A stronghold of the global mining industry, Africa ranks several of its countries among the main producers of minerals such as gold, platinoids, diamonds, cobalt, copper and bauxite. As the fourth industrial revolution gradually spreads across the continent, companies active there are already using new technologies to optimize exploration and mining.
At their level, the States are not left out and it is their efforts to improve the management of the sector that WeAreTech tells you about, in this fourth part of its series devoted to the digitalization of a certain number of economic sectors in Africa.
While the implementation of new technologies is still in its infancy in several areas on the continent, players in the mining sector became aware very early on of their potential to better conduct their activities. According to the Ecofin Agency, the continent is even playing a pioneering role in the global mining industry, in terms of automation. Certain mines on the continent bear witness to this use of technology, in this case Syama in Mali and Kibali in the DRC, where the automation of certain tasks has made it possible to increase the efficiency of operations and therefore the benefits for all stakeholders, whether the State, mining companies or even local communities. The tools used range from data analysis to better plan mining activities, to the Internet of Things and its applications in monitoring mining and processing operations. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of technology in the mining industry has, for example, made it possible to continue activities with the minimum risk for personnel. Safety is just one advantage among many, because automation also saves time and reduces production costs, a strong argument for mining companies.
Digitization as a tool for transparency
Technological advances are not only used to optimize exploration and mining work. They present several advantages for governments and citizens, of which African leaders are gradually becoming aware. One of these benefits is transparency. While African mining states are trying to get rid of this image of countries where opaque agreements reign supreme around the obtaining and transfer of mining property titles, the option of digitizing the mining cadastre is gaining more and more credit with leaders.
The first advantage of such a digitalized system is that it makes it easier to comply with the “first come, first served” principle, an international standard for mining concessions that have not yet been awarded. With a logbook showing the date and time of the permit application, the authorities can indeed put an end to the disputes that inevitably arise when several companies submit applications for the same permit. In addition, thanks to an interactive map available on the platform, mining companies, but also citizens, can know at any time the different owners of mining titles issued by the government throughout the territory. Finally, the fees for a mining title application can be paid electronically (Mobile Money or bank transfer) using one of the platform’s features. This saves the applicant from being subjected to the wishes of an unscrupulous mining official and ensures transparent and efficient revenue collection for the public treasury.
It should be noted that these advantages are significant arguments for attracting mining investors, because the system contributes to improving the regulatory framework. According to the Canadian think tank Fraser Institute, which publishes an annual ranking of the most attractive mining jurisdictions in the world, mining companies take into account both the mining potential of a country and mining policies (laws and business environment in particular), before investing in it.
For nearly a decade, several countries on the continent have therefore called on specialists to set up an electronic platform for applying for a mining title (prospecting or exploration permit). The American Trimble indicates, for example, its various digital mining cadastral systems are already used in Africa by Namibia, Kenya, Cameroon, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and many others. In August 2021, Botswana, already ranked as the best mining jurisdiction in Africa in terms of mining policies and mineral potential by Fraser Institute, is even dbecome the last African country to use the services of this company.
“For several decades, Botswana has been admired for having one of the best mining cadastral systems in the world. We look forward to helping government become even more efficient, accountable and investor-friendly, while helping raise public revenue,” said Bill Feast, president of Spatial Dimension, a Trimble subsidiary.
Technology at the service of the traceability of mining production
Improving the regulatory framework is not the only benefit that technology offers to African states. The Ghanaian government recently set an example by announcing the complete digitalization of its national laboratory for the analysis of precious minerals. For the CEO of the Precious Minerals Marketing Company, this progress allows managers to better ensure the traceability of exports and fight against fraud, because mining production now has certificates of authenticity that are difficult to falsify.
“At the click of a button, authorized persons can trace the amount of gold exported in kilograms and ounces, export destination, value in Ghanaian cedis and dollars, withholding tax, exporter and lots of other relevant data,” he adds.
If the technology used has not been specified, other digital tools are more advertised, such as the blockchain. The tool, little known a decade ago, has gained significant publicity in recent years and its applications in the mining industry are only just beginning to become widespread. In Africa, mining companies are again at the forefront and some of them, notably the Canadian diamond producers Lucara and South African De Beers are already using it. By guaranteeing to all those who have access to it the tamper-proof nature of all transactions, the blockchain allows the customers of its companies to trace the journey of the precious stones in order to ensure that the supply chain follows responsible standards. In the DRC, blockchain initiatives have also emerged in recent years to allow industrial groups that consume cobalt to monitor the country’s production and ensure that the metal is not produced using child labor.
For the moment, African mining states are not very present on this technology, but its advantages should encourage them to use it gradually.