Guinea, a model of growth without development?

The Guinean presidential election campaign is in its final hours. Candidates are starting to return to Conakry with a view to the first round of voting, this Sunday, October 18. The opportunity to review the record of outgoing President Alpha Condé, in power for ten years, and candidate for a controversial third term.

As a backdrop, a context marked by an economic crisis and a scathing observation on the part of the International Monetary Fund, which estimated in a report published in 2019 that the country is a model of “growth without development”.

For its part, the power invokes ten years of recovery of the State and advancement of rights, despite the scowls of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. But he wants above all to be a “builder” who says he has raised his country by dint of major projects and reforms after having found it on land in 2010. Asphalting of highways, new infrastructures in the energy and mines and logistics, construction of towers, hotels, construction sites have multiplied in the capital and in the interior of the country in recent years. The outgoing president has also initiated important reforms in the army, in the justice system, but he has still not succeeded in stemming the corruption which undermines the daily life of Guineans.

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The eternal promise of electrification

Guinea has the world’s largest bauxite reserves, of which it is the world’s second largest producer after Australia. It contains iron, gold and diamonds. The “water tower of Africa” ​​has another manna with its rivers, its reliefs and its rainfall, and the Condé presidency is proud of the dams it has built.

The most important in Souapiti, a gigantic project with Chinese funds (one billion dollars), is supposed to double Guinea’s energy supply and finish meeting the country’s current needs and even allow the export of electricity after commissioning, in principle by the end of the year. President Alpha Condé has made access to electricity for all a campaign promise, for more than ten years, without real success. In 2019, only 3% of the rural population has access to electricity according to the World Bank. In the interior of the country, the inhabitants are getting impatient: there is not yet a distribution network to light the houses, while the large mining operations have electricity. The cost of this energy remains unclear, because it is very expensive and people do not want to pay when they regularly suffer cuts. So there is a problem with paying the bills. When the electricity company [EDG] wanted to remedy this by installing prepaid meters, it encountered strong resistance.

Far from this problem, Fatou Conté, a bread seller interviewed by Agence France-Presse, believes that “Alpha Condé has built, he has brought Guinea out of a global crisis”. Under Lansana Conté, president from 1984 to 2008, “the power was not quiet. Since Condé, we have the light, everything is stable, everything is fine, ”she said, wearing a cap and t-shirt in the yellow colors of Mr. Condé’s party, in the middle of a meeting where women in boubou dance on songs bellowed by giant speakers to the glory of the president.

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A Guinean economy that has come a long way …

The long Stations of the Cross for the Guinean economy began abruptly, with the violent separation from the former colonizer, France, in 1958: Sékou Touré’s “no” to de Gaulle meant the end of cooperation. Forced to start from scratch, the nationalist president turned to socialist countries and the centralized economy. In the mid-1980s, with the change of regime, the economic credo also changed. The state privatizes, liberalizes with the blessing of the IMF and the World Bank. But the hoped-for shock does not come about. The country is getting poorer and development indicators are in free fall. Structural adjustment plans reduce the number of civil servants and therefore the standard of living. The mining sector is taking off well, but the wealth only benefits a minority.

With the arrival of Alpha Condé to power, the business climate is improving and Guinea is turning to new partners, such as China, India and Turkey. The mining sector is restarting and the state is trying to revive agriculture. But the country starts from very far and the results are not always visible to the eyes of a youth who suffers in the first place from mass unemployment. Insufficient laws, an inadequate banking system, corruption denounced on all sides, dilapidated or non-existent roads and infrastructure hamper development.

It should be noted that under the Condé presidency, the economy was hit by Ebola fever (2013-2016), then returned to strong growth, before being again blunted by the Covid-19. More than one in two Guineans live in poverty according to the UN. The authorities have defined their development strategy in the 2016-2020 National Economic and Social Development Plan, which in 2017 had pledged financial commitments from private investors and institutional donors estimated at more than $ 20 billion.

Prime Minister Kassory Fofana recently claimed an “unprecedented impetus” given under Alpha Condé to the exploitation of rich mineral resources, with more than 10 billion dollars in investments and 17,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs created.

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… driven mainly by bauxite

Illustration in the key sector of bauxite, which constitutes the State’s main financial resource. For five years, Guinea has supplied Chinese industry. Bady Balde, deputy executive director of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an organization for good governance in this sector, notes that Guinea has made “significant progress” in overcoming investor mistrust, for example by reforming its Mining Code in 2013. But “progress is far from sufficient” and “Guinea is far from having reached its full potential”, he analyzes. The exploitation of bauxite is essential in the production of aluminum, but for the moment it does not allow the State to obtain tax revenues up to what is provided for in the Mining Code.

In a report on the promises kept or not by Alpha Condé and the government, the Association of bloggers of Guinea, which says it works for good governance through digital technology, notes that mines, which drive growth, are, with 38% , one of the sectors where the government has best honored its commitments, behind social affairs (50%) and before justice (30%). But in all, only 40 commitments out of 315 were met, a rate of 13%, he says.

While the country is proud to have completed a program with the International Monetary Fund for the first time in its history, people’s expectations are immense in terms of human development. Alas, the number of asylum seekers from Guinea is steadily increasing. In France, but also in Belgium, Portugal and Italy, Guinean nationals figure in the top five of African nationalities applying for refugee status.

In 2020, the growth outlook was expected at 5.8%, but this has been revised downwards to 2.9% due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in particular the sensitivity of Guinean growth due to the downturn in commodity prices, in particular mining. From 2021, growth should be back to 7.6%. The big challenge now is that it is shared.

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