Africa’s economic trajectory is often compared to that of China. The Asian country’s ascent to 21st century economic superpower is rooted in its steel production and coal mining industry that began more than a thousand years ago.
As Cecil John Rhodes attempted to consolidate the South African mining industry in the late 19th century, the economic reverberations of the mineral discoveries cemented the importance the mining sector has and continues to play in the economic development of South Africa.
The production of the many commercially viable solid mineral deposits scattered across West Africa is key to the economic development of the region. A successful marriage of policy reform and privatization is fundamental in ensuring the full economic potential of the region is realized.
To date, interest in West Africa has been negligible. According to many of the governmental mining agencies across the region, a lack of geological information available to prospective investors incapacitates their ability to determine the intrinsic value of the deposits. Wildcat miners indulge in a practice known as concession flipping where discoveries are sold at a profit to larger companies who have the technical and financial capacity to develop the mines.
Globally, the mining sector is integral to the development, diversification and sustainment of many economies and is the rock on which a number of industries – from construction to petrochemicals – are built. Like a phoenix arising from the ashes, Liberia and Sierra Leone, both once ravaged by civil war, are keen to develop their mineral reserves. Along with Burkina Faso and Mali, they have been successful in attracting foreign investment for the funding of a number of mining properties.
Located in Guinea, the Simandou hills boast what is thought to be the world’s largest deposits of untapped iron ore. Economic growth in Guinea has been driven by its mining sector. Although the country has high grades of iron ore and low processing costs, infrastructural challenges remain the greatest hurdle to the production of the many reserves. Railways are often the preferred choice of transportation but provide many restrictions in moving for the mined material. In spite of these challenges, political unrest has abated and with mining titans Vale and Rio Tinto setting up in the region, a slipstream has been created for other mining companies to follow suit.
Ghana has managed to develop a stringent fiscal regime that encourages the production of its mineral wealth. Bauxite, limestone and manganese are mined in large quantities, in addition to gold. In the tragicomedy of Nigerian economics, if black gold is the protagonist, the yellow kind and its kin are the antagonists. Beneath Nigeria’s earth sleeps a giant of huge economic potential. Policymakers have thus far tiptoed around the issue of stimulating the sector. Coupled with a lack of geological data, it remains to be seen whether or not the solid mineral sector will have its rude awakening.
As the West averts its gaze towards Africa, proper resource governance will be essential to ensuring prospective investors operate within a legal and fiscal framework to sustain both economic and community development in the countries they operate.
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