China’s Souapiti Dam in Guinea Raises Human Rights, Environmental Concerns

On April 16, Human Rights Watch published an interview with a Guinean activist to draw attention to the harm that the Souapiti dam, a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, is causing to local communities.  China International Water & Electric (CWE) began construction on the dam project in December 2015, despite not having identified sources for all the funding that would be needed for the project.  The Export-Import Bank of China had initially pledged to provide financing in 2006, but political unrest in the country led to a reassessment.  After prolonged negotiations with the Guinean government, the bank agreed to $1.3 billion in funding for the project in March 2018.

The Souapiti dam was championed as trailblazing in its ambition to provide energy access to the citizens of Guinea, but the interview intended to highlight how overlooked he ramifications to surrounding communities were.  While the dam is still expected almost to double the country’s available power supply, the primary beneficiaries seem to be the bauxite mining operations in the country, an industry which enjoys substantial Chinese investment.  Meanwhile, the surrounding communities that were promised energy access have sustained damages being directly attributed to the dam.  Flooding related to construction work for the dam has forced an estimated 16,000 residents to move and has damaged farmland, putting a strain on both food supplies and livelihoods in an area that was already experiencing intense poverty.  Residents have called attention to the situation, but they have not received compensation for the costs imposed by the dam project.

Since at least 2018, the dam has been promoted as a cost-saving measure for the bauxite production industry.  The availability of energy will allow materials to be converted into saleable products, including aluminum, in closer proximity to the mines.  Chinese companies have invested more than $25 billion in Guinean mining industries since 2013.  Chinese mines, however, have come under fire for poor labor conditions and harm to endangered species.  Guinea is the top bauxite producer in Africa and also has substantial iron deposits. 

The Souapiti dam is expected to be fully operational in September 2020.  Ownership and operations will be shared by the China Three Gorges Corporation, parent company of CWE, and the Guinean government.