Having spent a good part of the past month in conversation with a variety of senior executives of both major and junior gold producers in the United States, Canada, England, Australia and South Africa, it has become quite clear to me that the majority of them not only believe a new star has emerged on the international gold scene – they are putting their money where their mouths are.

To varying degrees, they make the point that West Africa is the exciting engine room on the global gold front, and they express the opinion that as far as gold is concerned there is more happening in West Africa than anywhere else.

Clearly, it’s a part of the world that is starting to pop up on everybody’s radar screens as the main place to be, and if one looks at the activities of major gold companies like AngloGold Ashanti Limited, Gold Fields Limited, Newmont Mining Corporation and Randgold Resources – then yes, West Africa is where the action is.

One of the main reasons behind this region’s popularity is the presence of the highly prospective Birimian gold belt of West Africa, which is described as probably one of the most exciting emerging new gold belts in the world today. In a matter of four years, gold resources exceeding 10 Moz have been discovered there – Randgold Resources’ Massawa deposit (3.5 Moz), Mineral Deposits Limited’s Sabodala mine (3.5 Moz), and Oromin Exploration/Middle East investors’ resource of 2.3 Moz

So this belt – which has only been opened up in the last few years – is already at over 10 Moz, with strong indications of becoming one of the major gold belts in Africa. And this is only the beginning – there are those who believe this combined resource could grow to several times its present size.

As MDL executive chairman Nic Limb pointed out to me, “The ground next to us in Senegal is controlled by Oromin and the Middle Eastern investors, and that’s within 5 km of our mill. Then Randgold’s Massawa deposit is approximately 25 km away. Added to that, Iamgold has bought 17% of Oromin; just across the border you have Iamgold and AngloGold at Sadiola to the north of Loulo; and also in Mali there is Randgold itself at Loulo” – an interesting if somewhat overcrowded region at this stage.

There is a general expectation that a rationalisation of this belt is coming, and it will be interesting to see what materialises, with companies like Randgold, Iamgold and Mineral Deposits Limited all determined to be the controlling force and the one doing the rationalising. You could say there is a race going on, and it’s likely to play out over the next six months.

Politically it depends where you are. The gold issue has clearly broken out of Ghana and Mali – one is seeing Senegal and Burkina Faso coming on strongly, Guinea has lots of potential but is politically difficult at this time, and of course Côte d’Ivoire has tremendous potential as well.

Until recently, West Africa was “big company” territory, because it is difficult logistically, and it needs a lot of commitment and plenty of money. But smaller companies are emerging as well, and are trying to show that they can become a force in the region by being determined and smart.

There are a lot of juniors active now, particularly in countries like Ghana and Burkina Faso – and there are good things happening in both countries with small juniors, and with the beginnings of pretty interesting looking projects coming on stream.

One Australian senior executive expressed the opinion that there is nothing that comes even remotely close, when drawing comparisons to the potential of the geology in West Africa. True, several of the majors are now focused on the big systems in South America and the Pacific Islands, but for pure gold as an opportunity, it’s pretty hard to go past West Africa these days.