Guinea and the Challenges of International Organizing

Guinea-Bissau-sfSpanRock Creek     More than a year ago, ACORN International’s affiliate in the Czech Republic approached with an unusual request.   Exiles from Guinea, living in Prague, had asked for the organization’s help and assistance in organizing an affiliate of ACORN International in this country in West Africa.

And, why not, since Guinea, formerly French Guinea, is one of the poorest countries in the world, so what more natural place to want to organize ACORN?  The immediate response was positive then, but as a federation the question quickly moved to the nuts and bolts of who, what, where, and how.  Increasingly, the proposition became more confusing, both in a good way and in way surpassing normal complexities.  ACORN Czech wanted to partner with ACORN Guinea partially to import an agricultural scheme from neighboring Slovakia that was supposedly a great innovation:  agri-circles.  According to a YouTube video I was asked to watch, the basic notion was that less energy and machinery was used on the circular system which was healthier for the land, used less water and gas, and produced greater yield to plow with certain implements on a circular grid rather than in rows.  Was this in fact a superior agricultural breakthrough that would drastically improve the country?  I repeatedly raised the issue that we were more an urban organization than a rural one.  This was so outside of my area of expertise that I had no idea, and furthermore it was presented as unimportant in some ways.  Sales of the technology would be dedicated to funding ACORN organizing in Conakry, the capital and largest city, and even to some degree our work in Prague.

Where the deal got dicey is that somehow ACORN International needed to register with the government to operate in Guinea, and we would then be licensing the importation of the agri-circle equipment.  Because of various transparency regulations and new governmental requirements, this could be done only through a nonprofit with a partnership with the government, but not with a private company, which is why we were needed.   Then in a further conversation translated between Czech, French, and English, there was a request that we send ACORN International’s legal paperwork to Guinea for someone to take care of everything from there.  At this point the discussions fell apart when there were no responses to my requests to the registry documents and laws governing nonprofits first, to hear directly from the agri-circle folks, and to talk directly to people interested in organizing in Conakry before going forward.  All of this I repeated with a shrug in Prague to our organizers and the Guinean representative in a recent visit there, as out of my hands.

Sitting in Montana today I read with interest – and no small amount of horror — a lengthy article in the New Yorker by Patrick Radden Keefe about the investigation by numerous sources of whether there was bribery involved in moving a piece of a giant iron ore concession worth perhaps $140 billion over the coming decades from Rio Tinto the world’s largest mining company to an Israeli billionaire who later partnered with a huge Brazilian mining conglomerate.   A current president, returning from exile was popularly elected for the first time in 2010 replacing years of oligarchs in a government that numerous outside groups, many funded by George Soros, is defined as a kleptocracy for its level of almost total corruption pervasive at every level of its bureaucracy as well.   The 4th wife of the deposed, and now deceased, former General and ruler, was wired by the FBI in a conversation in the Jacksonville, Florida airport, where agents of the Israeli company were trying to offer $5 million to buy back signed contracts with the ex-wife detailing her role in helping spread the wealth to maneuver the piece of the concession over to them.

Of course this is not even apples and oranges in scale or comparison, and perhaps one reason nothing might develop for ACORN International is that our model of sustainability puts no money on the table on the front end, which might have been the a priori to anything happening in Guinea still.  Nonetheless it reveals part of the dilemma in a mixed-model of expansion and work for our community organizing, where part of it is initiated by organizers we develop and train, and part of it, like in Guinea, are “organizations of opportunity” coming into the federation through many different doors and windows.

Perhaps it was a favor to us that nothing really preceded past the early exploration, but then what of the poor and working families of Guinea and their future as well?

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