In the final week of August all roads lead to West Australia, where one of the major international conferences and exhibitions focusing on mining in Africa – “Africa Down Under” – takes place in the city of Perth. A forum like this – the biggest African resources event outside the African continent – plays a key role in generating foreign interest in Africa as a destination for foreign investment. The changing face of the African continent continues to attract global exploration dollars, and countries previously considered no-go areas are attracting a new wave of international investors, explorers and miners.
To drive home the point, have a look at these figures. Australian companies now have interests in 42 of the 56 countries in Africa with ASX-listed miners and explorers active there numbering 180. In addition, more than 200 Australian mining services companies have carved out a niche on the continent, making Australia one of the biggest players in the burgeoning resources destination. It is against this background that “Africa Down Under” is expected to attract a global mix of more than 2,500 delegates who are either involved in or are potential investors in mining in the African continent.
In South Africa, “Electra Mining Africa” – described as one of the top three mining exhibitions in the world, attracting more than 38,000 visitors last year – is internationally recognised as a gateway into the African mining sector. Now – just four days after “Africa Down Under” – the Electra organisers, Specialised Exhibitions Montgomery, are branching out in the first week of September by expanding into one of our neighbouring countries with the first ever “Electra Mining Botswana”.
Botswana is currently the gem of African mining, with a stable legislative environment, backed by an eager government looking to grow its gross domestic product (GDP). It is now the world’s leading diamond producer in terms of the quality and grade of diamonds, but also hosts significant copper, nickel, cobalt, gold, soda ash and coal deposits, that are currently being exploited and developed. There is no doubt that this is an exciting time in the international mining industry, with renewed interest in the African continent on the one hand, and less fear and suspicion of the perceived risks of “doing business down there (in Africa)” on the other. But while this improved attitude towards Africa is gratifying, we need to remember that we are certainly in no position to sit back and relax in the warm glow of the change.
On the contrary, the governments of Africa have a strong responsibility to “seize the ball and run with it.” They must spread the word throughout Africa and more importantly, they have to convince the global investment community – which feels a measure of doubt on the African issue, and has good reason to – that we do deserve a chance. A strongly established fact is that in most cases in Africa there is a woeful absence of infrastructure, and the governments of Africa have to commit to doing everything in their power to solve the problem themselves.
Times are tough throughout the mining industry these days, and African governments cannot expect the mining companies to fund their infrastructure requirements at the drop of a hat – they need to do far more themselves. Is it not interesting that only this week Randgold Resources chief executive Mark Bristow came out with virtually the identical message? “The recent drop in the gold price has highlighted the need for co-operation between African governments and the mining companies,” he pointed out. “Real value is created by the discovery of multi-millionounce deposits and their development into profitable mines,” he said.
“The role of governments in this process should be firstly to provide a stable, business-friendly regime that will attract investors, and then to partner the mining companies in the development process, driving the project up the value curve and sharing fairly in its returns,” he declares.
We couldn’t agree more!