While mining progress in West Africa will vary from country to country, with one or two discrete discoveries, developments often set significant change into motion, says engineering consulting company SRK Consulting South Africa partner and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl.
Recent studies have shown that countries in West Africa, such as Ghana and Burkina Faso, remain important destinations for mineral exploration, particularly gold.
He further states that the mining outlook for countries in West Africa can change abruptly, as their development paths are unpredictable with step changes more typical than changes in trends.
“Unlike South Africa, where mineral production trends can be tracked yearly, there can be a quantum leap resulting from just one mineral find in newer mining countries. “One project will most likely drive the development of a mining code and legislation, which, in turn, helps to pave the way for more exploration.”
Commenting on the mining challenges in West Africa, Van Zyl explains that an important aspect of mines maintaining their social licence to operate rests on their relationships with local communities and ability to effectively distribute the benefits of mining.
He notes that, “in remote areas, this especially needs a careful balance between the royalties and taxes paid to a central government, as well as the direct benefits that accrue to local stakeholders”.
Additionally, the skills required by modern, mechanised mines may not be available in local communities, so the expectation of employment opportunities may not be met. Therefore, there is a need to invest in training and explore innovative alternatives to address mines sharing the wealth they create.
Moreover, affordable power generation is vital to any mining development. It is expected that better solutions will be available in the next couple of years, as renewable power generation and storage options improve, notes Van Zyl.
“These renewable-energy technologies are making local energy generation more feasible and economical. They may also facilitate support from local communities, which is critical.”
In the planning of mines, companies are also required to consider their social impact during their establishment, operation and closure phases. It is therefore imperative that mitigating the social effects of mines’ closure becomes a priority for the sector, says Van Zyl.
“If communities can participate in local power generation schemes, they can secure an ongoing energy supply even after mining has come to an end. This could enable government to invest on behalf of communities, and for communities to pay their own way as regular users of a more affordable and sustainable local energy supply,” he adds.
Van Zyl notes that the technological potential for renewable-energy generation at mines and surrounding communities is still at an early stage. As progress in power generation advances, there will be opportunities for mines to help facilitate more sustainable initiatives for the mutual benefit of the mining companies and communities.
He adds that SRK has been working with the World Association of Mining Lawyers to develop a model mining code that aims to balance the clarity and stability that investors seek with the responsible stewardship that is in the interests of governments and communities. This supports the call by many West African governments for easier adherence to their mining charters.
“For example, investors need to have exploration licences that endure for long enough to reasonably complete the drilling required. The best mining codes are those that do not allow for too much discretion in bureaucratic decisions so that there is more certainty, allowing investors to plan effectively,” he concludes.