By Chris Bishop, in Cape Town.
The deadly Ebola virus killed the golden goose in West Africa and now a young turk in the Sierra Leone government is going to help revive it.
Mining in Sierra Leone was on the up in May 2014 – exporting a billion dollars a year in iron ore exports alone until Ebola struck. In just over 18 months the industry was devastated; workers died from the disease, exports were all but over and those who survived fled the country taking their mining skills with them.
Nearly five years on, the dapper, young, director general of the mining ministry of Sierra Leone is helping to bring the industry back to life. Julius Mattai’s eyes light up when he talks about the prospects for his country’s mining industry on his mission to find foreign investors at the #MiningIndaba2020 in Cape Town this week.
“We can double the size of our mining industry by 2025,” he says with genuine pride and enthusiasm.
In this inspiration has come from above. The government has just completed an aerial survey of the country’s mineral wealth and the results, to be released next month, look good at first sight. They show that Sierra Leone has a healthy stock of platinum group metals, Rutile – a prized and pricy titanium dioxide that is used in aerospace and pigmentation- that Sierra Leone has a claim owning most of world supply. There is also an abundance of Coltan – used to bind together the inside of laptops – along with gold, diamonds, bauxite and chromite.
“We want to make Sierra Leone a flagship of African mining,” says Mattai.
Already the golden goose has been stirring. Changes in government mining rules have tempted back 15 mining companies to Sierra Leone, of which four are operational. In 2019, mining in Sierra Leone increased its exports to $350 million and employed 7,000 people.
“We want to create the right business environment,” says Mattai.
Sierra Leone suffers, like many African mining nations, from a dearth of skills and power, but at the very least it is trying to open the door to investors in the hope of a rapid revival and all the wealth and employment it brings. Other African mining nations could learn from this.