I have spent the last month getting to grips with what it takes to develop and/or run a successful mining operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In short, the country offers some of the finest and wealthiest ore bodies (copper and gold in particular) in the world but in return for the riches it delivers demands absolute unwavering commitment to overcome ‘un-ignorable’ challenges that stand between you and your mine.
A mining colleague and friend recently told me that he is confident that the African continent will be a very different place in the next 10 or 20 years. And should this be the case (which I’m sure it will), it will largely be thanks to the committed mining companies who are developing their projects in Africa today. The long-term, downstream effects on countries as a whole will grow steadily as a result of the industry’s actions and help redefine their economic position – and the DRC is a perfect example.
All three major mining houses who chatted to me about their DRC-based assets for this issue – Freeport McMoran on its Tenke Fungurume copper mine, MMG on its Kinsevere copper mine and Randgold Resources on its Kibali gold mine – have multiple similarities and day-to-day commonalities. Yes, they all have fantastic ore bodies which continue to deliver and exceed production expectations but they also share difficulties such as inconsistent power supply. Furthermore, all three companies are injecting massive amounts of time and energy into community upliftment and upskilling by way of government expectation, although this ‘adversity’ is recognised more as a blessing in disguise, in my opinion.
Let me unpack these two areas in more detail and I’ll start with power. Although not an uncommon issue to the DRC, a deficient or unreliable power supply makes mining life difficult and very expensive. MMG has thrown millions of dollars at the problem and it remains one of the highest expenditures on its books, by a mile! Kibali, although an operational opencast mine, will find itself in a similar position when its underground mine comes on stream (soon) and its power requirements jump to nearly 50 MW. But none of these companies have ‘thrown in the towel’ and instead are showing their commitment to their projects and in turn the country by implementing innovative power solutions and engaging with government to find answers.
Take Randgold for example. The company has undertaken to build not one, not two, not three but four hydropower stations around Kibali which will ensure it has affordable power for the life of its mine, and well beyond that. This is a significant investment and the DRC will indirectly benefit substantially from it. In my opinion, it represents the infrastructure milestones the country so desperately needs.
Developing your communities (and there are many) is another prerequisite for mining success in the DRC. This truly dawned on me when reviewing the photographs given to me to publish alongside my stories. Again, it was evident with all three companies. Take a look for yourself. Between pages 16 and 28 you will see not only large-scale impressive process plants and mining pits but also happy DRC citizens, especially children.
They have been afforded great opportunity to learn, grow and develop as individuals who will contribute to the growth of their country in years to come – thanks to our mining companies who have provided schools, healthcare, and general sustainability initiatives. The plus side is that it enhances not only the economic future of the country but the mines themselves as most community members become technical assets as their skills contribute to mining success. These are the DRC’s leaders of tomorrow, and today and through the local mining sector they will contribute to an increase in economic wealth and upliftment.
Again, not only did Randgold relocate an entire town, with a Catholic church complex, but it also built houses which are so valuable that some are already being sold to new buyers in the region – and thus a new livelihood is born. It really is impressive beyond belief to see the downstream benefits a committed mining company can help its country achieve.
Before I go, please take a look at Mining Review Africa’s first ‘water in mining’ supplementary feature – dedicated to technologies, research, innovations and general passion for a sector so closely intertwined with mining. I promise you a great and interesting read and I’m sure you will agree.