Interview: Fabrice Nze-Bekale
In your opinion, what steps can be taken to increase processing capacity for manganese?
FABRICE NZE-BEKALE: Manganese processing has already begun. France’s COMILOG is building a processing plant for ferro-manganese at the Moanda Metallurgical Complex, where second-stage manganese processing will be carried out. This will be COMILOG’s second factory, and follows the Moanda Industrial Complex, which it built several years ago. Additionally, India’s Abhijeet is planning to build a ferro-manganese processing plant in the Nkok Special Economic Zone, and investors show an increasing interest in manganese and steel processing. Clearly, they get the message that investors who want to process locally in line with Gabon Industriel’s vision will be our preferred partners.
What, in your view, can be done to attract more investment in the mining sector?
NZE-BEKALE: If you compare the mining atlas with other African countries, Gabon’s terrain is under-explored. The country’s exploration efforts have not yet matched those carried out elsewhere over the past 10 years. We therefore have a lot of catching up to do. The government must step up exploration, which can be carried out by both private operators and the public sector. This will result in new discoveries, allowing for more focus on extraction projects that will benefit Gabon over the long run in terms of bolstering industrial development.
What are the aims of the Mining Code changes?
NZE-BEKALE: The changes are aimed at reinforcing industrial expansion, sustainable development and encouraging the government to be an active partner by acquiring stakes in strategic projects. These stakes will be between 10% and 30%, including a free carry component and a second component the government can acquire at market price. It is paramount we participate in projects, but do not scare off investors. They understand very well that we want to be an active partner who can help them create shareholders’ value.
How can local skilled labour resources be improved?
NZE-BEKALE: The government is developing a mining school in the Haut-Ogoué. Gabonese universities, such as Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku, already educate engineers and technicians, whose training in geology is usable in the mining sector, but many of these graduates have gone on to work in other sectors. As demand for skills in mining increases, more graduates will head in this direction. We want to ensure the maximum number of Gabonese are employed and learning. Our objective is for Gabon to become a centre of excellence for many mining-related services.
What is the potential for developing iron deposits?
NZE-BEKALE: This is very significant in Gabon, since we have Belinga, a landmark deposit with huge potential. The challenge is to develop it intelligently to ensure a win-win outcome for both the government and the mining operator. There are other mining deposits of average size at Kango, Mont Bilan and Milingui that are very interesting, especially since they are closer to the coast, making it easier for extraction and removal.
What are the main infrastructural challenges?
NZE-BEKALE: One reason the sector has remained underdeveloped is a lack of infrastructure. The Transgabonais railway was built to allow for manganese ore and uranium to be transported from the Haut-Ogoué without passing through the Congo, which enabled COMILOG to increase manganese production. There are significant challenges, as over 80% of Gabon is covered with forest. The Belinga deposit has not been developed over the past 50 years, which has also constrained the development of deposits in the south and south-west. However, the government is fully aware of that. There is a national plan for infrastructure with a significant share geared towards enabling the development of the mining sector as well as increased local transformation. This includes upgrading the existing railway and building a new one, along with a mineral port.
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