By Lionel Williams, Deputy Editor, Mining Review Africa

Africa is a continent of everyday and often dramatic transition that has led more than one foreign visitor to observe that the only constant is the relentless change that seems to enforce itself repeatedly from Cape to Cairo and back again.

And yet amid this confusion if I allow my mind to wander, my thoughts drift back to the one thing that never seems to change: the preferred African destination for the world’s gold miners, from majors through juniors and down to new entrants, is still West Africa.

Starting with the majors, Africa’s top gold miner AngloGold Ashanti has six of its continental African mining operations in West Africa – Iduapriem and Obuasi in Ghana; Siguiri in Guinea; and Morila, Sadiola and Yatela in Mali. Not far behind is Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest unhedged producers of gold, which has its Tarkwa and Damang operations in Ghana.

Looking further afield, one of the world’s largest gold miners, Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, has about 20% of its worldwide core assets in its Ahafo operation and Akyem project in Ghana.

More intimately involved in West Africa than most is international gold mining and exploration company Randgold Resources, with its Loulo-Gounkoto complex of four mines in Mali; Tongon in the Ivory Coast; and Morila, also in Mali. “West Africa has been a fantastic address,” says CEO Mark Bristow.

Australian-based Resolute Mining first switched its gold focus from Australia to Africa, and then spread its activities from East Africa into West Africa in its intensifying search for future development opportunities. The company, now producing in Mali, is spreading its exploration campaign to uncover new gold deposits in Côte d’Ivoire.

Canadian-based Iamgold, a mid-tier gold mining company listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, produces approximately one million ounces of gold annually from eight gold mines on three continents. But half of this output is from West Africa, and the company sees the region playing a significant role in achieving its short-term objective of almost doubling its annual production to 1.8 million ounces by 2012.

The CEO of Semafo, a Montreal-based and Toronto-listed gold mining company which is focusing on West Africa, Benoit La Salle told me that the company was in line to achieve its objective of doubling its annual output to 500,000 ounces by 2015, and planned to redouble its production to reach a target of a million ounces a year by 2020.

Another Australian-based resource company listed on the Australian and Toronto stock exchanges, Mineral Deposits Limited (MDL), is spending more than US$500 million on the expansion of its Sabodala gold mine in Senegal. Executive chairman Nic Limb says the new plant at Sabodala will double throughput and increase production by more than 40% to over 200,000 ounces a year at a processing rate of about four million tonnes per annum.

And yet another TSX and ASX-listed junior gold exploration company PMI Gold Corporation, currently focused on exploration and development in Ghana, is spending close to US$500 million in its drive to become a mid-tier gold producer with an output of around 500,000 ounces a year within the next five to seven years. “We are anticipating being in production by the end of 2013,” managing director Collin Ellison says.

“It’s a very exciting time in West Africa,” Bristow tells me. “The transition and progress has been amazing, and what is so enlightening for me is the fact that a lot of it is led by Africans in Africa. We at Randgold have said that of all the big gold provinces in the world, the two that really excite us are in West Africa and the DRC. I believe that those are the two new addresses where we are going to see continued growth in gold production.”

And West Africa is more than just about gold, according to Bristow. “There are some substantial base metal developments on the horizon which are going to change the face of those economies and countries. It really is an exciting time to be playing in that region.”