Admired by some and hated by others, the 54-year-old director of Guinea's state mining fund SOGUIPAMI is pressing on with the mining reforms that he started under a previous government in 2007.
Before President Alpha Condé appointed Ahmed Kanté as the director of the Société Guinéenne du Patrimoine Minier (SOGUIPAMI) in August 2011, the former central bank cadre was made special adviser on the mining sector, a rank equal to minister.
In this role, Kanté was at the heart of the government's September 2011 reform of the mining code that calls for more transparency and a larger role for the state.
Kanté refuses to take the glory for the reforms: "The head of state [...] deserves the credit for having completed a process that was started in 2007," he told The Africa Report.
Kanté had begun the process as mines minister under the presidency of Lansana Conté, but was stripped of his position and imprisoned on false charges during the rule of Moussa Camara's military junta.
When Alpha Condé was elected president in November 2010, mining contract review was one of his top priorities.
Kanté explains that SOGUIPAMI is funded 100% by public equity.
"It manages all of the shares held directly or indirectly by the state in mining companies, and industrial and service companies active in [related] sectors," he says.
These include mining infrastructure, transportation, commercialisation and marketing of minerals and by-products, and loans and investments.
Kanté preferred not to comment on the constitution of SOGUIPAMI's share capital (officially 5bn Guinean francs or about $715,000), nor on the Palladino scandal – which involved a controversial $25m loan to the Guinean government to set up SOGUIPAMI from Walter Hennig's Palladino Capital 2 company, registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Agreed in April 2010, the terms of the loan were unfavourable to Guinea, and allegations followed that the money was not being used for its stated purpose.
The affair is a sensitive one because it involves pillars of the Condé regime like finance minister Kerfalla Yansané and mines minister Mohamed Lamine Fofana.
South African minister Tokyo Sexwale is also implicated through his close business ties with Hennig.
In July 2012, the president's office announced that SOGUIPAMI had paid back the loan in full to Palladino, along with $925,000 of interest.
Speculation has been rife about whether it was Rio Tinto's $700m "fine" for delays on the Simandou project, or the $72m down payment on a $150m loan from Angola received in February that funded the repayment.
Kanté's arrival on the public scene dates back to 2007: general strikes paralysed the country for two months and he took control of the mines ministry.
He was also in charge of an inter-ministerial committee that held a long series of negotiations with Rusal, the Russian aluminium company, and US-based petroleum firm SCS Corporation, formerly Hyperdynamics.
... and caring
Kanté has not given up his fight to improve the impact of mining operations on local communities.
"Mining multinationals base their communications policies on promises to build projects that will have a direct impact on the daily lives of citizens.
"All of that translates into strong pressure on the government [when those projects are not carried out]."
Not everyone is pleased about the new mining code.
"Today, not only have companies frozen, delayed or abandoned their projects here, but countries that are theoretically less attractive than Guinea have succeeded in making themselves more appealing, so companies are going there.
"Looking at the market situation, certain ones will never come back," complains Mahmoud Thiam, who was mines minister under the military junta from 2009 to 2010.
Kanté counters: "The serious actors are in agreement and say that the code is universally good because of the accepted compromises between the state, companies and communities.
You have to make a distinction between the withdrawals tied to particularly difficult circumstances that the iron and bauxite sectors are facing, and those that are due to regulations of the sector in Guinea"●