Amadou Barry, lawyer at the firm says, “The award is the fruit of a process that started a long time ago – the $15 billion Simandou iron ore project. Although several international law firms were involved in the project, as the local law firm whose client, China-based BaoSteel who financed the project, Thiam & Associés played a major role”. This transaction will involve infrastructure that is going to enrich ordinary people’s lives as it includes 600 kilometres of railway that will reach remote villages in the country and a port to allow the shipping of iron ore. “This project is very rewarding for Thiam & Associés as a law firm and for Guinea Conakry as a country,” he says.
This transaction represents the largest mining development project on the continent. A project of this magnitude requires strong and reliable players, and BaoSteel is the largest customer of Rio Tinto in the world. “We had to negotiate on the construction and capacity of the railway, and the use of the capacity of the port, and there were long negotiations on local content and ensuring local businesses get involved in the supply chain and the construction, the repatriation of dividends, and insurance issues” says Barry.
Thiam & Associés was involved on all aspects of the transaction. “We played a critical role in negotiating the different agreements, which all happened in Guinea Conakry, because the government was highly involved in this project.” Thiam & Associés was advising, and continues to advise, the BaoSteel Group, the world’s largest steel manufacturer, which will take over the control of Winning Consortium Simandou, that holds blocks 1 & 2 of the project. Blocks 3 & 4 will be held by Rio Tinto.
“As our client, BaoSteel was providing a large part of the funding, the Guinean government required that it was part of the whole negotiation, even though it is not the holder of the mining title” says Barry. Funding issues had been holding the project back for decades prior to BaoSteel committing to providing the finance and allowing the project to move forward. “Without BaoSteel’s financial capacity I doubt that the project would have reached this point,” says Barry, “attempts had been made to move forward with the Simandou project since independence in 1968.”
Barry says it is ironic that the project should have reached the stage it is at currently at a time when the military authorities are running the country, as no civilian regime has been able to achieve this in the past. “It is also a sign that the market is able to adapt and to do business even in the current political situation where the authorities are not very respectful of the law”, says Barry.
“The President and the military who are running the country were efficient in implementing a special committee that was dedicated to the Simandou project and which included the president’s chief of staff. So, you could say the military was smart enough to put together a civilian committee to oversee the project. And the main negotiator on behalf of the government did a fantastic job. So all these things were very clever from the government regime’s perspective,” says Barry.
He says the business environment in Guinea Conakry is currently very stable. “To be honest, I don’t think the political situation has had any negative major effect on the business environment, which has proved to be very resilient. We have seen huge deals being closed, despite the coup and the military regime being in power. And we believe more will come as we move towards a civilian constitutional regime, which we are expecting soon. According to the agreement with the current authorities, we are expecting to get back to civilian rule at the end of December 2024. Nobody can predict what is going to happen in the future, but everyone is building on that agenda,” says Barry.
LEX Africa is an Alliance of independent law firms formed in 1993 with over 700 lawyers in 30 countries in Africa. The Alliance allows only one leading law firm as a member in each country. Thiam & Associés is LEX Africa’s member for Guinea Conakry. On why he thinks LEX Africa won the 2023 award for the best African Network/Alliance of the Year, Barry said “to be honest, I am not at all surprised. The way LEX Africa works and connects its members and allows them to navigate and grow is priceless. It allows independent law firms to do their own business and at the same time share their skills and their abilities and connect with other law firms across Africa. And the long-term vision of LEX Africa to keep growing and hosting new members has for me been critical. The Alliance has existed for over 30 years and has carried on growing year after year and this is characteristic of LEX Africa.”