May 2011

Towards a common goal

Resource development critical to a new era in West Africa

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

Basic skills training program at Freeport-McMoRan’s Tenke Fungurume operation | Courtesy of Freeport-McMoRan

Africa is quickly becoming a hot spot for mining exploration and investment, and Canadian firms are at the forefront. In 2010, West Africa was a leading destination, with 107 TSX and TSX Venture Exchange mining companies operating in the region, as compared to 49 in Southern Africa and 39 in Central Africa, says Avril Cole, a lawyer in the private capital and mining groups of Macleod Dixon LLP’s Toronto office. The number of Canadian companies operating in West Africa is growing by the day.

And it is no wonder. Sub-Saharan Africa is rich with untapped mineral resources, the development of which has been thwarted by the continent’s troubled history of colonialism, civil war, poverty, corruption and despotism. In the past, many Western companies looked at the strife and challenges and turned away. But over the last decade, step by step, an overall wave of reforms, stability and hope has been advancing across Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a long way to go, but increasingly, the opportunities are outweighing the challenges for many mining companies.

A fresh perspective on investment

“Africa, in terms of mining, is the last virgin territory,” says Michel Miron, senior policy advisor, Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada. “It’s where most of the discoveries will be made in the world in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Bruce Shapiro, president of MineAfrica, a business development and marketing company focused on mining investment in Africa, contends there is tremendous potential for Canadian mining companies and investors. “The opportunities in West Africa are dramatic. They have very good geology, a lot of governments are very friendly towards investors, and they have structured their environment to attract investors,” he says.

The reality is, Canadian mining companies have been active for some time throughout Africa, with most focused on gold and a few on uranium in Niger, Namibia and South Africa, base metals in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Mauritania and Madagascar, as well as diamonds in Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Angola, says Miron.

In 2002, the federal government changed its methodology for evaluating foreign investment by publicly held Canadian companies to more accurately reflect where the assets were located. As a result, the extent of Canadian mining companies’ stake in Africa became much clearer, revealing $23 billion in investments. That number, says Miron, was far greater than had been estimated in the past and has implications for foreign policy decisions.

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