ON THE flanks of the Simandou mountains in south-eastern Guinea live remote colonies of West African chimpanzees. They alone should be grinning over the fate of those who have sought to turn their tropical habitat into Africa’s biggest iron-ore mine. No one else is laughing. Rarely has such a group of billionaires, hedge-fund barons, mining firms, government officials and go-betweens been snagged in such a woeful saga.
In theory, the prospect of digging up 2bn tonnes of ore from a country that is among the poorest on Earth should be encouraging, if corruption is kept in check. The government of Alpha Condé promised to do so upon taking office in 2010. But in reality the line between paying go-betweens to help win concessions and lining officials’ pockets is so blurry that it can cause mining firms endless trouble.
In recent months the plotline has shifted. During the past half-decade the businessman painted as the saga’s pantomime villain has been Beny Steinmetz, a globe-trotting Israeli diamond merchant, worth billions, whose lurid battles over Simandou with Rio Tinto, one of the…Continue reading