11 July 2007

Cameroon: Fresh Hopes for National Economy

Talk of minerals in Cameroon and school children of the 60s and 70s will send you back to their Geography lessons, telling you of bauxite in Fongo Tongo, Gold in Mayo Darle, Iron in Kribi etc. Just enough for mention in textbooks, while production proper had never really taken off the ground. In the past few years however, the story has changed with investors coming in more regularly and with well-elaborated projects.

A cobalt and nickel project is currently underway in Lomie, East Province, run by an American company GEOVIC. The early phase of the project is generating between 700 and 1000 direct jobs for Cameroonians on this cobalt site, the largest reserve in the world. Just last month, the government formally authorized the activities of a Korean company C & K Mining Inc, that has come in to valorize gold mining activities around Betare-Oya, East Province where artisanal gold mining has been a way of life and a main source of livelihood for the local people for over 70 years. In 2006 alone the Korean company was able to mobilize some 3000 artisan miners who are guaranteed a purchase of their gold at ordinary market rates.

Other important mining projects in the pipeline include the Minim Martap and Ngaoundal bauxite plants in the Adamawa Province which will comprise the exploitation of bauxite, the local transformation of bauxite into aluminum, the reinforcement of the Mbakaou hydro-electricity plant, the rehabilitation of the trans-Cameroon railway line, the building of a railway branch from Edea to Kribi and the constant supply of aluminum to the ALUCAM plant in Edea. The list of such projects followed up by an Anglo-Cameroonian company, SICAMIME, is long.

This revisit of the mining sector in the country and its importance in jump-starting the economy is very much informed by the visit last week of Mr George Jones, the chairman of Sundance Resources Limited, a strategic partner to the Cameroonian company, CAM-IRON SA which is starting a giant iron ore project around Mbalam, Ngoila Sub Division, East Province. The project will take a whopping CFA 1,250 Billion (about USD 2.5 Billion). In an economy in dire need of jobs for numerous unemployed youths, the 3,000 construction job openings come as welcome relief. At the end of the construction phase, permanent jobs will stay at around 1,000. Quite a reasonable figure too!

Apart from fiscal and other benefits the economy is expected to draw, several social amenities are accompanying the project. Already, a motorable road now links Ngoila with the project site. CAM-IRON will construct a 450- kilometre railway line between Mbalam and Kribi and a port in Kribi among other things. These are serious commitments, coming, as it were, from an Australian partner. As the Minister of Mines has aptly indicated, the opening of the Mbalam mine is a clear illustration that the mining sector could be an important booster in the development of Cameroon.

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