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Alusuisse in West Africa. A Case Study of Swiss Imperialism: Bauxite Mining in Sierra Leone (1960-1992) and Guinea (1970-1978)

Number of pages114
Master program titleMaster en histoire économique internationale
Defense date2023-08-31

Is Switzerland an imperialist country? The historiographical debate surrounding

Swiss imperialism has centred on the character of Swiss private economic engagement

in the Third World and its interplay with the Swiss federal state. The Swiss firm

Alusuisse was one of the most powerful players in the international aluminium market

in the 20th century. Alusuisse engaged in bauxite mining in Guinea and Sierra Leone

from the 1960s onwards. This thesis examines whether Alusuisse’s actions in West

Africa between 1960 and 1992 were imperialistic and whether the company

collaborated with the Swiss state to achieve its aims. Two Alusuisse bauxite mining

subsidiaries are investigated using the framework of investment imperialism:

SIEROMCO in Sierra Leone (1960-1991) and SOMIGA in Guinea (1970-1978). A

particular focus was laid on the country-company negotiations with the host


Based on the company’s historical records contained in the Swiss economic

archive, the thesis asserts that Alusuisse’s activities in West Africa were a case of

investment imperialism. In Sierra Leone, the government granted the Swiss company a

monopoly on bauxite mining. For three decades, Alusuisse extracted cheap, highquality

bauxite while obscuring the profitability of its subsidiary SIEROMCO to avoid

paying taxes. In Guinea, Alusuisse negotiated favourable contract conditions for

bauxite mining but failed to realise their original aims due to turbulence in the global

aluminium market in the 1970s. Whenever conflicts between Alusuisse and the

governments of Sierra Leone and Guinea arose, the company managed to impose its

priorities. This was possible due to Alusuisse’s economic power, derived from its

control over capital, technical expertise, and the aluminium production process. The

Swiss federal state only played a marginal role in Alusuisse’s success in West Africa.

Therefore, the case of Alusuisse in West Africa supports the characterisation of Swiss

imperialism as predominantly driven by private enterprises.

  • Swiss Imperialism:
  • Bauxite Mining
  • Sierra Leone
  • 1960-1992
  • 1970-1978
  • Guinea
Citation (ISO format)
NYFFELER, Lukas Albert. Alusuisse in West Africa. A Case Study of Swiss Imperialism: Bauxite Mining in Sierra Leone (1960-1992) and Guinea (1970-1978). 2023.
Main files (1)
Master thesis
  • PID : unige:171394

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