Burkina Faso, as the third biggest gold producer in West Africa, behind Ghana and Mali, does not get the recognition it deserves. In addition to gold, the nation is blessed with manganese and other rare earth metals, making it a premier destination for mining. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the government is in talks with mining companies to develop a world-class manganese mine.
Gold is Burkina Faso’s most valuable export, accounting for almost 80% of its income. But, the reliance on gold is waning, with focus turning to the exploration of other mineral deposits. A diverse base of minerals, especially with the discovery of manganese, will help ensure that Burkina Faso develops multiple revenue streams.
Considering that there was no industrial mining in Burkina Faso up to 2007, the sector’s rise shows what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time with government support and relative political stability. Companies that have an interest in setting up operations in the country include Canada’s Endeavour Mining and UK-listed mining company, Toro Gold, both of which are active players in the West African mining space. Another Canadian miner, Roxgold, is in the process of completing an IPO to develop a 95,000oz concession. Key to Burkina Faso’s success is the high grade of its gold.
Despite a rosy outlook, there are challenges. Power shortage is hampering the progress of projects and the Burkinabe government has started to construct a 33MW solar power plant to combat the problem. This approach will hopefully encourage investors.
In addition to Burkina Faso, Mali has historically had a vibrant mining sector with the country hosting many productive mines. Gold mined in the West African country last year produced 50 tons of gold, with production expected to surpass 60 tons by the end of next year. With both Burkina Faso and Mali having a degree of political stability, coupled with low taxes and other incentives, the region will no doubt attract investors who might have been sceptical about the region just a year ago.
As Nigeria aims to kick-start its mining sector, there have been significant developments. Canadian company, Thor Explorations, has taken steps to develop a 535,000oz resource and could become a leading player in Nigerian mining. As exploration and new discoveries in the region ramp up, unlocking the potential of the projects will depend on the ability to raise finance, but it has to be the right type of finance. Traditional financing often ostracizes smaller players and curtails smaller projects. Crowdfunding is a method that is gaining traction, especially in advanced mining countries such as Canada. Whether this method can be replicated in Africa remains to be seen but innovation – be it technological or financial – will be advantageous for local and international companies.
In the last couple of years, mining has started to attract the attention of boutique private equity firms. In some cases, financing for mining projects can be misplaced. Private equity traditionally takes a long-term view, with the objective of matching long-term capital with long-term projects. This year has seen an increase in global private equity mining deals, with many mining companies considering these deals as the best way to advance their projects and also provide strategic and managerial expertise.
The cyclical nature of mining means timing is crucial for investors. The price of gold has improved significantly but, with other base metals still performing at low levels, appetite is tempered. Due diligence on any project will determine the way forward but despite advancements in legislation, the perceived lack of transparency and bureaucracy associated with license acquisition deters investor confidence.