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Guinea defends its riches, but will that scare investors?

The nation's mining reforms are poised to set a new precedent for working with foreign investors.

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Alpha Condé, the new president of Guinea, is looking to squeeze more concessions out of the mining companies that are exploiting his country's abundant natural resources – and he's asked none other than billionaire financier George Soros to help him do it.

Mr. Soros visited the small and impoverished West African nation earlier this year, and he's promised to support its mining reforms through his Open Society Initiative for West Africa. But Soros and the Guinean government must tread carefully. If they push too hard, they could scare away the foreign companies that have promised to invest $4 billion.

The reforms are still under discussion, but Mr. Condé has hinted that he wants to crack down on corruption, boost the benefits of mining for the Guinean people, and – critically – increase the government's ownership of mining projects. Condé said in January that he aims to up the government's stake in all mining ventures from 15 percent to 33 percent, although officials later cautioned that the figure has yet to be finalized.

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If Guinea succeeds in winning more concessions from its investors without scaring them away, it could set a strong example for other nations across the region. Just how much to coddle investors has long been a matter of debate in West Africa, where politicians are often as desperate to attract foreign investment as they are to pull their citizens out of poverty.

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