The African continent is central to the mining sector, however issues over environmental degradation have plagued the sector for decades, forcing the need to focus on sustainable mining. For example, mining in Liberia has greatly suffered from environmental degradation as a result of abuse of the land, and a badly regulated sector. Illegal mining has also deeply impacted the sector in countries such as Ghana and South Africa. As such, a shift in thinking and approach to mining has become increasingly necessary over the years. Here are some of the steps African governments are taking to ensure the sustainability of the African mining sector.
Investment is the big move. Investment opportunities across the continent have abounded, providing great support for the African mining sector. These investments allow investors opportunities to benefit from reduced operational costs and to build, operate, and transfer projects with short-term operational returns and a long-term investment horizon. Through this, governments get a reduction in their capital overlay and can reach greater productivity levels, thus allowing for more job creation and exports. This facilitates plans to ensure the sector’s sustainability. For example, the Angolan Ministry of Geology and Mining has received funding for the Angolan National Geology Plan, which the Minister of Geology and Mining, Francisco Queiroz, describes as “The main instrument of the government’s strategy for protecting the geology and mining sector.” The plan has already identified over 200 priority targets for the prospecting of iron, base metals, copper, manganese, titanium, gold, lead and aluminium (amongst others). They have also begun work on setting up a new special tax regime for the sector, with new incentives to attract investors.
Key to sustainable mining is the need for companies and governments to take personal responsibility for the natural environment in which they operate. The Africa Union Commission created the Africa Mining Vision (AMV), which sets out, ‘Africa’s own response to tackling the paradox of great mineral wealth existing side by side with pervasive poverty’. AMV believes that mining companies and governments have a duty to work together in the collective national interest, to ensure that the industry actually contributes to local socio-economic development through skilled training, environmental protection and fair contract negotiations with multi-nationals. It means integrating mining into industrial and trade policy. Mining companies can also benefit from partnering with specialised logistics, life support and maintenance companies that are able to rapidly deploy teams of experts that understand the local communities.
Responsible energy and water management, innovative approaches to community engagement and compliance with health and safety regulations are crucial in commercial success and the development of a sustainable mining sector.
Kenya has established their 2016 mining act, a part of their 20-year mining strategy, which outlines their commitment to attracting 20 new mining companies by providing simplified permits for small-scale operations and simplified licenses for large-scale companies. Furthermore, the act calls for the importance of sustainability and environmental policies, which include technology transfer, local equity participation, labour laws and incentives on local investments. This is an attempt to strike the right balance between deregulation and environmental and social protections. Prospecting restrictions have also been removed.
Specific sustainable mining services include focus on support services. Access roads, potable water services and operation and maintenance facilities provide for resource optimisation, a better quality of life for workers and safer working conditions. There has also been a greater focus on health and safety for workers in the mining sector.
This focus on sustainable mining will aid in curbing the prevalence of illegal mining, as well as encourage greater foreign investment and social responsibility and environmental accountability.
What do you think? Is sustainable mining realistic in Africa? Let us know in the comments below!