update on General Nice and Burkina Faso

The transitional government of Burkina Faso has authorised Frank Timiș’ Pan African Burkina to resume manganese exports from their Tambao mine. Their export license had been suspended in March over the company’s alleged failure to invest in road and railway infrastructure (Jeune Afrique).

The reason this appears in an ostensibly Northern-looking blog is that the Tambao mine used to belong to a subsidiary of General Nice Group (俊安集团), the current owner of the (dormant) Isua iron mine in Greenland. General Nice conducted exploration activities at Tambao through 2012, and, at least according to their interpretation of the license agreement, had exclusive rights to take the mine to the production stage. The government of Blaise Campaoré (who had been president since 1987) begged to differ, and instead resold the mine to Timiș, a Romanian-Australian miner.

It probably speaks in General Nice’s favour that Campaoré had done more or less the same thing before: rights to explore the mine had first been sold to UAE-based Wadi Al Rawda before the Campaoré administration decided to sell them again to General Nice. The Emiratis sued at an arbitration tribunal, a dispute settled in 2013. General Nice also sued when they were in turn deprived of their permit. Quite unusually in the context of Chinese companies in Africa, a rather strong-worded campaign was launched on Facebook and local media defending General Nice’s position and accusing Campaoré and his entourage of corruption, as described in my background article on General Nice.

Compaoré was ousted in 2014 and fled to Côte d’Ivoire. The transitional government announced it would revise mining contracts signed by the previous administration, such as the award of the Tambao permit to Timiș’ company. With their nemesis Compaoré in exile (and just issued an arrest warrant) and Timiș prevented from exporting, things were starting to look better for General Nice. Talks to reach a settlement (GN are claiming $50m in compensation) started again, and as of last July the country’s Council of Ministers was voicing its will to “continue negotiations” with GN “in order to reach a definitive settlement of the dispute”.

A new president, Roch Marc Chistian Kaboré, has just been elected and will be sworn in next week.

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