy. According to him, the Management of the Company was forced to come to the negotiation table.
“They have now signed an agreement to construct new schools, and roads with a promise to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples and their defenders.” He added: “As part of our advocacy, Anglogold Ashanti has agreed in principle to find an expert to conduct full evaluation to process compensation for relocation.”
Ask Yacouba what has been working well for him he would tell you that the power of consultation.
“We work together, I listen to my people and build consensus. I usually take all the prepositions that are put forth and weigh the pros and cons to negotiate on behalf of my people.” This is how Yacouba has become an influential figure in the region.
He recognizes the Government’s need for foreign direct investment to create jobs and development, but says “I can’t understand why the government would not have mercy for poor villagers who are scarcely surviving.”
Yacouba said, his actions are intended to call attention of policymakers to the suffering of the affected communities. He is of the conviction that the trending stalemate is not in the interest of the concession companies asserting that “they just cannot afford to cope with the community resistance and insecurity in the mines.”
The Collective Action
Yacouba’s faith in the collective action remains intact considering the gains that have been recorded in difficult times. He’s full of gratitude for local, regional and international partners that continue to show solidarity with their cause. He specifically mentioned The Centre du Commerce International pour le Development (CECIDE) and Les Memes Droits Pour Tous (“MDT”), affiliates of the MRU-CSO Platform for helping to amplify the plight of the people.
These civil society organizations did not only “criticized the State for using the military to intimidate and force the locals out of their homes, contrary to national law and international standards, but they supported the communities in filing their complaint to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), Yacouba stressed.
In 2017, affected communities represented by Centre de Commerce International pour le Developement (“CECIDE”), Le Memes Droits Pour Tous (“MDT”), and Inclusive Development International (“IDI”) filed a complaint against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), for its role in supporting SAG dispossess them of their land and left them destitute. The complainants included artisanal gold miners, merchants and smallholder farmers, whose ancestors have lived in the Siguiri region for many years.
In late 2015/2016 approximately 380 households were forcibly evicted from their ancestral land in Kintinian commune to make way for an open-pit oxide goldmine controlled by mining giant AngloGold Ashanti and backed by Nedbank of South Africa, an intermediary lender for the IFC.
In these complaints, the villagers alleged that the evictions carried out by state security forces were marred by violence, the destruction of properties, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, leading to the loss of their livelihoods — all in total violations of the IFC’s environmental and social policies.
In 2019, Yacouba and the affected communities, with the support of MRU-CSO Platform affiliates, also sought criminal legal action against the Guinean defense and security forces at the Court of First Instance of Siguiri, for abuses committed during a crackdown on demonstrations against the SAG. The protests were about the intermittent power outage for nearly two months. The company supplies electricity to the region. More than 40 people were said to have been injured after security forces opened fire on protesters.
All of what has panned out can be visualized in retrospect since 1985, when concession rights were granted to a Guinean joint venture to explore for gold and other minerals in Siguiri Prefecture. By 1993, the company had conducted alluvial gold mining activities with funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The agreement was renewed that same year, thus increasing the operating territory to 1,500 square kilometers.
Up until 1996, the Australian Company, Golden Shamrock Mines Ltd, owned 70% shares in the joint venture, with 15% equity held by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the balance 15% shares by the Guinean Government, before Ashanti Goldfields bought a majority stake in the joint venture.
Yacouba lamented: “the Government is the granter of the concession, the regulator of the sector and a shareholder in the mining business. No wonder they would unleash the security forces on the villagers”.
In 2005, Ashanti Goldfields merged with AngloGold to form AngloGold Ashanti and consequently renamed the joint venture company Société AngloGold Ashanti de Guinée (SAG).
SAG commenced plans to expand its mining operations to a location in the District of Kintinian known as Area One, early 2013, where Yacouba comes from. The expansion required the resettlement of approximately 380 families. A firm hired by SAG, (INSUCO) to design a Resettlement and Compensation Action Plan (“RAP”) found out that the people in the region were not consulted but the process went ahead anyhow.
Siguiri, is situated in northeastern Guinea and lies at the intersection of roads from Bamako in Mali, Kankan, and Dinguiraye and is five miles (8 km) north of the convergence of the Tinkisso River with the Niger. It is a market town for the cattle, corn (maize), millet, and kola nuts produced in the surrounding agricultural area. It is also a major exporter of rice grown in the river valleys. The region in which Siguiri is situated is mostly savanna. Guinea is a significant producer of bauxite and iron ore.
AngloGold Ashanti, with its head office in South Africa, is an independent, global gold mining company with a diverse, high-quality portfolio of operations, projects and exploration activities across nine countries on four continents. While gold is the company’s principal product, the company also produces silver in Argentina and sulphuric acid in Brazil as byproducts.
This article is written by the Secretariat of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform (MRU SCO Platform), to give visibility to the untold stories of frontline grassroots human rights defenders across West Africa. The MRU CSO Platform is a network of environmental and human rights defenders; indigenous, urban slums and squatter communities; communities affected by the operations of multinational corporations; labor unions and poor informal entrepreneurs on the frontline of corporate investments in West Africa. Its membership is drawn from nine of the fifteen countries in West Africa. Namely: Liberia, Sierra Leone, La Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Senegal.