Title: Ivory Coast re-opens for business

Sub-title: After coup attempts, rebellion and religious strife, this West African nation is trying to bounce back. Big hopes lie in its mining sector.

 

Canadian mining sector professionals are known for their openness to investing in international exploration and development. However with the most attractive opportunities in the most business friendly nations already spoken for, investors are forced to look deeper.

 

One country that rarely appears on the A-list of mining opportunities is the Ivory Coast, where potential initiatives have long been held back by poor infrastructure and political turmoil, which have raged there for much of the past decade. However if you believe Louis Bony, the Ivory Coast’s ambassador to Canada, this Western African nation, which country officials say has “enormous mining potential,” is worth a look.

 

 “After hard times, our national reconciliation process is complete,” said Bony, at a recent event organized by the Canadian Council on Africa to help build business and economic ties between Canada and the Ivory Coast. “People are always asking us when we will hold elections. It is true that elections are important and we are moving towards them this year.”

 

SODEMI: a helpful state partner

While almost all nations claim to be open to investment all the time, the fact that the Ivory Coast is actively courting, shows at least that it is putting its money where its mouth is. Like many countries, the Ivory Coast has a keen interest in partnering with the mining sector companies who want to develop its substantial mineral deposits. These range from gold, to iron, nickel and manganese to name a few. SODEMI, (an acronym that roughly translates as Society/Corporation for the Development of the Mining sector) a state-owned arm, has emerged as its key tool for helping the Ivory Coast government accomplish this, through the partial stakes it takes in some (though not all) key mining sector developments there.

 

According to Raoul Kouame, SODEMI’s Director of Operations, the firm has conducted a vast exploration program on the Ivory Coast’s territory, and built up a database of potential development opportunities. Among the major international players now partnering with SODEMI are the French firm COMINOR, in an open pit gold mine in the Zouen-Hounien region, FORACO, another French firm, which is conducting exploration activities and Indian based Tata Steel, which is moving to mine iron in the Mont Nimba region.

 

Not waiting …

According to a report prepared by Tricia Wilhelm, of Export Development Canada the Ivory Coast has the strongest economy in West Africa and “(it’s) government has historically been quite open to foreign investment and actively encouraged greater foreign participation in the local economy.” Yet while turmoil in Ivory Coast over the past few years and its president Laurent Gbagbo’s repeated postponement of elections may have scared off some investors, Marc-Antoine Audet, Chief Executive Officer of Landen Capital isn’t one of them.

 

Through its subsidiary SAMA Nickel Corporation, Landen Capital is conducting an extensive drilling exploration campaign 600 kilometers Northwest of Abijan, the country’s economic capital, which according to company officials, has excellent infrastructure facilities. That is in strong contrast which much of the rest of the country, where roads, rail, power and water facilities are often lacking. Audet characterizes the results of SAMA’s recent diamond drill program as “excellent,” and has said that SODEMI, which owns a 33.3% stake in the operation has been “particularly helpful.”

 

If so that would be good news for the Ivory Coast, which has committed to increasing mining sector research, ramping up exploration and operations work and completing major ming related industrial projects. The overall goal is to grow its mining sector to 10 percent of GDP by 2015.

 

 

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Montreal-based freelance business writer.

 

 

 

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