Hadjiratou Bah is rightly proud she was the first female employee in mining operations at Guinea Alumina Corporation, the bauxite mining subsidiary of Emirates Global Aluminum.
Now a train loading supervisor, the 32-year-old, who has a degree in geology, joined the mining team soon after operations started-up back in 2019.
That date marked the fulfillment of a dream for the Guinean national, which began during her childhood.
“I grew up waking to the sound of the CBG (Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée) siren, and the sight of buses picking up and dropping off employees of the oldest Guinea mining company,” says Hadjiratou.
“Little Hadjiratou gazed dreamily at the workers, hoping she too would wear big boots and a uniform when she grew up,” she fondly recalls with a smile. “I was never fazed by the fact I only saw men getting on and off those buses. I always considered myself as the boy my dad never had.”
In the male-dominated world of mining in the West African nation, with its tropical climate and high temperatures, Hadjiratou has earned the respect of her male colleagues through ability, determination, and sheer hard work.
Hadjiratou joined GAC in the same year that it secured the largest ever investment for a greenfield mining initiative in Guinea – a $750 million loan extended by development finance institutions, export credit agencies and international commercial banks. Exports of bauxite ore, from which aluminium is derived, began one month before Hadjiratou started. The work Hadjiratou and her colleagues are doing aligns with EGA’s bold aspiration of ‘driving sustainable economic growth’.
Hadjiratou, who graduated with a degree in geology in 2016 from the Higher Institute of Mines and Geology of Boké (ISMGB), previously worked as a prospection geologist in Guinea before joining GAC. There are two train loading supervisors working on each shift, and together they oversee the loading of up to four trains every day or 1,200wagons. Each train, with 150 wagons, can carry bauxite ore of equivalent weight to the Eiffel Tower.
“It was suggested that I work as a train loading supervisor because we want to be perfect with regards to the quality of the bauxite when we load,” says Hadjiratou, who grew up and lives in Sangarédi, 35km away from the GAC site in Boké and around 341km from Conakry, the capital of Guinea. “We need to know everything about the product before we load, because it is then much more efficient to manage the bauxite stockpiles and loading at the port, to ensure customers get exactly the quality they want. I love my job because of the challenges I face every day. My family is very proud of me.”
Heavily pregnant with her third child – “I’ve two boys and don’t want to check what this one is because I need a girl, but it’ll be a nice surprise regardless” – it is very clear family means everything to Hadjiratou. Ask what her favorite hobbies and pastimes are outside of work, and she replies that spending time with family is all that matters.
“When I see them, I have energy to come back to work again the next day,” says Hadjiratou.
There is an extra meaning behind these words. Hadjiratou was widowed at the age of just 24 when her first husband, Djibril Diallo, died suddenly.
“He was everything to me and he was not sick so it was very unexpected,” says Hadjiratou. “He had a heart attack.”
The bereavement happened in her third year at university while raising a young son, and Hadjiratou also shouldered the added burden of financial responsibility that had previously been the domain of her husband.
“It was very difficult for me because I got married very young,” she says. “He was paying for my education. But God helped me. I tried hard and my family helped me too, so I could finish my degree. I was very good in school. I was always the best in my class. I pushed forward and took courage from the fact I knew I could do it. And from that, I got the courage to do more.”
Hadjiratou remarried in 2021 to Souleymane Bah who she met while working for GAC. He is a subcontractor with GAC and works as a drilling trainer. Her eldest son, Abdoulaye Djibril Diallo, is now aged 11. Her other son, Mohamed Lamine Bah, is one-and-a-half.
Hadjiratou is committed to advancing the life that her industrious efforts have provided for everyone. This is illustrated when she enrolled in lessons and subsequently secured her mining driving licence.
“In 2020, my manager facilitated my cross-functional training by appointing me as a Mining Supervisor for over a year,” says Hadjiratou. “This role provided me with comprehensive exposure to all mining operations, including stripping, drilling, blasting, excavation, transport, and crushing. GAC's approach ensured I have a holistic understanding of our operations, which further enhances my expertise in my specialised role of train loading.” “To earn the respect of the men, you need to have the same knowledge as them,” says Hadjiratou, whose career aim is to become a manager at GAC.
“My goal is to become a role model for young girls in my hometown, to show them that they can succeed in a man's world,” she adds. “I would like to encourage them to choose the jobs of their dreams, whatever they are. Not to believe in stereotypes that classify jobs according to gender. They also need to know that women often have to work harder than men to be at the same level; that some men will try to minimise them to discourage them; that some superiors will try to reduce them to their femininity – but none of this should discourage them. When a man realises that he is working with a woman as capable as him in our field, she will earn his respect.