CAPE TOWN – Investing in mining production in Niger might sound a little like playing in the traffic with razor blades but delegates at the Investing in African Mining Indaba heard on Tuesday, that it is a lot better bet than it sounds on a number of levels.
The country’s Mines and Energy Minister Moussa Hassane Baraze was at pains to assure would-be investors who had gathered for a country case study that Niger not only had huge untapped potential but a legal and political environment that was very supportive of foreign investment in the sector. In addition to being politically stable, he said, Niger had a lot of in-country experience in uranium mining.
The case for investing received strong support from a number of representatives of private industry who have been active in the country for many years.
The delegates were told that the time to invest in uranium production in Niger was now. Just as uranium demand, driven by nuclear energy growth, is forecast to grow dramatically, supply is expected to decline.
China is exponentially building reactors; India is following that curve, if a little behind. All the while, existing mines are coming to the end of their lives and the price crash has held back further investment.
Hassane Baraze said Niger was exploiting just a small percentage of its potential. He said the country, currently the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, stands ready to significantly increase production when the projected supply crunch materialised.
The minister suggested that a main cause of perceptions that Niger was unstable was that its neighbours, such as Libya, Mali and Chad, were unstable.
Agreeing that Niger’s reputation for insecurity was not deserved Daniel Major, chief executive of uranium miner Goviex, told the session that the company had been active in Niger since 2007 and had never missed a day in the field.
Major told African News Agency (ANA) during an interview on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba: “More happens in Paris than happens in Niger from a terrorist perspective.”
In Hassane Baraze’s words, the landlocked former French colony is “an island of peace in an ocean of insecurity”.
Goviex, which has completed many hundreds of thousands of metres of drilling in the country, has two projects fully permitted and ready to go.
Major said the company had found the government to be very welcoming, not that surprising perhaps when one considers that “between 50% and 60% of their exports every year is uranium”.
“It is very helpful to have a government that understands uranium as a commodity, they have been operating in it for a long time,” Major added.
Hassane Baraze told the session that the first deposits of uranium had been found in Niger 1959, just before independence.
One legacy of more than 50 years of uranium mining in the country was that it had capacity, including a qualified and experienced labour force.
Major pointed to evidence of the existing in-country capacity when he said that Goviex’s drilling campaign, which was the biggest drilling campaign in the world over a number of years, was largely completed by locals.
Niger currently produces eight percent of the world’s uranium but this is expected to rise dramatically because the country has very significant reserves and, in Hassane Baraze words, it is perfectly positioned for uranium takeoff.
The minister said the government had worked very hard to make the mining sector attractive to investors. They were very aware of the importance of good governance and transparency, he said, and had spearheaded big efforts to improve both.
An example he gave was the process to acquire a permit, which was short and efficient, but even that was under review for improvement.
“If the state doesn’t respond within three months we consider the permit to have been granted.”
The minister said the country, which had climbed up eight places in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index in recent years, was stable and offered guarantees to investors.
“Those already working in the field can testify to that,” he said urging potential investors to seek the counsel of foreign investors already in the country.