"We're Leaving Everything Behind"
Guinea’s Souapiti dam, March 2020. Construction continues on the dam, which the Guinean government hopes will begin producing electricity in September 2020. The dam is displacing 16,000 people from their homes and land.
Guinea’s 450 megawatt Souapiti dam, scheduled to begin operating in September 2020, is the most advanced of several new hydropower projects planned by the government of President Alpha Condé. Guinea’s government believes that hydropower can significantly increase access to electricity in a country where only a fraction of people have reliable access to power.
Souapiti’s output, however, has a human cost. The dam’s reservoir will ultimately displace an estimated 16,000 people from 101 villages and hamlets. The Guinean government had moved 51 villages by the end of 2019 and said it planned to conduct the remaining resettlements within a year. Forced off their ancestral homes and farmlands, and with much of their land already, or soon to be flooded, displaced communities are struggling to feed their families, restore their livelihoods, and live with dignity.
The Souapiti project is an example of China’s support for global hydropower and the role of Chinese foreign investment in large-scale infrastructure projects in Africa. China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE) – a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s second largest dam builder, state-owned China Three Gorges Corporation – is constructing the dam and will then jointly own and operate it with the Guinean government.
The Souapiti dam is also part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure stretching across some 70 countries, which has supported large-scale hydropower projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The state-owned policy bank Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank), which has made loans exceeding over a trillion yuan (US$150 billion) to support BRI projects, is financing the project through a US$1.175 billion loan. In the face of criticism over the environmental and social impact of BRI projects, China’s president, Xi Jinping, pledged in April 2019 that the BRI would support “open, clean, and green development.”
This report documents the impacts of the Souapiti dam on displaced residents’ access to land, food and livelihoods. The report is based on more than 90 interviews with displaced residents, communities yet to be moved, and villages on whose land people are resettled, as well as interviews with business and government leaders involved in the resettlement process. The report makes recommendations on how resettlements can be improved going forward, and describes the remedies needed for communities that have already been displaced.
Souapiti’s resettlement process is the largest in Guinea’s post-independence history. Most of those displaced are already extremely poor, with a 2017 assessment estimating the average daily income per person in the area to be US$1.18. The original plan for the dam would have displaced 48,000 people, but the government agency overseeing the resettlement– the Project for Hydroelectric Construction of Souapiti (Projet d'Aménagement Hydroélectrique de Souapiti, Souapiti Agency) – decided to reduce the height of the dam, and by extension its reservoir, to lessen the number of people to be relocated.
Residents displaced by the dam are resettled in concrete houses on land ceded by other villages. Residents have so far not obtained legal titles to their new land, creating a risk of future land conflicts between displaced families and host communities. Displacement is rupturing longstanding social and cultural links between families in the area. “In our culture, our social and familial bonds are essential,” said one displaced resident. “Extended families are being split apart. Whenever there is something to celebrate or mourn in the family, we feel the distance.”
Souapiti’s reservoir is also flooding a vast area of agricultural land, threatening communities’ means of subsistence. The dam’s reservoir will eventually flood 253 square kilometers of land, including an estimated 42 square kilometers of crops and more than 550,000 crop-bearing trees. A 2017 project document warned starkly that, “displaced populations will generally have less favorable land than they have been farming for generations.”
Dozens of displaced residents told Human Rights Watch that they are already struggling to find adequate food for their families. “The people here are hungry, sometimes I don’t eat so my children can,” said a woman displaced from the village of Tahiré Center in 2019. Residents from several villages said that, whereas before being displaced they used to grow their own food, they must now find enough money to buy it from local markets. “With the fields gone, we’re slowly selling our cattle to make ends meet,” said a local herder and farmer. “We’re fragile like eggs because of the suffering here,” said a community leader relocated in 2019. “It’s only thanks to God that we survive.”
Officials at the Souapiti Agency acknowledged that displacement threatens communities’ livelihoods. “When you move a village, you’re breaking up the way they make a living, and you have to try to reestablish it,” said the Souapiti Agency’s head of environmental management and sustainable development. The Souapiti Agency said it intends to restore communities to the same or improved standard of living that they enjoyed prior to the resettlement. The Souapiti Agency does not provide displaced residents with replacement farmland but said it will assist them to farm more intensively on their remaining land and find new income sources, such as fishing or cattle-raising.
Displaced residents, however, have so far received no such assistance. “We’re not asking for something extraordinary. Prepare land for us to continue our activities, a pasture area for livestock farming. Respect the promises made,” said the president of Tahiré District, which encompasses several villages relocated in June 2019.
International human rights standards require that resettled populations have immediate access to livelihood sources, and that resettlement sites should include access to employment options. The 2015 and 2017 action plans prepared to guide the resettlement recommended that the Souapiti Agency begin work on livelihood restoration programs as soon as construction on the dam started in 2015. At the end of 2019, however, the Souapiti Agency had not started implementing livelihood restoration measures and displaced populations were receiving no support to help them reestablish the farming-dependent lifestyle they had left behind. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it is, “in the process of redoubling its efforts to invest in the restoration of livelihoods in the coming month and for years to come.”
The Souapiti Agency pointed out that, in the short term, the government has provided food assistance – two deliveries of rice over six months and cash for basic essentials – to displaced families. “It helps people get on their feet,” said a Souapiti Agency official. But residents said that, given how long it would take to find new livelihoods, this was not enough. “We consumed what we were given in just over a month,” said a father of five resettled in June 2019 from Warakhalandi. International standards recommend that displaced communities receive support until they return to the living standards they enjoyed prior to resettlement.
The Souapiti Agency also said that it compensates residents for the trees and crops growing on flooded land, although it has provided no payments to reflect the value of the land itself. Farmers have therefore received no compensation for land lying fallow as part of a crop rotation system, nor for land used for grazing animals.
A lack of transparency in the compensation process – with the Souapiti Agency failing to adequately inform people about how compensation is calculated – has also fueled dissatisfaction with the payments made. Some residents said they have not been paid any compensation at all; others contend that, while they had been compensated for perennial crops, like fruit trees, they have received nothing for annual crops like rice or cassava. “The government gave us what they wanted. We accepted money without negotiation because we didn’t know the value of our resources,” said one village leader. Several women said that the bulk of compensation has been paid to men in family or community leadership roles, giving women little say over how money is used.
Residents from all the villages Human Rights Watch visited said that they had complained to representatives of the Souapiti Agency or to local government officials about the resettlement process, but that they had received either no response or one that did not address their concerns. “Someone says give [your complaint] to this person. They ask you to wait. He also has his director. Who are we supposed complain to?” said a community leader from Konkouré district. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it had “delayed” in implementing a formal grievance policy, and only did so in September 2019, after more than fifty villages had been moved. The Souapiti Agency did not explain the reason for the delay. As of December 2019, 110 complaints had been submitted to the new grievance mechanism.
The Souapiti Agency said that for future relocations is it negotiating agreements with communities that set out the Agency’s responsibilities during the process. While this could help clarify displaced residents’ rights, a sample agreement shared by the Souapiti Agency contains only a single paragraph summary of the Agency’s obligations and offers no detail on how the Souapiti Agency will address key issues like lack of agricultural land and support for livelihood assistance. The Souapiti Agency should also ensure that residents have access to independent legal advice, of their choice, prior to signing agreements.
Furthermore, to address the profound problems in the villages that have already been resettled, the Souapiti Agency should negotiate agreements with displaced households detailing how the Agency will remedy problems with access to land and livelihoods and any residual issues with the quality of housing and infrastructure at resettlement sites. The Souapiti Agency should also review the compensation payments made so far and explain clearly how compensation was calculated. Any underpayments should be remedied immediately.
The flawed resettlement process for the Souapiti dam is also evidence of the need for Chinese companies, banks, and regulators to ensure that BRI projects and other Chinese overseas investments respect human rights. CWE, in an email to Human Rights Watch, said that the resettlement is the responsibility of the Guinean government but that, as a shareholder in Souapiti, the company “participates in the reinstallation and plays a role of supervisor.” CWE, as well as China Eximbank, should use their influence to ensure that the Souapiti Agency addresses the problems identified in this report.
Finally, with more hydropower projects on the horizon, Souapiti’s resettlement process should alert the Guinean government of the need for better regulation and oversight. The government should, after consultation with civil society and impacted communities, draft and adopt regulations that clearly define the rights of anyone who loses access to land or is resettled due to large-scale development projects. “We’re leaving our home for the development of Guinea,” one community leader from Konkouré Center told Human Rights Watch. “We want the government to help us – otherwise we will suffer.”
- Provide immediate transitional assistance to displaced persons.
- Urgently assess the food security of people displaced for the Souapiti dam.
- Commit to providing direct food and financial assistance to those displaced until livelihoods are restored to, at a minimum, pre-displacement levels.
- Monitor and protect access to water for displaced persons and residents of host communities, including through the construction of more boreholes and by fixing boreholes that have already broken.
- Increase access to information regarding the resettlement.
- Publish all versions of the resettlement action plan, environmental and social management plan, and environmental and social impact assessment. Translate summaries and full reports at the community-level in local languages, make the documents available online, and post these documents in public buildings and throughout impacted communities, including at prefectures and subprefectures. Regularly summarize the contents of key project material orally, and in local languages, at public meetings with displaced persons.
- Ensure that all risk and impact assessments include analysis of human rights, particularly of the resettlement issues raised in this report.
- Fairly negotiate and document residents’ rights during resettlement.
- Provide displaced persons, and residents of host communities, with access to free and independent legal representation of their choice prior to, during, and after the resettlement.
- For future resettlements, and before displacement occurs, sign legally binding agreements with residents that set out in much greater detail the benefits the residents will receive prior to, during, and following the resettlement. Ensure that residents fully understand the contents of these agreements and their rights while they are being negotiated.
- In communities that were resettled prior to September 2019, negotiate and sign agreements with displaced residents setting out the measures that the Souapiti Agency will take to improve the resettlement sites, housing, and other residual issues affecting the resettlement, such as access to land and livelihood restoration. Ensure that residents fully understand the contents of these agreements and their rights while they are being negotiated.
- Provide written documentation at the community level, including to village heads, women, and youth leaders, of the terms of agreements between impacted communities and the project, as well as minutes of meetings from community consultations and negotiations.
- Respect displaced persons’ customary rights to land and ensure that they receive fair market compensation for land, crops, and other assets.
- Prior to resettlement, demarcate families’ and communities’ customary land rights in villages to be resettled and in host villages.
- Provide both resettled persons, and residents of host villages, with security of tenure over the land they acquire during the resettlement and their remaining land.
- Provide financial compensation for land (including customary-owned land) that is flooded or rendered inaccessible by the Souapiti dam, its reservoir, or related infrastructure. Ensure that compensation reflects the actual value of the land. Revisit compensation to people already displaced to ensure it reflects these values.
- Ensure that compensation standards are transparent and consistently applied across affected communities. For households to be displaced, explain the proposed method of compensation and how compensation is calculated prior to resettlement.
- Provide written documentation to both men and women in each household about the compensation and inventory process. Include in this written documentation: the number of items inventoried; the value of each item inventoried; the method of calculation of the value of each item inventoried; the total amount of compensation; the date compensation will be paid; and the method of payment.
- As a complement to written documentation, explain clearly in local languages to non-literate displaced persons, including men and women, the basis for and value of compensation payments.
- Ensure that the project’s grievance mechanism, discussed below, includes a process for challenging the project’s counting or valuing of homes, crops and trees and the amount of compensation accorded.
- Ensure all individuals receiving compensation possess the necessary identification cards to make bank withdrawals and transportation funds to go to the bank.
- Ensure that displaced persons’ livelihoods are, at minimum, restored to pre-resettlement levels.
- Develop and negotiate with displaced communities and then make public a comprehensive plan for livelihood restoration that includes an entitlement matrix that describes the services available to displaced persons; eligibility criteria defining who has access to those services; a timeframe for implementation; and a system for monitoring the effectiveness of the program.
- Ensure that displaced persons, community leaders, local authorities, civil society, and experienced specialists familiar with local conditions participate in the definition of livelihood restoration activities at the community level.
- Include, as part of this livelihood restoration plan, consideration of how displaced residents can obtain access to the agricultural land necessary to restore livelihoods. This may require a new round of negotiations between displaced residents and host communities, facilitated and overseen by the Souapiti Agency, as to how displaced residents can obtain adequate access to agricultural land.
- Monitor the success of livelihood restoration programs in improving displaced residents’ economic status and living standards for at least five years after resettlement. Intervene with additional support for households or communities where living standards have not been improved.
- Ensure that women have adequate access to measures to restore livelihoods.
- Develop effective grievance mechanisms.
- Develop a clear and transparent grievance mechanism, consistent with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, whereby resettled residents and those awaiting resettlement can file complaints and have them reviewed and resolved in a timely and impartial manner.
- Regularly inform affected populations about the existence of the grievance mechanism and the manner in which to file a complaint.
- Increase oversight of the resettlement process.
- Commission an independent annual audit of the resettlement process to identify failures to meet applicable laws and standards and make recommendations for improvement. Make public the audit reports.
To the Government of Guinea:
- Ensure respect for the ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa in all current and future hydroelectric dams projects.
- Draft and adopt laws or regulations describing the process to be followed to resettle and compensate people who lose land to large-scale development projects, whether homes or agricultural land. These regulations should be developed in consultation with civil society and affected communities.
- As part of a wider land reform process, and with the participation of civil society groups and affected communities, urgently take action to identify, secure, and demarcate customary land rights, particularly in areas where large-scale development projects are planned. Securing customary land rights means giving individuals and communities the ability to protect those rights in court.
- Ensure that, where land is acquired for energy and other large-scale infrastructure projects, fair compensation is paid, including to families and communities with customary land rights, and that land acquisitions do not negatively impact livelihoods.
- Ensure that human rights due diligence is integrated into future hydropower projects.
- Assess the cumulative human rights, social and environmental impact of the different hydropower projects planned in Guinea, including the potential impacts of dams on climate change and the impact of climate change on existing and planned dams’ viability, and reevaluate projects according to the outcome of this assessment.
To China International Water and Electric and China Three Gorges Corporation:
- Ensure that all future hydropower projects conduct human rights risk and impact assessments, including prevention, mitigation, and redress measures.
- Conduct more rigorous oversight of the Souapiti Agency’s management of the resettlement process, including by meeting with the Souapiti Agency leadership to discuss the problems identified in this report; conducting regular site visits; and requiring a third party audit of the project’s resettlement policies and procedures.
- Provide financial and technical assistance to the Souapiti Agency to ensure that the resettlement respects national laws, industry standards regarding resettlement, and international human rights law.
To China Export-Import Bank:
- Ensure that projects seeking bank funding conduct human rights risk and impact assessments, including prevention, mitigation, and redress measures.
- Provide more rigorous oversight of the impacts of bank-financed construction projects, such as Souapiti, including by meeting with the Souapiti Agency and CWE’s leadership to discuss the problems identified in this report.
- Establish a list of benchmarks that the Souapiti Agency and CWE are required to meet in the resettlement process, which include:
- Full disclosure, in writing and through oral dissemination to affected communities, of the updated resettlement action plan, compensation frameworks, and a plan for livelihood restoration.
- Adequate compensation for lost land.
- Development of a comprehensive plan for livelihood restoration that includes an entitlement matrix that describes the services available to community members; eligibility criteria defining who has access to those services; a timeframe for implementation; and a system for monitoring the effectiveness of the program.
- An effective grievance mechanism.
- Establish a schedule of site visits and document and assess progress against these benchmarks.
To the Chinese Government:
- Instruct the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission to conduct a transparent audit of the Souapiti project and the resettlement process specifically.
- Develop a binding set of regulations to guide the operations of Chinese companies operating overseas, as well as banks financing overseas investment, including a requirement that Chinese companies conduct human rights due diligence prior to and during their operations.
- Instruct the National Reform and Development Commission and the Ministry of Commerce only to approve overseas investment projects that have conducted rigorous human rights due diligence.
- Modify the criteria according to which proposed overseas investments are judged, such as the Administrative Measures for Outbound Investment by Enterprises (issued by the National Reform and Development Commission) and Administrative Measures on Outbound Investment (issued by the Ministry of Commerce), to include human rights standards. Pending amendment of these measures, ensure that the National Reform and Development Commission and Ministry of Commerce enforce existing standards and do not approve overseas investments where they are not met.
- Integrate human rights standards, including specific language relating to resettlements, into the Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Overseas Investment by Central Enterprises, which describe how central state-owned enterprises should operate abroad. Pending the amendment of these measures, ensure that the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission enforces existing standards, including through regular inspections of state-owned enterprises operating overseas.
To International Donors:
- Provide financial assistance to independent civil society groups and nongovernment organizations to enable them to support impacted communities throughout and after the resettlement process, including with assistance filing complaints.
- Provide financial support, including for cell phones and transportation, to village heads, women’s representatives, and youth leaders to facilitate communication between impacted communities and the Souapiti Agency, CWE, and civil society organizations.
The Souapiti dam, as the most advanced of several hydropower projects currently underway in Guinea, offers insights into the Guinean government’s management and oversight of the large-scale resettlement necessary for large dams. Based on more than 90 interviews with residents impacted by the resettlement, as well as interviews with business and government leaders, this report focuses on the impact of displacement on communities’ access to land, food and income. “Community” is used in this report to refer to residents of a single village that share not only a common geographic space but also longstanding social, cultural, and other ties.
Beyond the resettlement process, this report does not consider the other possible human rights impacts of hydropower dams, such as the potential for reduced water access for communities downstream. The scale of the resettlement – the largest in Guinea’s history – and the remoteness of the communities involved meant that it was not practical to examine both the resettlement and the wider impact of the dam.
Communities impacted by resettlement for the Souapiti dam are located across four prefectures: Dubréka, Kindia, Pita and Télimélé. When Human Rights Watch’s research began, however, there was almost no publicly available information on the specific location of the villages impacted, with many of them along the unpaved and pothole riddled Kindia-Telimélé road. Human Rights Watch superimposed a map of the anticipated geographic extent of the Souapiti dam reservoir onto existing data showing the locations of villages and resettlements. This map was constructed through a hydrological model of the anticipated depth and geographic extent of the Souapiti dam reservoir, which was cross-referenced against the Souapiti’s Agency own map of the proposed reservoir. We later confirmed that all the villages we visited were to be resettled or would lose land to the dam by reviewing the 2017 resettlement action plan, which the Souapiti Agency sent to us in 2019. Human Rights Watch also used optical and radar satellite data to monitor the reservoir growth, verify local social media, document village flooding as well as evaluate the locations and suitability of resettlement sites.
Research for this report was conducted between October 2018 and December 2019. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in the following 15 localities in the Dubreka, Kindia and Télimélé prefectures:
- Eight villages whose residents had already been resettled for Souapiti: Yabba (resettled in 2016), Koneta and Khoroya (in 2018), Tahiré Center, Tanene, Warakhalandi, Woussi Ley Balla and Woussi Dow Banlal (all in 2019).
- Three villages from which some or all households were being resettled during the course of Human Rights Watch’s research: Bagueya, Bangouya Center and Konkouré Center (all resettlements affecting these communities occurred in 2019).
- One village whose residents will not be resettled but which will lose agricultural land: Kounsima.
- Three “host” villages on whose land communities have been or will be resettled: Madina Kagneguiri, Mordiya, and Kondonböf.
In all but a few of the villages, Human Rights Watch began with a group interview with village leaders and other members of the community, with the number of participants in each group ranging from 4 to 20. Group interviews were typically conducted in village meeting places, often in the open air. For most communities in Guinea, group interviews are necessary to explain research objectives and solicit initial responses to questions in a transparent, open manner that builds trust with community members. Community leaders typically explained the experience of the community during resettlement, although it was then necessary to interview residents on their own to better understand the experience of individuals, particularly those – for example women and young people – who are underrepresented in community leadership.
The vast majority of interviews were conducted in the local languages Peuhl and Sousou with direct translation to French. Some interviews, including with government officials, were conducted in French. Researchers explained to all interviewees that they could decline to speak with Human Rights Watch if they chose.
In the course of our research, we met on several occasions with officials at the Souapiti Agency, including the head of environmental management and sustainable development. We also reviewed key project documents related to the Souapiti dam, particularly the 2017 version of the resettlement action plan.
In November 2019, Human Rights Watch sent the Souapiti Agency a summary of the initial findings of our research. The Souapiti Agency’s response was integrated into this report. In January 2020, Human Rights Watch requested additional information from the agency, and we received a response in February 2020. In March 2020 we sent a third letter containing this report’s summary and recommendations. Human Rights Watch also wrote to China International Water and Electric, China Eximbank and Tractebel requesting their comment. Tractebel sent a letter in response and China International Water and Electric an emailed reply. China Eximbank did not respond. All of the Souapiti Agency’s responses to our findings, as well as the letter from Tractebel and email from China International Water and Electric, are attached as an annex to this report.
For security reasons, some names and other identifying information have been left out of this report to ensure that individuals are not exposed to harassment or retaliation as a result of their willingness to share information with Human Rights Watch.
Guinea, a resource-rich country in West Africa with a population of approximately 12.7 million people, is in urgent need of reliable access to electricity. In 2017, Guinea had a rate of electricity access of about 29 percent, below that year’s average for sub-Sahara Africa of 43 percent. Although Kaloum, the capital city Conakry’s administrative hub, has a relatively reliable electricity supply, many residential neighborhoods often only have power for a few hours a day. Rural access to electricity in Guinea in 2017 was a paltry 3 percent.
Reliable access to electricity is critical to the full exercise of a range of economic and social rights, especially in Guinea where, as of April 2019, one in two people languished below the poverty line. The World Bank in 2018 noted that a lack of access to electricity globally is “a fundamental barrier to progress…and has impacts on a wide range of development indicators, including health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods, and poverty reduction.”The government of President Alpha Condé, first elected in 2010 and reelected in 2015, has pledged to use hydropower to improve access to electricity. In 2019, President Condé said that he wanted Guinea to be "the most electrified country in the region" in the next five years, listing Souapiti as one of several new dams to be built. Although Guinea’s 2010 constitution barred Condé from running for a third term, his government had at writing amended the constitution to potentially clear the way for him to stand in 2020 presidential elections. Senior officials from the ruling party (Rassemblement du Peuple Guinéen, RPG) told Human Rights Watch that projects like Souapiti, scheduled to begin producing power in 2020, are an example of the progress that Guinea is making under Condé.
The Souapiti dam is located on the Konkouré river basin, about 115 kilometers from Conakry. In the late 1940s, French business interests, supported by Électricité de France, the French national electricity utility, considered using the Konkouré River to generate the energy needed to transform raw bauxite to its final aluminum product, and to help power an aluminum industry in the then-French colony. But the French never built the Souapiti dam and, when Guinea became an independent nation in 1958 and rejected close ties with its former colonizer, the French government abruptly ended all economic and political relations.
Since then, nearly every Guinean administration has clung to the hope of one day building the Souapiti dam. Although hydropower, as of 2015, accounted for over 55 percent of electricity production in Guinea, it has so far been unable to provide sufficient electricity for increasing domestic needs. The Souapiti dam will be the third large dam constructed in Guinea. The Garafiri dam, constructed in 1999, operates below its stated 75 megawatt (MW) capacity for much of the year, reportedly due to a lack of water in its reservoir during the dry season. And the Kaléta dam, opened in May 2015, has also yet to operate consistently at its full 240 MW capacity. The Guinean government hopes that, by regulating water flow on the Konkouré river, Souapiti will help the Kaléta dam operate at higher capacity throughout the year.
The Guinean Ministry of Energy has created an agency to oversee construction of Souapiti, the Project for Hydroelectric Construction of Souapiti (Projet d'Aménagement Hydroélectrique de Souapiti, Souapiti Agency). The Agency is also managing the resettlement of communities for Souapiti. The dam itself, however, is being constructed by China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE), which built Guinea’s Kaléta dam in 2015.CWE is a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation, a state-owned company that built China’s Three Gorges Dam. Chinese state media reported that, as of January 2019, Chinese companies have a 70 percent share of the global hydropower construction market.
China’s influence in Guinea has expanded rapidly over the past decade, with China promising Guinea loans for infrastructure in exchange for access to Guinea’s wealth of natural resources. CWE describes Souapiti as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure across some 70 countries. Initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the BRI initially aimed to link China to the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe via land and maritime networks, but has expanded to a wider global effort to expand market access, export industrial overcapacity, and increase China’s economic and political influence. The Chinese government has so far not issued laws or policies that define what constitutes a BRI project, but Chinese media has also discussed Souapiti dam as a BRI project. Souapiti is also referenced in a 2018 investment guide to Guinea on the official BRI website. Although many recipient governments have praised BRI projects for facilitating investment in vital infrastructure, BRI projects have also often been criticized for containing inadequate social and environmental safeguards and for saddling recipients with unsustainable debt.
CWE’s typical role in hydroelectric projects in Africa has been through engineering, procurement and construction contracts (EPC), in which the company constructs the dam before handing it over to another entity, typically a national government, to operate it. The Souapiti project, however, is structured as a public-private partnership, with CWE and the Guinean government co-owners of a specially formed company with the right to operate the dam for 25 years. The Guinean government is the majority shareholder, with a 51 percent share, with CWE holding 49 percent.
To finance the construction of the dam, the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank), issued a US$1.175 billion loan to the Guinean Ministry of Economy and Finance. China Eximbank has made loans exceeding over a trillion yuan ($US 150 billion ) to support BRI projects and much more for other China-backed projects falling outside the BRI. To raise equity for the remaining 15 percent of construction costs, the Guinean government partially privatized the existing Kaléta hydropower plant, giving CWE a 51 percent share in Kaleta. Chinese companies are constructing two additional hydroelectric projects in Guinea, the Amaria and Koukoutamba dams.
According to a French engineering firm advising the project, the 450 megawatt Souapiti dam will double Guinea’s energy supply. It is so far unclear, however, how much of the electricity generated will be used to satisfy the electricity needs of ordinary Guineans, particularly given the imperative for the government to raise revenue to repay the loans incurred for the construction of Souapiti. According to the World Bank, Guinea’s electricity utility (Electricité de Guinée, EDG), which has signed power purchase agreements with the CWE-Guinean government joint venture that will operate Souapiti, has struggled to stop Guineans illegally diverting power from the grid and pay for the production cost of the electricity they consume.
The Ministry of Energy has said that a portion of the electricity generated will be used to fuel Guinea’s booming mining industry and to encourage mining companies to build alumina or aluminum refineries, which consume large amounts of energy. A significant amount of electricity produced by Souapiti will also be exported, with the dam intended to feed into the West African Power Pool (WAPP), an initiative by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional political and economic union of 15 countries, that aims to ensure reliable power supply throughout West Africa by creating a unified regional electricity network. The Souapiti dam is expected to feed into three regional transmission lines that will connect Guinea to other states in West Africa. Several international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the AfDB, are funding the construction of these transmission lines.
In discussing the Souapiti dam, the Guinean government does not typically describe the potential benefits of hydropower in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. In 2015, however, the government committed in its national action plan under the Paris Agreement on climate change to “produce 30 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources” including by commissioning “hydropower stations producing 1650 MW” by 2030. The WAPP Secretariat has described the Souapiti dam as an example of “renewable energy” that will “reduce the use of fuel-fired plants.” The World Bank funded a 2015 feasibility study for the Souapiti dam through the WAPP Secretariat, and referred to Souapiti in its 2015 “Africa Climate Business Plan,” titled, “Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development.”
International environmental groups, however, have questioned the climate-benefits of hydropower projects, and note that the potential downstream impacts of dams, such as reduced water quality and quantity, and its impact on ecosystems, can reduce communities’ ability to adapt to climate change. Scientific studies have found that dams and reservoirs can be a significant source of greenhouse gases due, in part, to the rotting of vegetation flooded by reservoirs. Research also suggests that hydropower might also become less productive in areas with reduced rainfall due to climate change.
The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa, which provides binding standards for ECOWAS states developing hydropower projects, states that feasibility studies for dams should take into account, “hydrological scenarios resulting from climate change projections, including increased intensity and frequency of extreme events, the increase in temperatures and decrease in rainfall.” The feasibility study for the Souapiti dam conducted in 2015 examines the potential impact of climate change on the dam’s viability, but concludes that, “the climate change forecasts do not seem to significantly reduce the availability of water resources for the production of energy. In the longer term, a lack of water resource is a risk. But [at that point] the projected operation period of the dam will be over.”
II. Legal Framework
There are at least four sources of laws and standards applicable to the resettlement for the Souapiti dam. Long-established customary laws govern the ways that land is held and used in the rural communities impacted by the dam. Guinea’s national laws set out how land should be acquired for public infrastructure projects. International human rights laws provide protections to communities displaced by developments projects. Finally, industry standards, including those explicitly adopted as benchmarks by the Souapiti Agency, provide additional guidance on how to responsibly conduct resettlements.
Customary Land Rights
In rural Guinea, land rights are typically held and managed by lineages or families under customary land tenure, a set of rules and norms governing who has rights over land and who can farm or exploit it. These rules are complex, with several families often claiming interlocking – but not necessarily contradictory – rights over a single plot of land, including who has the right to sell or inherit the land, who can exploit it, and when grazing is permitted and by whom. Customary land rights are not conferred on individual persons but rather to the entire family, lineage or community.
Within the customary system, the family and heads of households who make decisions about who has access to land are overwhelmingly men, giving women little role in determining how land is allocated. Women do, however, farm vegetable gardens (known in French as terres de maraîchage, or market gardens, because the produce is often sold at local markets) and can pass on the right to exploit this land – though not it’s underlying ownership – to their children.
National Resettlement Laws
Guinea’s 2010 constitution recognizes the right to property, and states that, “no one may be expropriated if it is not in the interest legally declared of all and under reserve of a fair and prior indemnification.” This suggests that compulsory land acquisitions, of the type required by the Souapiti project, should only occur through a public interest expropriation process, in which, under Guinean law, the government follows a legal process to acquire land from affected individuals with adequate compensation.
The lack of adequate recognition for customary land rights under national law means, however, that rural communities receive little protection from the national legal system during expropriation processes. Guinea’s 1992 land law contains no clear recognition of customary land rights, although some jurists argue that customary land tenure can be recognized by a provision of the law that confers property ownership on those who demonstrate “peaceful, personal, and continuous occupancy in good faith.” In practice, however, for a family or community to safeguard their customary claims to land they have to formally register their land tenure rights or record them in local land maps. Very few rural farmers have done this – in large part due to the government’s failure to adequately roll out a 2001 rural land policy to facilitate land registration and the mapping of land boundaries in rural areas. As discussed later in this report, the absence of clear protection for customary land rights under national law enables large-scale infrastructure projects, such as Souapiti, to deny rural farmers their right to adequate compensation.
There is also, more broadly, a dearth of standards within Guinean law as to the compensation and other assistance that both public and private actors should provide where they resettle communities or acquire land for dams, mines or other commercial or development projects. The Ministry for Towns and the Management of Territory in September 2017 drafted an operations manual setting out how public interest expropriations should occur, but the manual was ultimately never validated by the government. The absence of national standards means that each project adopts its own resettlement standards, denying communities the protection that could come from strong national standards that are appropriately enforced. The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa requires states to take necessary steps to “harmonize compensatory measures” across to hydropower projects “to avoid feelings of injustice resulting from disparities between one project and another.” The Ministry of Mines and Geology was, at time of writing, leading two initiatives to draft standards to regulate compensation and resettlement processes for large-scale land acquisitions in Guinea, including hydropower projects.
International Human Rights Law
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) protects the right to property, and states that it may only be encroached upon in the interest of public needs and, “in accordance with the provision of appropriate laws.” The property rights accorded by the African Charter apply equally to customary or traditional rights, including those held collectively. African standards also underscore the importance of protecting the rights of women to access and control land.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) has noted that the requirement that a removal of property be conducted “in accordance with the law” connotes both compliance with domestic and international law. International human rights law provides detailed guidance on when and how states should expropriate property, prohibiting “forced evictions” where someone is involuntarily removed from their home or land without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection. Evictions must only be a last resort and those displaced must receive adequate compensation for land and personal property.
A central component of the legal protections provided by international law is that evictions should not result in individuals being “vulnerable to the violation of other human rights,” such as the right to adequate food or housing. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, states must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing and access to productive land is available. States are also required to ensure that third parties, including businesses, respect human rights standards when acquiring land.
The African Charter also confers the right to development. The African Commission has, in the Endorois case, interpreted this right to include the right of an indigenous community to participate in decision-making processes regarding land and natural resources and the right to benefit from activities occurring in their territory. Although the resettlement for the Souapiti dam does not necessarily involve indigenous peoples, the same rights to participation and benefit from hydropower projects is accorded to all communities in the ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa, which is binding on all ECOWAS states. The Directive underscores that states should, “ensure the participation of affected populations effectively and knowingly, in all stages of the decision-making process, in order to obtain their true consent for the major decisions that affect them.” The Directive further states that, “Benefit sharing shall…be ensured to the local communities affected by hydraulic infrastructures, in particular in terms of access to electricity, irrigated agriculture or fishing.”
Officials at the Souapiti Agency have stressed that the project aims to follow international best practices. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, Amara Camara, the head of the Souapiti Agency, said that the “Guinean government is committed to implementing a reinstallation process for impacted communities compliant with Guinean legislation and international best practices, particularly the best practices of the World Bank.”
The Agency said that the standard used for the resettlement process is the World Bank Operational Manual 4.12 on Involuntary Resettlement, which is described in the 2017 resettlement action plan as the “applicable framework” for the resettlement. The resettlement plan also describes the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) 2003 Involuntary Resettlement Policy as an applicable framework. Both of these policies had already been updated when the 2017 resettlement action plan was finalized, with the World Bank adopting a safeguard on resettlement as part of a new environmental and social framework in 2016 (though the framework only became operational in 2018) and the AfDB adopting an additional safeguard for involuntary resettlements in 2013.
Both the World Bank and AfDB policies aim to ensure that people affected by resettlements can restore or improve the standard of living and income-earning capacity that they enjoyed prior to displacement. This is also reflected in the ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa. The Directive states that projects should establish a “baseline” of the living conditions of affected persons, “in order to allow measuring subsequently the degree of improvement or deterioration of the living standard of the communities after the completion of the dam and, if necessary, take the necessary measures to improve these living conditions.”
Responsibilities of Chinese Companies and the Chinese Government
While the Guinean government bears the primary responsibility for managing the resettlement process, CWE – as the main constructor of the dam and a co-owner of the company that will operate and benefit from it – also has the responsibility to ensure that the resettlement process meets human rights standards. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses have a responsibility to exercise due diligence to identify human rights risks and impacts, avoid complicity in abuses, and ensure that any abuses are remedied.
CWE’s parent company, China Three Gorges, issued a 2017 Sustainable Development Policy that commits the company to assist government authorities during resettlements for dam projects it is involved in. Three Gorges’ 2019 Belt and Road Sustainability Report also states that, “as a responsible global citizen, we adhere to the hydropower development philosophy of building a hydropower station to facilitate local economy, improve the environment and benefit resettled residents.” Souapiti Agency officials said CWE had so far had no operational role in the resettlement process, although local residents said CWE staff are often present to observe the activities of the Souapiti Agency in communities prior to their displacement and on resettlement sites.
CWE, in an email to Human Rights Watch, said that the resettlement is the responsibility of the Guinean government and the Souapiti Agency specifically. The company stated, however, that as a shareholder in Souapiti the company “participates in the reinstallation and plays a role of supervisor.” The company said that, “in order to ensure transparency in the reinstallation,” it had put in place a computer system jointly with the Guinean government that tracks the progress of the reinstallation and other relevant data. CWE should provide additional assistance to the Souapiti Agency to ensure that it follows up on the recommendations contained in this report.
China Eximbank should also exercise oversight over the resettlement process. China Eximbank has published its own environmental and social guidelines that apply to overseas projects. These guidelines state that project assessments should abide by the principle of “respecting local people’s rights to land and resources,” and “properly handling the resettlement problems.” The guidelines also state that Eximbank should review a project’s environmental impacts prior to agreeing to a loan, during a project’s construction and operation, and once the loan is complete. For projects that have “serious environmental and social problems,” Eximbank has the right to require borrowers to “take timely measures to eliminate these impacts” and, if they fail to do so, “to stop disbursing the loans and demand an early payback of the loan, in accordance with its contract.” Chinese policy banks like Eximbank do not, however, have a track record of rigorously enforcing their own environmental and social standards.
The Chinese government, the ultimate owner of China Three Gorges and China Eximbank, also has an obligation to ensure the businesses its controls and regulates respect and protect human rights. According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, states have heightened obligations to protect against human rights abuses by business that are state-owned or controlled. As a central state-owned enterprise, China Three Gorges is directly controlled and managed by the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) of the State Council, China’s most senior administrative body. The SASAC in 2017 issued Measures for Supervision and Administration of Outbound Investment by Central Enterprises that provide guidance as to how central state-owned enterprises should operate abroad. The document also gives SASAC the power to conduct inspections of state-owned enterprises.
In recent years, in response to criticism of the impact of BRI projects on the environment and on local communities, Chinese government agencies have also underscored the need for BRI projects to respect responsible environmental and, to a lesser degree, social standards. In his remarks at a major BRI forum in April 2019, President Xi Jinping stated that, “We are committed to supporting open, clean and green development.”
The Chinese government has established some mechanisms for the approval and monitoring of foreign investment and operations by Chinese companies, although research has indicated that these mechanisms have so far not adequately promoted respect for social and environmental standards. China’s top planning agency, the National Reform and Development Commission (NRDC) – which must approve overseas investments in “sensitive” countries, regions or industries – has issued Measures for the Administration of Outbound Investment by Enterprises calling for investors to, “respect local public order and good morals, fulfill necessary social responsibilities, pay attention to environmental protection, and build a good image of Chinese investors.” The Ministry of Commerce, which must approve investments by central state-owned enterprises, such as China Three Gorges, in 2014 published its Measures for the Administration of Outbound Investment which state that companies with investments in overseas firms should, “comply with investment destination laws and local customs, social responsibility, environment and labor protection.”
III. The Human Rights Impact of Displacement
According to the Souapiti Agency, the Souapiti dam and its 312 square kilometer reservoir will, once complete, displace an estimated 16,000 people from 101 villages and hamlets. The original plan for the dam would have displaced 48,000 people, but the Guinean government in 2016 agreed to reduce the size of the dam, and its reservoir, to reduce by two thirds the number of people to be resettled. Nevertheless, the displacement for the Souapiti dam is the largest in Guinea’s post-independence history. The 2017 resettlement action plan estimates the cost of the resettlement as $91 million.
The first village displaced by the Souapiti dam was moved in 2016, but the resettlement process accelerated dramatically in 2019 as the government began the process of filling the dam’s reservoir. As of the end of October 2019, analysis of satellite imagery showed that almost twenty percent of the reservoir had been filled. The government had moved 51 villages by the end of 2019, approximately 64 percent of the total population to be displaced. The government is planning to conduct the remaining resettlements prior to September 2020.
The vast majority of people who have been or will be resettled are farmers whose families have farmed the land for generations. “It was my kin who founded this village,” said Thierno Babagalé Bah, a community leader from Konkouré district, which encompasses 12 villages whose residents the Agency relocated in August 2019. “Our family is buried here. We’re leaving everything behind so that Guinea can develop on those lands.” Residents underscored the ways in which displacement is rupturing longstanding social and cultural links between families in the area. “In our culture, our social and familial bonds are essential,” said one displaced resident. “Extended families are being split apart. Whenever there is something to celebrate or mourn in the family, we feel the distance.”
Displaced residents are also leaving the farmland that is the lifeblood of their communities. The project’s 2017 resettlement action plan states that, “the zone of the reservoir has the characteristics of a subsistence economy essentially based on agriculture,” with farming and grazing giving households 73 percent of their resources. Households consume over 60 percent of what they farm, including rice, peanuts, cassava, and fonio, a local grain, as well as fruits and garden vegetables.
Farmers largely practice a system of rotational farming, in which land is cultivated for two or more years before being left fallow for several years to regain its fertility. Women play a key role in farming, and many sell fruits and vegetables from small plots of land known as market gardens. Cattle-raising, largely of cows, is also an important economic activity in the area, with herders grazing cattle on farmers’ land that is not currently being exploited. Conflicts between farmers and herders in the area are relatively frequent.
Most of the families being displaced are already extremely poor. The 2017 resettlement action plan states that the average daily income per person in the area is US$1.18, lower than the US$1.90 that the World Bank has defined as the threshold for extreme poverty. The loss of agricultural land due to the dam further threatens communities’ means of subsistence. A 2017 resettlement action plan prepared for the project warned starkly that, “[d]isplaced populations will generally have less favorable land than they have been farming for generations, often with less agricultural and pastoral land[.]”The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch in December 2019 that, “it is assumed that reinstallation will lead to more limited access to agricultural land, coupled with increased demographic growth and increased pressure on remaining land.”
Dozens of displaced residents from across eight villages said that, having left their old villages, and with large amounts of their agricultural land either flooded, inaccessible or at risk of being so in future, they were struggling to find adequate food for their families. “The people here are hungry,” said a woman from Tahiré Center. “If you’re the head of the family, you give what little you have to your children. Sometimes I don’t eat so my children can eat.” A community leader relocated in June 2019 from Woussi Dow Banlal said that the lack of access to productive land meant that his family is “fragile like eggs…It’s only thanks to God that we survive.”
Several residents said that, whereas they used to grow their own food, they now had to find money to buy it from local markets. “We’re selling the livestock we have to buy food,” said a man from the village of Tahiré Center. “The stomach cannot be empty.” A herder-farmer said that, because flooding had both destroyed his agricultural land and forced him to move his cattle herd far from his remaining farmland, he was forced to sell cattle for food. “With the fields gone, we’re slowly selling our cattle to make ends meet,” he said. Several women said that, having lost the market gardens where they grew fruit for sale at local markets, they are relying on their husband’s income to support them. Other households said that they relied on support from family members living outside the Souapiti area. “We eat thanks to help from my older children that send something for us to live on,” said a mother of eight from the village of Tahiré Center.
Families displaced by the Souapiti dam are resettled in newly constructed homes on land surrounding the dam’s reservoir. Residents of multiple villages are grouped together on the same resettlement site, with the 101 localities to be moved spread among more than 15 different areas. Resettlement sites typically have rows of yellow concrete houses with green roofs of corrugated iron.
The land used for resettlement sites belongs, under customary land tenure, to other communities, as there is no unclaimed land in the region. Land changes hands through a community land transfer process, in which a host community cedes land to families being resettled. “If you have cultivable land and you find one day that the government needs that land, you must comply with the government and God,” said a resident of Madina Kagneguiri, a host community. The Souapiti Agency said communities who agreed to be relocated together chose three possible resettlement sites, based on criteria such as the available shade, access to water and agricultural land, and accessibility. The sites were then visited in the presence of representatives of the Souapiti Agency and the customary and administrative leaders of both host and displaced communities to identify the final site.
Souapiti Agency officials said the choice of resettlement site depends on agreement between the displaced and host communities. Land transfers operate almost entirely at the level of customary law, with host communities with customary rights over land granting members of the resettled community consent to live on the land. Resettled families do not receive legal title to their new land, only a document recording the host community’s consent to grant them land. The government’s failure to ensure that resettled communities receive legal titles to their land risks fueling future conflicts between host and resettled communities, and with newcomers to the area. The UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Eviction and Displacement state that governments must ensure resettlement sites include security of tenure to be considered adequate housing under international human rights law. Industry standards also recommend that housing for displaced people includes security of tenure. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch in February 2020 that, “the process for registering or obtaining title for land is in the process of being conducted by the Agency in collaboration with [local authorities].”
Some residents have questioned the voluntariness of the process the Souapiti Agency has so far used to identify new sites and get permission for relocations from communities. Representatives of the Union for the Defense of Displaced Peoples from Souapiti (Union pour la Défense des Sinistrés de Souapiti, UDSS), an association comprised of people displaced by the dam and their families, said that the Agency at times obtained consent from people who were not representative of the wider community, or that community leaders chose resettlement sites without adequate consultation. International human rights standards require that states consult with “the full spectrum of affected persons, including women and vulnerable and marginalized groups," during the planning process for compulsory resettlements. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that, “resettlement sites were discussed at the village level, with sector chiefs, district presidents, and representatives of women and youth, as well as the elders from the impacted localities.”
Several community leaders also said that the project provided little information about the conditions of resettlement prior to the community agreeing to move. “The biggest problem with this project is the lack of communication,” said a UDSS representative. Civil society groups said that key project documents that set out the government’s obligations during a resettlement– such as most recent versions of the project impact assessments and resettlement action plan – were not publicly available. The AfDB’s 2003 Involuntary Resettlement Policy notes that a resettlement plan should be, “made accessible to the displaced population and relevant NGOs and civil society organizations in a form, manner and language that are comprehensible to them.” Human Rights Watch obtained the 2017 resettlement action plan directly from the Souapiti Agency in December 2019.
The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch the project’s environmental and social management plan, which included discussion of resettlement measures, was presented to communities prior to being finalized and that comments were integrated into the final version. It said that, for relocations to occur in 2020, it has negotiated and signed agreements with communities that set out the Souapiti Agency’s engagements during the resettlement.  A sample agreement shared by the Souapiti Agency, however, contains only a single paragraph summary of the Agency’s obligations and offers no detail on how the Agency will address key issues like replacement land and support for livelihood assistance.
Many of the people displaced in 2019 told Human Rights Watch that they were not satisfied with the resettlement sites, including the size and quality of the homes and the layout of the resettlement villages. Some residents also said that multiple family units were resettled in the same building, or that, in some cases, homes were not ready when resettlements began. Residents from several resettled communities also emphasized that the distance of resettlement sites from the Konkouré river and other natural water sources reduced access to water for personal use, like washing and cooking. Although the resettlement sites have boreholes for water for domestic consumption, several residents said that they do not provide enough water for the local population. “We are worried for future generations, because there is not enough water [at the resettlement site],” said a resident of Warakhalandi.
In response to Human Rights Watch’s findings, the Souapiti Agency said that each resettlement site has the social and community infrastructure needed to satisfy the Guinean government’s standards. The Souapiti Agency also described to Human Rights Watch the steps that it has taken to ensure adequate access to water in resettlement sites, including the construction and testing of boreholes according to the population present on resettlement sites. The Souapiti Agency also said that residents not satisfied with the size or quality of homes should file complaints to the Agency’s grievance mechanism.
Loss of Agricultural Land
The thousands of hectares of agricultural land to be flooded by the Souapiti dam threaten the means of subsistence of communities whose main source of livelihood is agriculture and farming.
The dam’s 312 square kilometer reservoir will flood 253 square kilometers of land, with the rest of the reservoir covering the existing path of the Konkouré river and other waterways. Of the 253 square kilometers, a 2017 assessment estimated that the reservoir will flood at least 42 square kilometers of crops and, in addition, 576,345 crop-bearing trees. It’s also likely that the 253 kilometers includes areas of land not currently being exploited but which are lying fallow as part of the region’s rotational farming tradition. A 2017 assessment estimating that the reservoir’s footprint includes 95 square kilometers of bushes or shrubs and 30 square kilometers of grassland. The 2017 resettlement action plan also notes that the land flooded by the reservoir is often more fertile than the land surrounding it, as it contains rich alluvial soils close to the Konkouré river.
With so much land flooded, many of the community members interviewed by Human Rights Watch said there was too little space for agriculture at resettlement sites. “There is no space for agriculture at the new site, only a small area to plant peanuts,” said a man from Tahiré Center. “We were promised the cultivable land needed to produce everything we had before, but this hasn’t been the case,” said a man from Koneta. Several other residents compared the lack of land at the new site with the land at their original villages. “The children of different brothers could work on the same land with space left over,” explained a man from Tanene, who the Agency resettled with his mother, two wives and five children in June 2019.“That’s not true now that we’ve moved.”
Several herders told Human Rights Watch that the flooding of land had already forced them to move their cow herds long distances to find available land. One herder said he walked four days with his sixty cattle to a new grazing site. “I was exhausted when I arrived,” he said. “My legs were swollen.” A member of the Union for the Defense of Displaced Peoples from Souapiti told Human Rights Watch that finding new land can be difficult for herders because of the risk of conflicts with local farmers. One man said he had to move his cattle more than 35 kilometers away to find available grazing lands. “I usually sleep with my cattle in the bush because of how far away my family is,” he said. 
Several displaced residents also said that, even where their agricultural land has not been flooded, resettlement sites are a significant distance from their previous farmlands, making it difficult to return to work there. Konkouré Center’s resettlement site, for example, is 35 kilometers from the village itself. “It’s too far to get to our old lands,” said Boubacar Bah, a community leader from Konkouré. “We don’t have money for the vehicles to take us there.” Others community leaders said that, due to the location of the dam’s construction site or reservoir, roads or paths to their land were no longer passable. The Souapiti Agency said that it encouraged communities, in identifying resettlement potential sites, to find areas that were not too far from their remaining agricultural land.
International human rights standards favor the replacement of land lost to development projects like Souapiti with land of commensurate quality, size and value. The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa also requires that states provide communities displaced by hydroelectric projects with access to agricultural land. The head of environmental management and sustainable development for the Souapiti Agency said, however, that the government decided not to replace agricultural land lost to the dam because of the lack of unencumbered land in Guinea. “We don’t want to take land from one village to give to another because then you always have to take land from someone,” he said. The Souapiti Agency also said that displaced communities can obtain access to agricultural land by approaching members of host communities to request the right to farm their land.
The Souapiti Agency’s approach has the effect, however, of relinquishing responsibility for finding replacement agricultural land to displaced communities. Although, in some cases it might be possible for displaced families to negotiate adequate land access, it is likely that, with so much land flooded by the dam, there will be increased competition for land in the region. The project’s 2017 resettlement action plan acknowledged that, “the first consequence of the project will be the reduction of available space…land that up until now was available without any particular limit will be subject to a pressure that will need to be addressed.” Several community leaders have already voiced concern that, as resettlements accelerate, competition for productive land and resources may lead to conflict between communities.
No Financial Compensation for Lost Land
The impact of the loss of agricultural land during the resettlement process has been compounded by the Souapiti Agency’s failure to pay financial compensation for lost land, with the Agency saying that farmers with customary land tenure rights only have the right to compensation for the trees and crops growing on land, not the value of the land itself.
The project’s 2017 resettlement action plan described the government’s interpretation of Guinea’s land law to be “favorable to displaced populations, even for those who do not have title deeds.” It stated further that while the law “makes no explicit reference to traditional land rights” and “[f]armers in rural areas who do not hold land titles or the documents…cannot claim legal recognition,” the Guinean government is “willing to take local land practices and rules into account by reconciling the legal system with customary practice.” The action plan even provided a US$6.1 million budget to compensate for the value of agricultural land flooded by the dam.
Despite this language, however, the resettlement action plan ultimately limited compensation to displaced residents with “formally secured land rights.” This excludes the vast majority of displaced residents who, as discussed earlier in this report, have
customary land tenure rights but have not formally recorded or registered those rights. “In Guinea, land belongs to the state,” the Souapiti project’s head of environmental management and sustainable development told Human Rights Watch. “What’s on top of the land belongs to you, but the land itself belongs to all Guineans.” This approach means that farmers have received no compensation for grazing land nor where land is lying fallow as part of a crop rotation system. “I had empty land that belonged to my family and I wasn’t compensated,” said a man from Tanene village who said that after his June 2019 resettlement he has to support two wives and eleven children.
In view of the requirement that residents must have formally secured land rights to obtain compensation for the value of land, it is likely that very little of the US$6.1 million set aside for compensating agricultural land has been disbursed. When asked how much of the budget had been spent, the Souapiti Agency did not answer directly but said that, “the budget for the environmental and social management plan [which includes resettlement] is drawn down from China Eximbank as necessary for the implementation of activities. As long as an activity has not been executed, the budget remains available.”
International human rights standards make clear that displaced persons, irrespective of whether they hold formally-documented title to their property, should be entitled to compensation for the loss of land. The ECOWAS Water Resources Coordination Center has cautioned that, “resettlement programs should take account of intangible/cultural assets by recognizing rights of access to land and ensuring that people are compensated in cash or kind for the loss of traditional land use…people are not always compensated for the loss of these kinds of asset, despite the fact that they have real value for local communities.”
Opaque Compensation Process for Crops and Trees
The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it does provide compensation for the trees and crops flooded or made inaccessible by the dam. However, the Souapiti Agency’s failure to provide adequate information about how compensation is calculated has left many residents frustrated with the amount of compensation paid and the process used to do so. “The government gave us what they wanted. We accepted money without negotiation because we didn’t know the value of our resources,” explained a community leader from Yabba.
Several household heads, many of whom cannot read, said that they signed compensation documents on behalf of their families with no knowledge of their contents and no independent advice. Examples of documents handed to residents after the project had inventoried their trees and crops, reviewed by Human Rights Watch, provided no detail on the number of crops recorded nor the amount of compensation to be paid. “I asked them why the receipts didn’t include the number of crops they’d counted,” said a man from Bagueya. “But they said, ‘we’ll keep the numbers.’”
The lack of transparency in the compensation process has fueled dissatisfaction with the payments made. Some residents denied having received any compensation at all. Others said that, while they had been paid for perennial crops, like fruit trees, they had received nothing for annual crops, like rice or cassava. “At first, the project said they wouldn’t pay for annual crops,” said a farmer from Konkouré Center. “Then in the end they finally sent a team to survey all the fields that had been flooded by the water. But we still haven’t received any of the money.” Community leaders also said that the Souapiti Agency has not compensated them for naturally occurring wild plants, such as medicinal herbs, on which many people rely for additional revenue.
Industry standards, including the AfDB’s resettlement safeguards, state that displaced persons should receive information about the compensation process for land acquisitions, including the methods by which compensation is calculated. The ECOWAS Water Resources Coordination Center recommends that “local people are given appropriate information at every stage of the project cycle,” noting that, “lack of information and transparency makes local people mistrustful of projects.”
The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that “the amount of [compensation] and the process for payment are communicated to impacted residents” through individual interviews. Project documents, such as the amount of compensation to be paid, are, the Souapiti Agency said, written in French but interpreted in local languages in the presence of local leaders.”Communities’ frustration with the compensation process, however, underscores the importance of a grievance mechanism capable of resolving complaints relating to compensation and resettlement more broadly, an issue discussed later in this report.
Several women said that the bulk of compensation was paid to men in their family or in community leadership roles, giving women little control over how money is managed. In some cases, husbands or adult male children received the entire household’s compensation even where women maintained separate plots of land, such as small vegetable gardens. “I have my own plot of land, but when I wanted to take part in the inventory, the men in the village told me it only concerns them,” explained a woman from Konkouré who used to grow goods for sale at a local market.
The head of environmental management and sustainable development for the Souapiti Agency said that women should be paid directly for land they own or exploit themselves, but that any compensation for collective assets is paid to heads of household or families, “to manage as he wishes.” The Agency said, though, that, “the patriarchal family unit in Africa, and in Guinea, has a tendency to favor men as the representative of the family, the household, or lineage and as a result as the recipient of financial compensation.” The UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement state that, “Women and men must be co-beneficiaries of all compensation packages. Single women and widows should be entitled to their own compensation.”
Officials at the Souapiti Agency acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that displacement threatens communities’ livelihoods. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that they aim to give communities the support needed to restore the same or improved standard of living they enjoyed prior to the resettlement. “When you move a village, you’re breaking up the way they make a living, and you have to try to reestablish it,” said the Souapiti Agency’s head of environmental management and sustainable development. The 2017 resettlement action plan states that its objective is to, “reestablish, by an appropriate development program, the livelihoods of displaced populations at least to the level that existed prior to the resettlement.” Both the 2015 and 2017 action plans stated that the Souapiti Agency should begin programming dedicated to restoring communities’ livelihoods as soon as the dam’s construction begins. President Condé held a ceremony marking the beginning of construction for Souapiti in 2015.
In all of the displaced communities that Human Rights Watch visited, however, residents said that they had so far received no help from the Souapiti Agency to restore their sources of food and income. “The problem is that project haven’t kept their promises,” said Thierno Abou Diallo, President of Tahiré District. “We’re not asking for something extraordinary. Prepare land for us to continue our activities, a pasture area for livestock farming. Respect the promises made.”
The Souapiti Agency has promised that it will assist displaced persons to farm more intensively on their remaining land and find new, non-agriculture-based income sources, such as fishing, cattle-raising, or beekeeping. The 2017 resettlement action plan also commits the project to develop a land management plan to reduce conflicts between herders and farmers in the area and protect the fertility of soils. The action plan also proposed support for a microfinance network, including for the purchase of equipment for fishing.
However, the first families displaced – from Yabba (resettled in 2016), Khoroya (2018) and Koneta (2018) – said they had so far received no support to intensify farming or develop new livelihoods. Several residents said their families had to borrow land from neighboring communities or were working as laborers for other farmers. “My husband has all but abandoned us to look for work,” said a woman in Koneta. The Souapiti Agency admitted that livelihood restoration programs had not begun yet but said that villages displaced in 2016 and 2017 are situated next to the construction site and benefit economically from their proximity to the site. The Souapiti Agency also said that residents of these villages have priority when seeking employment at the work site.
Villages moved in 2019 said that, while they had heard Souapiti Agency officials discuss potential projects to help them find new livelihoods, they had so far not received any assistance. “We’ve been here four months now, and there’s no activity. We don’t find work,” said a woman from Tahiré Center. “It’s hard when you’re used to working to find yourself doing nothing. Every morning we wake up and just sit like children,” said another Tahiré Center resident.
A man from Warakhalandi, a village moved in June 2019, said that the Souapiti Agency had been talking about preparing farmland on the new site for several years. “They’ve been talking about preparing the land since 2016, but it’s all been talk for now,” he said. “They’re starting to say now ‘we will prepare zones for fish farming’, but we don’t have much confidence because they’ve not kept other promises,” said the president of Tahiré District.
The Souapiti Agency admitted that, despite the resettlement action plan underscoring the need for the Agency to begin preparing livelihood restoration measures as soon as the dam’s constructions started, it had not yet begun its livelihood restoration activities. It said that, “livelihood restoration measures will be implemented after the reservoir is filled and once villages have been displaced.” International human rights standards require that resettled populations have immediate access to livelihood sources, and that resettlement sites should include access to employment options.  The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it is, “in the process of redoubling its efforts to invest in the restoration of livelihoods in the coming month and for years to come.”
The resettlement action plan envisaged a budget of US$2.81 million for livelihood assistance programs (US$2.05 million in support for intensified agriculture and US$760,000 for non-agricultural income), which is around 3 percent of the total US$91 million resettlement budget. When asked whether this budget is sufficient to restore livelihoods in such a large resettlement process, the Souapiti Agency said that “livelihood restoration is a complex subject and it is difficult to know whether this budget will be sufficient or not. What is important is the willingness of the project to assure the restoration of livelihoods through the deployment of resources, but also the achievement of results...” 
The Souapiti Agency said that, in the period between displacement and the beginning of livelihood restoration programs, the government would provide displaced families with food assistance. Agency officials said that the government provides displaced families with rice and cash for basic essentials like cooking oil or toiletries. These deliveries occur twice in the first six months after the resettlement. “It helps people get on their feet,” said the Souapiti Agency’s head of environmental management and sustainable development.
Residents said, however, that given how long it would take to find new livelihoods, the amount of rice and money provided was too little and should cover a much longer period. “We consumed what we were given in just over a month,’ said a man from Warakhalandi resettled in June 2019, who said the supplies must feed his wife and five children. Residents explained households on average received one to two sacks of rice, each of 50 kilograms, as well as 900,000 to 1,500,000 GF ($US 97 to 167) for 3 months. “One sack of rice cannot feed my family for 3 months,” said a man resettled in June 2019 from Woussi Dow Banlal. Residents are concerned that it will take years to reestablish their food sources and livelihoods. “If there isn’t help, it will be another 10 years before we’re self-sufficient,” said a man interviewed in Konkouré Center who was relocated in February 2019. “Our households must start over,” said Mamadou Bah, head of Bagueya district.“How will we survive as we wait for our crops to grow?”
The Souapiti Agency said that the amount of assistance it provides is sufficient and it does not want, “to create a dependency of the populations on the project.” International standards, however, including the World Bank and AfDB’s involuntary resettlement safeguards, require that displaced persons and residents of host communities be offered support for the period necessary for them to return to their original standard of living.
Community leaders also underscored the need for consultation with affected communities when developing a plan to restore livelihoods, expressing the concern that local people will struggle to adapt to the vocations proposed by the Agency. “All of the activities proposed by the [Project] are commercial activities,” said Boubacar Bah, a community leader from Konkouré Center. “A herder who will be resettled…can’t engage in these activities…Neither can a farmer.” The head of environmental management and sustainable development for Souapiti disagreed. “People always find a new way of living,” he said. The ECOWAS Water Resources Coordination Center has noted that, “changing production systems ([for example] switching from river fishing to lake fishing or from rain-fed to irrigated farming) requires support and agreement from the population concerned.” The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa requires that states “design and validate suitable production technologies with the local affected communities in order to support resettlement programs and local development plans, on the basis of a combination of traditional knowledge and modern innovative technologies from research.”
Several women also emphasized the importance of livelihood restoration programs targeted specifically at women, noting that conversations between Souapiti Agency officials and village leaders often exclude women. The ECOWAS Directive on Gender Assessments in Energy Projects recommends that energy-project developers assess the gendered impacts of, among other things, land displacement and loss or alteration of women’s sources of food and income.
International standards also require project developers to monitor the success of livelihood restoration measures on households’ revenue and living standards. The Souapiti Agency said that it had conducted house-to-house surveys, including an assessment of revenue, in 2017, which it said will enable it to determine the impact of livelihood restoration measures.
Beyond support for restoring displaced persons’ livelihoods, several international standards recommend that impacted communities receive a portion of the income derived from the sale of electricity generated by hydroelectric projects. The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa, for example, states that, “benefit of part of the cash income from operations and the sale of hydroelectric energy” should be one part of the “enjoyment by the affected populations of direct benefits generated by dams.” The Initiative for Economic Prospection and Sustainable Development, a Guinean thinktank, referenced the Directive in a policy paper arguing for the Guinean government to find ways to divert a portion of the financial benefits of the Souapiti dam, and other similar hydropower projects, to the communities displaced by the project.
In a stark illustration of the potentially limited benefits displaced populations will receive from Souapiti, it is not clear that resettlement sites will even receive access to electricity. When asked in February 2020 whether the dam would be used to provide electricity to the villages displaced by the dam, the Souapiti Agency did not answer directly but said that it was, “in partnership with the Ministry of Energy, the Office for Rural Electrification, conducting advocacy with certain actors and donors in the rural electrification sector,” noting that “conversations are continuing .”
Residents from all the communities that Human Rights Watch visited said that they had complained to Souapiti Agency officials or to local government officials about the resettlement process, but that they had received no response or one that did not address their concerns. “When there are missions here, we complain that there is nothing to eat, but they say they are just here to take notes and they can’t do anything,” said a man from Tahiré Center.“We’ve spoken to the project, to local authorities,” said a Woussi Dow Ballal resident resettled in June 2019. “We’ve talked so much. We’re tired because it does not change.”
Community leaders described a process where their complaints are bounced from one official to another. “You meet with one person one day. Another person the next day,” said Souleymane Bah, Vice President of Konkouré district. “He says, ‘I don’t know anything, I was hired by my director.’ You call the director, he doesn’t answer. We write letters, we send them. Someone says give it to this person. They ask you to wait. He also has his director. Who are we supposed complain to? Who? The government? Who?”
Several residents also described failed attempts to complain to local authorities, such as nearby mayors or prefects. “We go to Tondon [the sub-prefecture]. We tell the Mayor of Tondon of our problems. He says he’ll pass it on,” described a community leader from Yabba, who said members of his village had filed as many as a hundred complaints since they were resettled in 2016. “We have passed by all levels of local authorities, but there was no follow up,” said Thierno Abou Diallo, president of Tahiré District.
The Souapiti Agency said that it had created local monitoring committees, comprised of local community leaders from displaced, resettled, and host communities, district authorities, youth, and women, to receive complaints from community members and pass them onto the Souapiti Agency. Several community leaders, however, who sit on the committees said that they did not function effectively. Committee members said that they lacked the financial and logistical means, such as phone credit or money for travel to committee meetings, to convene regularly and serve displaced residents.
International human rights standards make clear that displaced residents have the right to a fair hearing as part of the right to an effective remedy for human rights violations, including in resettlement and displacement. Industry standards, including the AfDB and World Bank resettlement standards referred to in Souapiti’s 2017 resettlement action plan, also require projects to establish an effective grievance mechanism. The ECOWAS Directive on Hydraulic Infrastructure Development in West Africa requires that governments redress, through legal processes, damage caused to affected communities resulting from non-fulfillment of environmental or social plans.
The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it had “delayed” in implementing a formal grievance policy, and that complaints had instead been resolved informally. The Souapiti Agency said a formal grievance policy had been written and validated in September 2019. This means that the Souapiti Agency did not possess a formal grievance mechanism in the lead up to and during the resettlements conducted in 2019 for the Souapiti dam, a period in which thousands of people, from more than 51 villages or hamlets, were moved. The Souapiti Agency said that the new grievance mechanism had so far registered 110 complaints, and in 25 percent of these cases the Agency had replied to the complainant. Other complaints are in the process of being investigated and addressed.
This report was researched and written by Yasmin Dagne, Leonard H. Sandler Fellow in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. Mariama Barry, a land and women’s rights consultant, also conducted extensive field research for the report. Jim Wormington, senior researcher in the Africa Division, supervised the research, conducted additional writing, and edited the report.
Corinne Dufka, West Africa Director, Sophie Richardson, China Director, Yaqiu Wang, researcher in the Asia Division, Komala Ramachandra, senior researcher in the Business and Human Rights Division, Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher in the Women’s Rights Division, Felix Horne, senior researcher, and Katharina Rall, researcher in the Environment and Human Rights Division reviewed the report. Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, provided legal and program reviews.
Josh Lyons, director of geospatial analysis, and Carolina Jordá Álvarez, geospatial analyst, created our first map of communities impacted by the dam’s reservoir and conducted video verification and spatial analysis of satellite data for the report. Janna Kyllastinen edited the video that accompanies the report. Report production was done by Travis Carr, publications/photography coordinator. Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and Morgan Hollie, associate in the Africa Division, provided production assistance and support. Cathia Zeoli, consultant, provided translation and research assistance, and Peter Huvos, French web editor, reviewed the French version of the report.
We are also grateful for the guidance and support provided by Hafizou Barry, Fréderic Foromo Loua, Issiaga Keita, Pascal Tenguiano, members of the Union for the Defense of the Victims of Souapiti (l'Union pour la Défense des Sinistrés de Souapiti), Lien de Brouckere, Josh Klemm, Jingjing Zhang, Brendan Schwartz, Jamie Skinner, and Adrien Desplat. Inclusive Development International (IDI), and Coleen Scott in particular, conducted detailed research into the investment structure of the Souapiti dam and end uses for its power.
We are very grateful to the leadership and staff of the Project for Hydroelectric Construction of Souapiti (Projet d'Aménagement Hydroélectrique de Souapiti,) for their willingness to discuss our findings and answer our questions.
Finally, we especially thank the people we interviewed for this report, particularly those displaced by the Souapiti dam, who shared their time and stories with us.