August 2010

Ivory Coast re-opens for business

Big hopes lie in its mining sector

By P. Diekmeyer


 Investors gathered in Montreal to learn more of the "enormous mining potential" in Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast rarely appears on the A-list of mining opportunities. In the Western African nation, potential initiatives have long been held back by poor infrastructure and political turmoil, which have raged for much of the past decade. However, according to  Louis Bony, Ivory Coast’s ambassador to Canada, the country, which its officials say has “enormous mining potential,” is worth a look.

“After hard times, our national reconciliation process is complete,” said Bony, at a recent event in Montreal organized by the Canadian Council on Africa to help build business and economic ties between Canada and Ivory Coast. “People are always asking us when we will hold elections. It is true that elections are important and we are moving towards them this year.”

While almost all nations claim to be open to investment all the time, the fact that Ivory Coast is actively courting investors shows, at least, that it is putting its money where its mouth is. Like many countries, Ivory Coast has a keen interest in partnering with the mining sector companies that want to develop its substantial mineral deposits. These range from gold and iron to nickel and manganese, to name a few. The state-owned resource development corporation SODEMI, has emerged as the country’s key tool for helping the Ivory Coast government accomplish this, through the partial stakes it takes in some — though not all — key mining sector developments there.

According to Raoul Kouame, SODEMI’s director of operations, the firm has conducted a vast exploration program on the Ivory Coast’s territory, and built up a database of potential development opportunities. Among the major international players now partnering with SODEMI are the French firm COMINOR, in an open pit gold mine in the Zouen-Hounien region; FORACO, another French firm that is conducting exploration activities; and India-based Tata Steel, which is moving to mine iron in the Mont Nimba region.

According to a report prepared by Tricia Wilhelm of Export Development Canada, Ivory Coast has the strongest economy in West Africa and “its government has historically been quite open to foreign investment and has actively encouraged greater foreign participation in the local economy.” Yet, while turmoil in Ivory Coast over the past few years and its president Laurent Gbagbo’s repeated postponement of elections may have scared off some investors, Marc-Antoine Audet, CEO of Landen Capital is not one of them.

Through its subsidiary SAMA Nickel Corporation, Landen Capital is conducting an extensive drilling exploration campaign 600 kilometres northwest of Abidjan, the country’s economic capital, which according to company officials, has excellent infrastructure facilities. That is in strong contrast with much of the rest of the country, where roads, rail, power and water facilities are often lacking. Audet characterizes the results of SAMA’s recent diamond drill program as “excellent,” and has said that SODEMI, which owns a 33.3 per cent stake in the operation, has been “particularly helpful.”

If so, that would be good news for Ivory Coast, which has committed to increasing mining sector research, ramping up exploration and operations work, and completing major mining-related industrial projects. The overall goal is to grow its mining sector to 10 per cent of GDP by 2015.

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