Lack of unity still stunting growth of African mining sector

BY: daily graphic
The mineral industry of Africa is the largest mineral industries in the world.
The mineral industry of Africa is the largest mineral industries in the world.

Mining has a considerable positive economic impact on most African countries, but with the right kind of support from government, industry, individual stakeholders and the general population, it can be even greater, the African Mining Network chairperson, Ms Yolanda Torrisi has said.

She suggests that a more positive attitude to mining and greater cooperation by all stakeholders would help present a united industry.

“There are opportunities, but all must work together to realise the benefits.”

In realising these benefits, some regions and countries are doing better than others, with Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana making progress to the advantage of their entire populations.

Surprisingly, Torrisi says, West Africa is also generally moving along the right path.

Other countries that have recognised the paybacks presented by the mining sector and are actively trying to improve their status as preferred mining destinations include Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and Burkina Faso.

Torrisi is encouraged by what Morocco is doing for its phosphate industry and intends to do for other mineral resources.

However, she says the lack of unity on the continent continues to impede the realisation of the African Mining Vision (AMV), adopted by heads of State at the February 2009 African Union summit.

Although generally on track to achieving its goal of ensuring transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio- economic development, Torrisi highlights that these intentions are not always matched by policies.

In Southern Africa, the traditional continental powerhouse of South Africa is wallowing owing to its policy decisions, while Zambia and Angola could do with some positive direction from government.

In East Africa, some countries have been treading water for some time, with countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania having gone backward owing to government intervention excluding industry involvement.

In Central Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the climate is generally riskier although South Sudan is determined to develop more mining friendly policies.

Consequently, although most African countries are well-endowed with mineral resources, they realise that they need the mining industry to grow their economic base and increase employment opportunities for locals, the overall intention of the AMV is hindered by the absence of the necessary policy structure needed to see these resources exploited in a sustainable manner to the benefit of everyone.

Challenges Influencing Investment

There is currently cautious optimism surrounding the African mining sector as with the rest of the world, but sentiment is better than that during the 2008/09 global financial crisis, says Torrisi.

“Although resources prices have mostly improved and demand is strong, there is plenty of volatility exacerbated by mixed economic measures from the US. This is giving rise to a cautious outlook for the future,” she tells Mining Weekly.

A lack of transparency and poor infrastructure, as well as resource nationalism continue to dampen investor confidence and stall mining development in Africa.

These consequences are not favourable when tackling Africa’s infrastructure needs.

Torrisi says despite an abundance of mineral resources, there is a distinct lack of infrastructure in Africa that increases the difficultly and cost of developing mines, let alone the transportation of bulk commodities to ports for export.

Mining trends

The demand for battery minerals, including lithium, cobalt, vanadium, titanium and rare earths is proving a drawcard throughout Africa, with mining companies from Australia, Canada, the US and the UK all staking claims.

This trend also encompasses brownfield copper and nickel deposits, which traditionally contain cobalt but which has never been actively sought, notes Torrisi.

European, US and Asian manufacturers of electric vehicles and other technology such as smartphones and energy-storage batteries are seeking to safeguard their supply needs as demand increases and is driven higher in coming years.

As such, numerous manufacturers, including Tesla, BMW and LG, are opting to forge deals with mining companies for the direct supply of sought-after battery metals rather than go through a middle party.

This trend, Torrisi says is being seen in the DRC and Zambia which are traditional copper providers, as well as in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania among other countries.

With global economic conditions proving more volatile at present, gold is again looking like a strong hedge with the West African nations of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso leading the way.

Where South Africa stands

While statistics point to South Africa still being the leading mining nation in Africa, inroads are being made by other countries, with The Mining Journal World Risk Report indicating that the continent’s best improvers as far as risk is concerned are Burkina Faso (up 14 per cent), Guinea (up 11 per cent), Mali (up 10 per cent) and Mozambique (up 10per cent).

Combined with the great uncertainty being created by the drawn-out Mining Charter saga, Torrisi says the South African mining industry is faced with rising costs, labour unrest and deposits that are increasingly difficult to mine efficiently and effectively.

Mining Weekly/GB