FROM time to time over the last few months I’ve had cause to write about the goings-on in Guinea, an unhappy country sandwiched between other West African states, all of which have doubtful track records.
The big difference is that Guinea is hugely mineral wealthy.
That wealth is the only possible reason for South Africa’s keen interest in it. As set out previously in this column, there is a
broad allegation that somehow a South African organisation called Waymark Infotech played a major role in the "theft" of the presidential election held in 2010.
The first round was convincingly won by Dalein Diallo, who collected 43.7% of the vote. His principal opponent, Alpha Condé, won 18.3%. The elections were being managed by a French company, Sagem, funded by the European Union, but in May 2010 the Guinean Central Election Committee appointed Waymark as the technical provider of the electoral registry.
Out went Sagem, and that meant a four-month delay between the first and second round. Condé won the latter with an astonishing 52.5% of the vote. Dalein Diallo won 47.5%. Condé was sworn in as president on December 21 2010.
A wandering albatross has now deposited a monster report on my balcony, 86 pages of what it calls sensitive commercial information. South Africa and South Africans litter the pages: Tokyo Sexwale, Walter Hennig, Mark Willcox, two meetings in South Africa, one with President Jacob Zuma in April 2010, a Hein van Niekerk, said to be an intelligence officer, even old Pik Botha, and a plan to "pay back his (Condé’s) South African benefactors". That’s when the Florus Bell/Palladino saga first hit the world headlines, a deal that needed to be hastily unscrambled when the details were unveiled.
The essence of the report is that the mining companies involved in Guinea are either going to be squeezed mercilessly or processes will be embarked upon which will see the ownership of mineral rights changing hands. It is certainly the case — so far, at least — that Rio Tinto was obliged to pay $700m to the Guinean government to ensure that its mineral rights would be left unchallenged.
Coincidentally, that $700m was about half the sum the Aluminium Corporation of China (Chinalco) paid to Rio for a stake in a portion of the fabulous Simandou high-grade iron-ore deposit.
I understand that the giant Russian aluminium producer Rusal, which operates the huge Dian Dian bauxite and alumina project, is under pressure to pay the Guinean government about $1bn, a sum calculated by Alex Stewart International as compensation for loss of earnings linked to the privatisation of the Friguia bauxite and alumina complex in 2006. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Guinea last month to resolve the impasse but came away, I am told, empty-handed.
Somewhere in the mix is Roger Agnelli, Brazilian mining house Vale’s former CEO. I gather he’s trying to winkle access to the remaining mineral rights over the Simandou deposit, although he has his former firm to contend with first — it holds a 60% interest.
Never far from any of this is Guinea’s neighbour, Mali. It is in the throes of putting down a revolt with strong religious ties and connections with some off-shoots of the al-Qaeda organisation. Guinea itself is reckoned to be 85% Muslim, so it must be assumed it will harbour some sympathy for Mali’s rebels.
It is a heady brew, destined for a showdown because a Guinean court has summoned opposition leaders to appear at a hearing today after nearly two weeks of protests in which eight people have died.
This comes just ahead of long-delayed elections for Guinea’s national assembly. The opposition has demanded that Waymark be replaced because some voter lists favour regions that support President Condé. Opposition leaders say they will be at court "accompanied by all our supporters".