Less than seven months ago I was invited to the G8 in London by David Cameron to make the case for tackling corruption through transparency. I participated because it was clear the world’s wealthiest leaders finally understood that to deal with this complex problem, an international response was needed. Cameron said: «We need to make sure that mineral wealth in developing countries becomes a blessing, not a curse. So at the G8 I will push for greater transparency alongside more open trade.»
Few countries have experienced that curse more than Guinea. For generations, internal corruption and a lack of governance and democracy allowed a few predator companies to steal the assets of our people with impunity. The Sudanese philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, recently said of one of the contracts the government are now investigating: «Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots or criminals? Or both?»
A good question. And one we hope to answer with the imminent publication of a review into the contracts signed in those dark days of dictatorship.
I became Guinea’s first democratically elected president four years ago, with huge public expectations. Among them, bring back the rule of law, return Guinea to solvency, and reduce the levels of fraud in our previously bloated military. It has been a hard and often bitter journey for Guineans but we are slowly starting to turn the tide. We have reduced our fiscal deficit to 3%, the army now accounts for 10% of our GDP rather than 40%, and economic growth this year is projected to exceed 4.5%. Yet there is a terrible irony in our struggle to bring our economy back from the brink.
It is that Guinea is incredibly rich in natural resources – with the largest bauxite deposits and the single largest untapped iron ore assets in the world – none of which, until now, the people of Guinea have enjoyed. A small number of offshore companies, aided and abetted by corrupt domestic regimes, bled Guinea’s resources for decades. A slow death facilitated by the network of lawyers, accountants and financial advisers sitting in offices in New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Hong Kong and Singapore.
No more. I am in Davos to call on western governments to put power behind their promises of transparency and protect the interests, not only of Guinea, but also the responsible partners who are investing in our country and playing by the rules.
I am asking nothing that Guinea is not doing itself, under far harder circumstances than those of the west. Our central bank reforms mean that our economy must rely on cash budgeting. We cannot print money, we must live on what we have. The continuing overhaul of our mining industry has brought much-needed transparency to the allocation of contracts. We have involved the international NGO, Revenue Watch, to monitor state accounting practices.
But we live in a global economy. We simply can’t deal with the network of corruption embedded in a few key western institutions from a distance of nearly 3,000 miles. These corrupt practitioners operate from the west, but their practices are global and require a global response. Only tighter, more responsive and highly co-ordinated action between law enforcement authorities in both developing nations and the world’s financial centres will be effective.
Many companies and some governments already understand this. Some of the world’s most respected companies are investing in our mining industry on fair and transparent terms. Co-operation from the US has already uncovered sizeable evidence of previous corruption. With international legal co-operation, Guinea will soon be announcing the outcome of an investigation into some of the most disturbing allegations of mining corruption in Africa’s history. I ask other countries to do the same with their own financial institutions.
Our country’s past has not been one of which many Guineans can be proud. Our future must be. We are doing everything we can to create a state built on transparency and the rule of law. We do not expect western countries to solve our problems for us. But, starting with those few corrupt institutions they host, I do ask them to be part of a joint solution.
Alpha Condé is the president of Guinea.