Last Sunday, mediators from the Economic Community of West African States brokered a deal between the government of Guinea and workers there to end a general strike.
Regional intervention was urgently needed to halt the escalating political and humanitarian crisis.
More than 120 Guineans had died and hundreds more were injured in the repression following the imposition of a state of siege and martial law by President Lansana Conté in early January.
Crushing poverty and 23 years of dictatorial rule in what some commentators regard as the most corrupt regime in Africa drove tens of thousands into the streets of the capital city, Conakry, to confront President Conté.
His response was to unleash his ‘red-hats,’ the presidential guard, on unarmed demonstrators.
A Reuters dispatch earlier this week reported that local “civil rights groups have accused the security forces of shooting, raping and beating civilians during the unrest.”
Half the size of the Yukon, this resource-rich land sees most of its people struggling to get by on around $1 a day, per person.
While a world leader in the export of bauxite, the raw material for aluminum, and endowed with other reserves, such as diamonds and copper, this wealth has not been shared.
We know how world trade works. Raw bauxite sells on at about $20 a tonne, and while refined into aluminum the price can reach $400.
Smelters, the jobs and value-added benefits rarely stay in countries like Guinea. Formal and informal trade barriers in the wealthy nations see to that.
No matter how far away we seem to be from the struggles for justice that we see in other corners of the planet, the reality of globalization links us to them.
Novelist Ndické Dieye from the neighbouring republic of Senegal blogged that he was pained by “the aiding and abetting silence of the international community” in the Guinean crisis.
Alcan and Global Alumina, another Canadian listed corporation, have a hand in the Guinean bauxite trade. Arguably they also have had a hand in keeping President Conté in power as well.
An appeal came out from Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (www.devp.org) this week asking that letters of concern about the current crisis in Guinea be sent to Peter Mackay, our minister of External Affairs at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It urges our government to “call on Canadian companies that are active in Guinea to put all royalties, taxes and other sums due to the government of Guinea into a trust account” until the crisis is resolved.
The Canadian Catholic organization sees this measure “as necessary to prevent the use of these monies for repression and the massacre of Guinea’s civilian population.”
Not all that long ago, events in a far off land like Guinea would have been effectively hidden from us by distance, poor communication and our basic ignorance of global economic structures.
This just isn’t true any more.
When once asked why the church had become so concerned about social justice issues in the world when it had neglected them before, the late Father Pedro Arrupe, former head of the Jesuit order, responded, “Today, we know more.”
With knowledge comes not only the ability to act but also the obligation to act.