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Mining’s real potential yet to be unearthed

Article - July 30, 2014
The Republic of Congo’s mining industry is developing swiftly following 50 years of uncertainty; as a consequence, the country is quickly becoming a hot spot for global mining investments.
The Republic of Congo’s turbulent past would make it seem an unlikely choice for serious investments in mining. But the republic’s Minister of Mines and Geology, Pierre Oba, is proud of his country’s progress in becoming an attractive investment opportunity in mining and geology. His optimism is far from misplaced, because the Republic of Congo has implemented numerous programs and far-reaching changes to government processes to improve transparency and increase investor confidence, while also helping the country create thousands of jobs that will benefit the entire nation.

These changes include the country’s Path Forward project, which focuses on national economic diversification. Until recently, petroleum mining accounted for the majority of the country’s mining activity and profit, but the Path Forward project guides the Republic of Congo’s focus to other types of mining, particularly gold, iron and diamonds.

The creation of Mr. Oba’s department, the Ministry of Mines and Geology, is another important change. It implements plans for the promotion, assistance and development of mining-related industries; participates in the creation of plans for national economic development; and defines goals that support those held by the country’s President, Denis Sassou Nguesso.

“The credit fully belongs to the republic’s President, who had the fortuitous vision to create a ministry that would focus on the formation of the mining industry [and] encourage economic diversification.”

Minister of Mines and Geology
The ministry has put forth initiatives to create a favorable foundation for the mining industry’s further development: its first priority was a new legal framework, including a new mining code and processes. The simplification of government procedures, especially those connected to the granting of mining permits, lowering taxes and increasing transparency have created a favorable base for the development of a strong mining industry – something that the nation has long been awaiting.

The Center for Geological and Mining Research plays a vital role as well. The purpose is to provide precise information on geologic potential and the activities of mining companies within the country. Using cutting-edge scientific equipment, it provides applied scientific research on the processes connected to the country’s soil and subsoil, including general and detailed geologic surveys of the country’s land for the purpose of creating geologic maps and topographies. Its expertise, surveillance, study and development of appropriate techniques to respond to the environmental challenges that arise from the management of soil, subsoil and mineral resources have proved invaluable.

In addition, the center collects, analyzes and disseminates the scientific information necessary for that management.

As a result of all of this incredible work, so far this year about 120 research permits have been granted to 50 companies and 10 mining permits have been granted to eight companies. Some firms have completed the exploration phase for iron, phosphate and potash, and are now in the development phase, heading toward the mining phase which will both directly and indirectly create thousands of jobs. In particular, South African mining company Exxaro will spend the rest of this year starting to mine iron deposits at Mayoko-Lekoumou. Its expected production of 500,000 tons per year should progressively increase to 12 million tons per year.

Another very visible result from the center’s work is better-negotiated profit-sharing contracts between the state and mining companies. Similar to the Geological and Mining Research Bureau in France, it facilitates transparency in the process of granting permits for research and mining.

Mr. Oba is quick to point out that the development of the mining industry’s foundation is due to President Sassou Nguesso’s tremendous efforts to restore peace, security and stability to the Republic of Congo so that it becomes a sure bet for major national and international investors. “It would be pretentious of me to speak about any personal contribution [to the work]. The accomplishments we have made, the credit fully belongs to their initiator: the republic’s President, who had the fortuitous vision to create a ministry that would focus on the formation of the mining industry – another approach to encourage the nation’s economic diversification,” he concludes.