In December 2010, I became President of Guinea following the country’s first truly open and democratic elections. I said then that I had inherited a country, not a state. Our economy was in ruins, our people were among the world’s poorest, and our political system had been weakened by decades of corruption, dictatorship, and misrule.
It needn’t be so. Guinea has vast mineral wealth, the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, and some of the highest-grade iron-ore deposits.
Making these assets work for all of our people, rather than only for a few unscrupulous international mining companies and politicians, requires confronting the deeply ingrained corruption found in Guinea’s politics and business. But uprooting such corruption can be painfully slow, and is often dangerous. After all, vested interests do not welcome challenges.
Compared to developed countries, rogue actors do disproportionate damage in a country like Guinea. Lack of transparency and endemic economic corruption do not mean only unpaid taxes and a lack of competition; they also corrode the political process and undermine our emerging democracy. It impedes change and opens the door to frustration and the kind of political tension and regrettable violence – including tragic deaths – that have recently affected our country.
That is why, on Saturday, I will join British Prime Minister David Cameron at the G-8’s Trade, Transparency, and Taxation conference in London. Guinea’s current agenda mirrors that of the G-8. We both want to work with companies that play by the rules, operate transparently, and pay their taxes.
But there can be no future in the questionable – and often criminal – deals of the past. Our population is young – 70 percent are under 25. They are eager for change and have no interest in perpetuating the old culture of corruption. Their future is both our hope and our responsibility.
That future will be built on healthy partnerships between government and the private sector, a commitment to strengthening democracy and transparency, and a focus on using our resource wealth to achieve higher living standards for our people.
We have already made much progress. Guinea has signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), along with the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Norway, and the United States. We are developing new, equal, and long-term partnerships with responsible global mining companies that ensure a long-term commitment to creating jobs and sustainable, long-term benefits for both sides.
We have also insisted on reviewing the legality of mining contracts signed by Guinea’s previous undemocratic and military regimes, and we have published all of these contracts online for the world to see.
What we need now is the support of developed countries in building a global business climate that permits those who play by the rules to prosper and locks out those who do not. Too many of the world’s financial centres enable the predators, who rely on offshore corporate vehicles to mask their identities, to loop their finances through exotic jurisdictions, while using prestigious law firms, accountants, financial advisers, and public-relations firms to give their destructive behavior a veneer of respectability.
This has created a greenhouse in which corruption grows and flourishes, posing a mortal threat to Africa. Guinea will work closely with the American FBI, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, and other law enforcement agencies to expose and root out criminality that threatens the integrity of global markets and African democracy alike.
Guinea appreciates the aid that it receives from the developed world. I hope that donors understand when I say that, while we currently need their assistance, we do not want it. We see our anti-corruption agenda as being simultaneously pro-business and pro-development. We do not want to live in dependence on the generosity of others when our resources can make us prosperous, healthy, and strong.
When I meet with Cameron, I will not ask him for British taxpayers’ money. I will ask, instead, that he continue to demonstrate global leadership on transparency and good business governance, which promise to benefit not just countries like Guinea, but Britain and the world as well.
It is just a coincidence that many of the off shore tax havens through which Africa’s assets have been funnelled through happen to be former British colonies that have a quasi-independence. If David Cameron has to choose between Africa and the City of London, the City of London will win every time. It is a bit rich for the UK to complain about Starbucks, Google and Amazon not paying much tax in the UK when they are a primary enabler….
Alpha Conde is president of Guinea