Are some Guinean government officials idiots, criminals or both?

This was an extraordinary windfall: B.S.G.R. had paid nothing up front, as is customary with exploration licenses, and at that point had invested only a hundred and sixty million dollars. In less than five years, B.S.G.R.’s investment in Simandou had become a five-billion-dollar asset. At that time, the annual budget of the government of Guinea amounted to just $1.2 billion. Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecom billionaire, captured the reaction of many observers when he asked, at a forum in Dakar, “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”

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Source: WSJ Online

That is Patrick Keefe in a long but fantastic piece in the New Yorker detailing the web of corruption that characterizes resource sector deals on the Continent. It is an account of mining executives so daring that they even sign contracts on kickback.

The villains the piece are not just the mining executives but also government officials who are too lazy to even do the required due diligence to ensure that, at the very minimum, they get a “fair value” in kickbacks from the companies to which they readily mortgage their countries.

The answer to Mo Ibrahim’s question above lies in the quote below:

During our meeting in the whitewashed building, I asked Touré how it made him feel to learn of such allegations about former colleagues. He paused. “The feeling of shame,” he said at last. “Because, finally, what they have got personally—let’s say ten million U.S. dollars, twelve million U.S. dollars—what does that amount to? Compared with the lives of the whole country?” The lights in the room suddenly shut off, and the air-conditioner powered down. He didn’t seem to notice. “I don’t think that it is tolerable or acceptable from the investors,” he continued. “But I’m more shocked by the attitude and the behavior of the national decision-makers” [Note: the new president of Guinea has been waging a war against shady deals from past administrations]

As I have complained before, something needs to be done about the way African states deal with multinationals in the resources sector (beginning with getting the skill set of government workers in the responsible ministries to match those of the oil company reps).

Also, every time I read such stories I can’t help but think, where are the African Beny Steinmetz’s? When will the African political class transition from being petty brokers to actual investors in their own resources?

Guinea’s Alpha Conde attacked

President Alpha Conde, Guinea’s first elected president since independence, appears to have survived a coup attempt in the early hours of Tuesday. Mr. Conde’s residence was hit by rocket fire in what appears to have been a coup attempt.

The latest turn of events makes one wonder if Paul Collier’s rather crazy unorthodox proposals might be worth a shot. [Collier, among other recommendations, proposes an international guarantee of sorts that democratically-elected governments that remain true to proper governance will be protected from the army and other armed thugs that might want to overthrow them.]

I believe that local horse-trading should always be given a chance before the internationals fly in to impose agreements on feuding factions. But when local factions have fought each other to a stalemate – as is the case in Chad, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia – it might be time for the international community to provide a helping hand. Millions of civilians should not be left to suffer simply because a few men cannot strike a stable deal. The interventions will be nuanced and complicated and messy – so I can’t spell out the terms here – but simply sitting back and watching is not an option.

Simply stated, the men with guns in Guinea are irresponsible.

Guinea is also a budding narco-state. I would not be surprised if the latest attack on the president is linked to the emerging drug problem in west Africa. It is common knowledge that the son of the immediate former president of Guinea, Ousmane Conte, has/had ties with the drug trade. President Joao Vieira of Guinea-Bissau and the country’s top military officer were killed in 2009 in what was rumored to be a drug-related feud.

Mr. Conde was elected in a run off with 52% of the vote. Two years earlier in 2008 the army carried out a coup following the death of the country’s second president, the late Lansana Conte. Mr. Conte himself came to power in a coup following the death of Guinea’s firebrand founding president Sekou Toure. Many hailed the generals’ decision to return to the barracks in 2010 as a new turn in Guinean politics. They were wrong.

The BBC reports that a former army chief, Nouhou Thiam, has been arrested in relation to the Tuesday morning attack.

alpha conde confirmed winner of Guinea’s presidential poll

Update:

The Daily Nation reports:

Guinea’s losing presidential poll candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo (left) on Friday accepted results of the election, saying he had no choice but to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

The BBC reports that Alpha Conde has been confirmed the winner of Guinea’s (Conakry) presidential election. Mr. Conde got 52% of the vote. His opponent Mr. Cellou Diallo had gone to court challenging the results.

President-elect Alpha Conde

Mr. Conde won a mere 18% in the first round against Diallo’s 44% thus forcing the runoff. The standoff following the runoff threatened to plunge the country into chaos. If confirmed into office Mr. Conde will be Guinea’s first elected president since independence.

Guinea has been under an interim government led by Gen Sekouba Konate since the 2008 coup. The coup came after the death of Lansana Conte, dictator for 24 years. Mr. Conte himself rose to power in a coup following the death of Guinea’s founding president Sekou Toure.

crucial elections in west africa

The Ivorians have a runoff election tomorrow while the Guineans (Guinea-Conakry) get to find out who will be their president on December 2nd.

The Ivory Coast is still trying to recover from the disastrous turmoil and civil war that visited her following the death of founding president Houphouet Boigny. The civil war split the country in two, with the southerners (actually just nationalist Abidjanites) accusing most northern politicians of being foreigners. Among the said “foreigners” is the challenger in tomorrow’s election, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Ouattara hopes to unseat Mr. Laurent Gbagbo who has been in power since 2000.

In Guinea the loser in the runoff went to the supreme court to challenge the results. The country is one of the more unstable places on the continent with a military that is lacking in discipline professionalism.

Out of the many trouble spots in West Africa at the turn of the century, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Niger are the main laggards slowing down the region’s match towards political stability, irrespective of regime type.