Interview: Christophe Akagha-Mba
What are the prospects for mining in Gabon?
CHRISTOPHE AKAGHA-MBA: The contribution of the mining sector to GDP is going to rise by two percentage points in 2015, from 4.5% to 6.5%. This growth will be driven by the substantial increase in manganese production, up from 3.6m tonnes to 4.2m tonnes thanks to the development of Compagnie des Mines de l’Ogooué (COMILOG), which was made possible via the upgrade of railway transportation. The founding of the ferro-manganese and silicone-manganese plant in Moanda and the start of manganese production in Franceville by Nouvelle Gabon Mining are also positive developments.
Mining production capacity in Gabon comprises four mines: three manganese mines operated by COMILOG in Moanda, Nouvelle Gabon Mining in Franceville and the Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale des Mines de Huazhou in Ndjole; and a gold mine operated by Resource Golden Gram, a local subsidiary of the Moroccan mining group, Managem, in Bakoudou. Total production of manganese in 2014 amounted to 3.94m tonnes and should rise in 2015 with the start of Franceville’s mine. Gold production in 2014 amounted to 1084 tonnes and prospects for 2015 are good.
The current mining situation, given the drop in mineral prices, will result in consolidation on the international scale, the closure of some mines and the delay of other projects. In Gabon, this is noticeable in exploration efforts. Several prospecting projects for iron or gold have experienced a slowdown. However, despite this, we remain optimistic in the long term, as demand for minerals will rebound, given the trend of urbanisation in emerging countries. Most analysts estimate that prices should pick up in late 2015.
Overall, this means a new era of opportunity is beginning in Africa. However, the only countries that will take advantage of investments and the development of their mining sector are those that have minerals and attractive legislative. Gabon has taken the lead with th new Mining Law 2015.
How does Mining Law 2015 encourage the integration of local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and skills transfers?
AKAGHA-MBA: The new mining code comprises several innovations and reflects the best practices in the international mining industry. First, the law enhances the principle of national preference, which means exclusivity for mining activities will be given to firms majority-owned by Gabonese people, typically SMEs. Sub-contracting activity will also be reserved for local SMEs, except for complex operations involving sensitive materials like uranium. Mine owners, typically subsidiaries of multinational firms, will be obliged to outsource to local SMEs thanks to the new mining law.
What can be done to overcome bottlenecks limiting the sustainable transport of minerals?
AKAGHA-MBA: The development of the sector is seen as one of the main channels for economic diversification, with the goal for the mining sector to contribute 34.5% of GDP by 2025. Two main corridors of mining developments have been defined in line with three railway routes: Bélinga-Boué/ Alembé Ports of Libreville and Port-Gentil to the Atlantic Ocean; Franceville-Boué-Libreville; and Boué-Mayumba to the Atlantic Ocean. These corridors will serve the country’s major mining projects, like the Bélinga iron extraction project and the iron mining project in Milingui.
Meanwhile, various rivers will be utilised to transport minerals from sites like the poly-metallic deposit in Maboumine, close to Lambaréné. The Ogooué River is navigable all year long between Lambaréné and the Atlantic Ocean in Port-Gentil.
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