May 2010

Africa opening up to resource development

Investment-friendly policies growing say speakers at MineAfrica event

By M. Schwartz

Rwanda’s geology and mines authority director Michael Biryabarema (right) seen here working the floor at the PDAC Convention, was among the presenters at the Mine Africa breakfast.

Recent reserve discoveries and improved mining application processes will bring a huge boost to resource development in Africa. That was the message from resource and policy developers at the Canada-South Africa Chamber of Business’ 11th Annual Mining Breakfast and MineAfrica’s 8th Annual Investing in African Mining Seminar held in March in Toronto.

In his keynote address, Simon Village, Banro Corporation chairman and ex-MD, World Gold Council focused on two regions of Africa already helping to meet global gold demand: West Africa, including Ghana, Africa’s second largest producer; and East Africa’s Lake Victoria region. Add South Africa’s yield, and the continent is producing 21 per cent of the world’s gold.

Overall, West African gold production has grown massively in the last ten years, noted Paul Burton, managing director of the mining equities research firm GFMS World Gold. Côte d’Ivoire’s output has increased about 200 per cent and Burkina Faso’s 400 per cent. Both countries have mines scheduled to start producing this year. Mali, Guinea and Mauritania have also boosted production. In the next three years, more mines are expected to open in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali.

To the east, lands around Lake Victoria in Tanzania and Rwanda are also emerging as important producers. The Democratic Republic of Congo boasts four new gold developments, one of which will have a capacity of 22 million ounces and another of five million ounces, which would have that country unseat Tanzania as Africa’s third largest producer.

Risk is a hurdle for all investors. Village is confident that more African jurisdictions are clearing this obstacle. He singled out high-transparency dealings, low-corruption regimes and speed in processing planning applications as essential elements in the evolving African mining climate.

Cameroon is one of those jurisdictions. Its mines and industry secretary of state, Calistus Gentry Fuh, was among the handful of government representatives who spoke at the seminar. Cameroon is Africa’s second largest hydro-electric power producer after the Democratic Republic of Congo. New railways and ports will facilitate the transport and shipping of minerals, he said. To encourage a speedier application process, if Cameroon has not made a decision in 45 days, Fuh explained, you get your licence. In the recent past, the country has granted 87 permits.

Rwanda is also clearing the way for more development. A new mining policy and mineral certification process this year followed an update of its legal code, explained the country’s geology and mines authority director  Michael Biryabarema. With regards to the legal issues associated with mining in Africa, Peter Leon, a lawyer with Webber Wentzel, identified Botswana, Ghana and Namibia as the continent’s top three mining regulatory regimes. A report from the Fraser Institute places Botswana 36th out of 180 in terms transparency (Africa’s highest) and 18th of 71 in terms of favourable mineral jurisdictions around the world. Ghana is only 35th in jurisdiction but has reformed its mining code since the survey was published in February last year. Namibia, ranked 34th, does have a minerals act but it has not been changed since 1992.

Africa has been concentrating heavily on best practice, said Leon. Webber Wentzel, which has consulted over 100 existing mining agreements, is currently creating a model mining agreement for developing countries. It will be ready by the end of this year.

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