Monday, October 19, 2009

Guinea’s transition to democracy threatened by new Chinese investments


NYT: Guinea: Thousands Stay Home in Mourning

BBC News: Guinea confirms huge China deal

FT Online: China in push for resources in Guinea

BBC News: Guinea embargo over 'atrocities'

NYT: Guinea Boasts of Deal With Chinese Company

Guinea is set to become another example of China’s growing economic clout in the developing world.  While countries such as the United States and members of the European Union have tried to link trade and development assistance to human rights and democracy, China has forged ahead with an explicitly neutral worldview.  China has announced a new trade deal with the country a week after shocking state- sponsored violence in the Guinean capitol.

On September 28th,  50,000 people assembled in the National Stadium in Conakry.  As they protested for a greater voice in their government, soldiers opened fire.  The government claims the death toll was 57, but human rights groups estimate it near 157 with more than 1,000 wounded.  These numbers tell only half the story.  Photos taken on mobile phones show that soldiers were targeting women for rape and sexual violence.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called an extraordinary summit of the heads of state to investigate these recent human rights abuses and recommended an arms embargo, while the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into the deaths.  Meanwhile, the overall political climate and security situation in Guinea has been deteriorating, with the third minister resigning this week and the French foreign ministry describing a surge in armed bandits.

Against this backdrop, the Guinean Minister of Mines has recently announced that a Chinese company, China International Fund, would invest US$7 billion into infrastructure and would become a “strategic partner.”  The deal would develop ports, railway lines, power plants, low-cost housing and a new administrative center.  Speculators estimate that Guinea has one of the largest reserves of aluminum ore in the world and is rich in gold, diamonds, uranium and iron ore.  In addition, China will have a stake in the search for oil.

Policy specialists fear that this influx of money will give a “lifeline” to the otherwise undemocratically elected leaders.  So far they have failed to follow through on their promises of free and fair elections and trade deals like this help prop up their governmental façade.  Experts point out that deals such as this make it much more difficult for the international community to work to change the military junta.  It is still unclear if the promise that these deals will trickle down and benefit the average Guinean will materialize, or if the money will remain with the military elite.  Many Guineans feel that economic security will only come about after a regime change, and that deals such as this reflect the military’s determination to maintain its grip on power.

Discussion Questions:

1) Despite criticism for its viewpoint neutral investment strategy, China is praised by some for its direct technology investments in developing countries.  How can the United States boost private direct investments in Africa?

2) Will the ECOWAS arms embargo be effective in reducing violence? What can Western countries and international organizations do to make it more efficient? 

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