The Mining Boom in the Sahel Region: Will the Development Last? Notes de l'Ifri, February 2014
The Sahel, often discussed on account of its problems and crises – in particular recently, in view of the crisis in Mali – is in actual fact experiencing a new positive economic era, like the rest of the African continent. For the five countries of the Sahel region we shall be examining – Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – this favourable evolution, although it varies from country to country, is based on booming extractive industries.
In order to understand this dynamic trend, it is necessary to place it in the broader context of mining industries evolution worldwide. It is particularly important to appreciate this, if we are currently confronted by a new super cycle regarding raw materials. We also need to analyse the reasons why this zone – like a large proportion of the continent – has so far been lagging behind with regard to exploration work.
After considering the global situation, we shall look in more detail at each of the above-mentioned countries so as to establish where their accessible resources are and their exploitation potential. Indeed, if the future for mining in the region clearly depends on the resources found there, the industries will not be able to develop in a sustainable way unless political and fiscal conditions are favourable. So, once the existence of resources has been established, the countries under discussion need to put in place strategies for attracting investment and realizing their potential.
Growing numbers of prospecting permits in the Sahel should not blind us to the patterns of activity and strategies employed which are not all above board and raise deeper questions concerning the type of development that is possible for these countries. In fact, two debates are currently raging in the region in relation to mines. The first is the issue of fair distribution of resources and the second involves the way in which the mining economy can contribute to the development of these countries at both national and local level.
Thus, as well as the geological and technical issues that need to be taken into account, mining also includes an important political and social dimension. It involves huge capital investment undertaken by companies that are often foreign ones, so that prospecting for future mining activity often exacerbates the debate on the type of development the countries of the Sahel region wish to have and on their economic independence.