When the US and China signed a preliminary "Phase 1" deal to ease their trade hostilities on 15 January, hopes were high for a stabilisation of the mining commodities market on which many African exporters depend. Copper was one of the first commodities to see a bounce from the deal, with the DRC and Zambian-mined metal--a bellwether of the global economy--hitting an eight-month high.
With trade war fears easing and major projects due to be rolled out in 2020, the year could be an encouraging one for the African mining industry.
Guinea is on the verge of finally making the most of its vast mining resources, with rapidly rising bauxite production and a long-awaited deal on its long undeveloped Simandou iron ore reserve. At the same time, South Africa is exploiting its dominant position in the manganese sector, but the region's diamond exports continue to suffer from dwindling global demand. And both South Africa and Mozambique are struggling with low coal prices, partly triggered by growing pressure on financial institutions to stop funding coal projects amid a renewed focus on the climate crisis.
Simandou moves forward
The biggest recent development in the African mining sector is Guinea's approval of mining on half of the giant Simandou iron ore deposit, the biggest proven untapped iron ore resource in the world with estimated reserves of over .2bn tonnes. Development at Simandou has been repeatedly delayed, with previous concessions mired in legal battles between rival companies and Guinean governments revoking licenses awarded by their predecessors.
In November 2019, Conakry approved a mining plan for blocks 1 and 2 by the Societe Miniere de Boke-Winning (SMB-Winning) consortium, which comprises aluminium producer Shandong Weiqiao and Yantai Port Group, both of China, the Franco-Guinean company United Mining Supply (UMS), Singaporean shipping line Winning and Guinea's stateowned Societe Guineenne du Patrimoine (Soguipami).
The tender was launched in mid-2019, after the government cancelled existing concessions following a high-profile struggle for control between BSG Resources of Israel and Brazilian mining giant Vale.
SMB-Winning prevailed because it promised to fund the infrastructure necessary to ship the ore from a Guinean port--a planned deepwater export port at Matakong will cost $1.5bn to build, plus an estimated $5bn for a railway that will connect the mine and port and another $5bn in increased rail capacity in Phase 2 of the...