2 January 2013

Cameroon: Commentary - Mining, Fountain of Nation's Riches

The real issue is no longer whether Cameroon's subsoil possesses enormous riches. It is rather how to extract the multiplicity of minerals so far identified by experts in the domain.

That what has been found underneath is capable of shaping in a sustainable manner the fate of the nation's economic growth leaves no Cameroonian indifferent. This certainly explains why the mining sector featured so prominently in President Paul Biya's traditional end-of-year message to the nation, December, 31, 2012.

The mining sector from every indication constitutes the bedrock on which the President's "vast construction site" vision will thrive. True to say, one of the things Cameroon can proudly boast of, is the riches beneath its soil. Records are quite clear. The country is basking in minerals and is, for instance, reportedly one of the World's leading cobalt deposits. The minerals are spread all over the territory. Some have been discovered while others are yet to be discovered. Even areas that never dreamt of having an iota of mineral now boast of the resource in significant quantity.

The anxiety from foreign partners to put the minerals under production has not stopped building up as many continue to stream into the country with the zeal to sign agreements and memorandums of understanding with the government. Some of such agreements have already been signed, others are in the pipeline. There is no turning back in the bid to extract the resources and inject into the country's economy. The determination to push mining projects ahead threaded through the Head of State's message of last December 31. "The mining sector is expected to witness intense activities in the coming months. Exploitation of the Lomie cobalt deposit and other associated minerals should start as soon as financing arrangements are completed", he said.

Nkamouna's proven ore reserves located a few kilometres east of Lomie, are 54.7 million tonnes at average grades of 0.25 percent cobalt, 0.69 percent nickel, and 1.33 percent manganese, according to Geovic Cameroon. This reserve yields 11.7 million tonnes of concentrates grading 0.74 percent cobalt, 0.99 percent nickel, and 3.78 percent manganese. Even though the hitch to the project effectively taking off like many other mining projects in the country, has been mobilising finances, the hopes are high from the tone of the message. The months for effective takeoff are numbered." The Mballam "iron ore" project entered its final phase with the recent signing of the agreement between Cameroon and CamIron. Negotiations for the exploitation of the Minim-Martap and Ngaoundal bauxite are continuing normally", the Head of State assured Cameroonians.

The Mballam Iron Ore project in particular has taken an exciting exponential posture straddling three national frontiers. The benefits of the project will cut across Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville. The Mballam Iron ore deposits are estimated at over 2.5 billion tonnes. The figures for other mineral deposits are quite revealing. That said, many people continue to express worry over the delay in their production. Cameroon, in effect, wants its minerals tapped. But this must be handled by serious companies; those that are capable of delivering the goods. Mining is not like agriculture, an official in the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Technological Development commented. Mining demands a lot of investment. From every indication, most companies wishing to dig the country's minerals have no proven financial strength. Some want to first grab the licence before looking for cash. The government is conscious of this.

With respect to the mining sector, our attitude should be guided by two concerns: on the one hand, the State - that is the general interest - should derive due benefit from it; on the other hand, our minerals should, as much as possible, undergo primary processing before exportation. The message is clear; the mining sector remains one of the country's haven for economic growth and should be handled with care.

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