THE vast African continent boasts resources of more than 60 metal and mineral products and about 30 per cent of the planet’s mineral reserves – including a wealth of gold, platinum group elements, diamond, uranium, manganese, chromium, nickel, bauxite
and cobalt deposits – and has become an increasingly popular target for exploration and development by Australian mining companies.
South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have typically dominated the industry, however Gabon, Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Sierra Leone have all entered the field, becoming increasingly reliant on mining as a major area of foreign currency income.
Mozambique, Nigeria and Madagascar have also shown great potential for base metal and industrial mineral deposits, with the number of operators in these countries expected to increase in the near future.
“In Western Australia many of us are engineers and have been involved in the mining industry for a long time,” Sundance Resources managing director and chief executive Gulio Casello said in Deloitte’s Opportunities abound: Australia’s footprint in Africa, released in February.
“We enjoy getting involved because we are interested in building things, getting things done and producing results – Africa offers that opportunity for us.
“It’s an area with an abundance of resources and people that want to do projects and are eager to work. However, it lacks basic infrastructure which presents us with a massive opportunity to leave our footprint in Africa…”
According to the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group (AAMIG), more than 220 ASX-listed mining related companies now operate more than 700 projects across Africa. The group found that following the resolution of many longstanding conflicts in the region, Australian miners and related service providers had gradually developed increased confidence in doing business in Africa.
AAMIG chief executive Trish O’Reilly said that political and economic reforms, in addition to improved governance, political systems and economic management, had set the stage for encouraging and often strong growth within Africa – placing it in the sights of Australian companies who had the skills and expertise to cover the full supply chain in the resources sector, from exploration and resource assessment through to building major infrastructure such as ports and railways.
Ms O’Reilly said that while Africa’s mineral wealth and emergence as a serious economic player presented numerous opportunities for Australian companies, the continent was still beset by a minefield of challenging political, legal, social and security risks. She said that it would only be the companies that could navigate these issues that would be able to convert Africa’s opportunities into business success.
Sundance’s Mbalam-Nabeba iron ore project, which straddles the border between Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, is an example of such an opportunity.
“Infrastructure is the most obvious challenge as there are no existing roads, railway lines and ports; these infrastructure channels require a project to kick start the development and large capital investment,” Mr Casello said.
“However, from experience the really big challenges are the softer sided ones, the people challenges. For example in Cameroon there has never been a mining industry, therefore the majority of your labour have a theoretical understanding of the mining process, but no practical experience.
“This can present to be a problem initially because when a person doesn’t understand something, it can lead to mistrust. It is therefore vital to build strong relationships, have good communication, promote education within the community, and most