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Where is Africa when Africa is being discussed?

09 April 2013, 15:00
When the who ’s who of mining converge, one can expect nothing less than the finest thought provoking and somewhat mind-boggling numbers to be shared. The Investing in African Mining Indaba 2013 was no exception, attracting leaders from various facets of the mining industry from all corners of the globe. Africa, the new frontier of the 21st century, is set to become the largest supplier of precious minerals, base metals and chemical minerals in the future. If current trends continue, Africa could be supplying 50 - 75% of the world’s minerals as the developed world experiences depletion in their own mineral resources. While many perceive Africa’s embryonic stage of economic development as an obstacle, the business world sees this as an opportune time to scramble for Africa yet again. The acquisition of assets at this stage is much more cost effective for those in positions to acquire funding and finance operations across all sectors.

While foreign investment is vital for the development of the mining sector, it comes with adverse effects that may see African economies further plagued with issues of lopsided distribution of income and neo-colonialism. Mining companies which presented white papers, among them Rio Tinto, Anglo American, Lonmin and other large corporations with operations in various parts of Africa, divulged current and future plans to bring about social development. It seems mining companies are of the standpoint that enough is being done to give back to the mining communities in which they operate while a prominent executive went on to say, “ governments often ask for more than they are willing to give…”

The extent to which this statement holds water may be debatable but the vital question that remains unanswered is “To what proportion do social development projects equate to the value of mineral resources mining companies stand to gain?” Taking into account the capital intensive business that mining is, it can be understood that miners should have room to somewhat dictate the terms. However, left in the bank, would the large amounts of money yield much without assets such as the rich mines of Africa to generate profit?

The debate of sustainable development rages on, perhaps a one sided one, as there seemed to be a bias towards those who have the voices to speak at such forums as the Mining Indaba. The consensus among speakers was to engage all stakeholders in mapping the way forward for African mining, yet sadly, all stakeholders were not well represented.It may be easy to berate tales of injustice and negate the good that mining has contributed to Africa through backward looking but if Africa is to truly benefit from the vast resources she boasts of, a number of things need to be put in place. While this is not an antidote to the problem of Africa’s poverty, it may very well be one of the many steps to making Africa at large experience more economic growth.
  • Easy access to information on opportunities available in mining
  • Educate local communities on the various facets of mining to encourage participation
  • Develop local and regional capital markets to encourage the participation of local junior miners to venture into the industry
  • Education from the grassroots level of the geography and needs of Africa in order to foster innovative thinking
  • Regional trade blocks to standardise regulations for the mining sector to eliminate double standards for multinational miners
  • Regional research and training institutions to encourage development of home-grown solutions for deficits in technology and skills shortages
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