On a rainy November evening in 1999 I received an unexpected call of a long missed friend from Guinea. He asked me if I would like to come back into gold business with him again, as we were more than a decade before. At that time he used to live in Liberia until we lost contact when the civil war started. He told me about occasional gold and diamond finds in the area around the village of his birth. His family still lives there in Upper-Guinea somewhere near the Malian border and he offered me to establish a mutual mine on his family land. Some artisanal miners had already begun with the work and he thought I would surely bring some ‘western technology’ into the game, which will bring us a horse neck in front of the others.
If I would like… What a question! Of course I’d love to! I was burning for this idea. It was as if I have been waiting my whole life for this and now it is going to happen. Eight weeks later I left the plane in Conakry and thought I was landed on the wrong planet. Africa began right at the bottom of the gangway where he waited together with a bloke from the foreign ministry in the dimensions of a solid minivan to welcome me. The minivan seized my passport and baggage ticket, guided us into the VIP area and left for the formalities. After that the tropical night had already begun and we drove through the nearly complete dark capital of this West African failed state because at that time there was merely no electricity at night in major parts of the city. You can bet, I was really scared and thought hopefully they wouldn’t kill me. At least not now.
The very next day our adventurous journey began in a tiny silver two doors Toyota Celica from the early eighties together with another two young lads. One of them as our mechanic (we needed him every single day) and as such he stayed with us for the next seven years and the other one later became my foreman. For the next two weeks we drove up and down, back an forth all over through Guinea while my friend tried to convince me about the unique opportunities his home country is offering right now for a clever man who isn’t afraid of hard and honest and sometimes also dirty work. Well, honestly after the first few miles there was no more need to convince me. It felt so natural as if I had forever belonged to this world.
Soon I realized what a giant task is laying ahead of us and that we were in need for money. Lots of money. More than I could afford on my own. So we sat down and made a plan. In short our plan was, we will start some trade businesses in order to make money for our mutual mine. Then we talked to the council of the eldest from the village to get their permission for our prospection and assured them our help in exchange, plus, of course, a fair share of the mine once the mining starts.
After a while it became clear that Africa is not Europe or America and things that we need in days or weeks will take here a month or even years. At first we made another arrangement with one of his cousins. He should become our gold collector and establish a troop of young fellows who would go to the diggers camps deep in the bush through all the country; buy gold directly from the mines and bring it to us so we can smuggle and sell it in Europe for a good profit. Yes, I said SMUGGLE (I am a son of a honourable gold smuggler and see no reasons why to break with good family traditions). I bought his cousin a couple of motorcycles for his troopers, fixed him with enough cash for the initial start-up and the rumble began. Meanwhile I had started the promised help for the village and began to support the school and the medical station, smuggled medicine to Africa, was nearly arrested for that back at the customs in Europe when they caught me for the very first and last time. Ok, never tell a smuggler you won’t get that through the customs. At 9/11, I will never forget that day (who does) I stood at the freight terminal of the Hamburg airport, shipping 100 kg of silver to Africa for sale to the Tuareg, who made pretty good jewellery out of it. And finally we started a diamond mine in Sierra Leone to speed up things in terms of the money issue for our gold mine.
The years passed and while the businesses were running I was continually prospecting the area around the village. I dug holes, washed pans, analysed samples, marked and cartographed the position and depth of every mine and probe we took and so, bit by bit like a jigsaw puzzle the whole picture began to become clear. At the end I was able to claim the prospecting, exploration and mining rights for an area of 80 square kilometres (31 square miles) and finally in 2006 we had made enough capital to begin with the mine. We started with a troop of 30 diggers and me, hardly speaking a word of Mandingo.
Unfortunately the time didn’t stand still for the rest of the country, which meanwhile was ready for a rebellion against the corrupt and incompetent political regime. It came, as it had to come. Our mining began on top of a powder keg…
Are you interested to read the full story? Please be patient. It will be soon released as book and eBook.