Mining in Africa Today: Strategies and Prospects
Africa's share in world reserves is relatively strong only for bauxite and uranium, although its reserves of copper and iron ore are far from negligible 43% for bauxite; 38% for uranium (but 17% outside South Africa); 17% for copper; and 13% for iron ore. There are, however, large potential resources of these four metals in Africa that are not exploitable under present economic conditions. The figures given for proved reserves should also be interpreted with caution as the discovery of new deposits, or technological changes, may increase the volume. Potential resources, however, will not be taken into account for some time to come in the formulation of mineral production and consumption policies, except perhaps for uranium and, to a lesser degree, for copper. For uranium indeed, the proved, exploitable resources under present economic conditions correspond to only 24 years of consumption. Even if the potential resources are included, the total consumption period is only 37 years. The volume of proved resources of copper amounts to roughly 60 years of consumption and according to more pessimistic estimates to a much shorter period. For iron ore and bauxite, much longer periods, of 165 and 225 years respectively, have been estimated.
In any case, Africa is and for a long time will remain one of the major mining areas of the world. Moreover, its significance in the world mineral geography of copper, bauxite and uranium is reinforced by the spatial concentration of world resources.
Copper reserves are concentrated in a limited number of countries: the United States (60 million tons), and Canada (16 million tons), possess most of the reserves of the industrial world, while in Asia and Latin America the main deposits are located in the Philippines, Peru and Chile. So even if the African share of world copper reserves is only 13.5%, the concentration of these reserves on the world scale gives Africa a high potential significance, especially because of the higher grade of its ore (2.6% in Zambia against 1 % in Peru, 0.6% in Papua New Guinea and 0.5% in the USA).
Likewise, for uranium, if we consider only the resources at present exploitable, Africa and the United States are the two major locations in the non-socialist world, each with a little more than 30% of total reserves; the remainder is mainly distributed between Canada and Australia. Such unequal distribution is not affected by the inclusion of the higher-cost proved resources which could be exploited at a price higher than US $80 per kilogram.
The geographical concentration of bauxite deposits is still stronger, as Australia and Guinea between them possess about half the world reserves; the other half is shared between Jamaica, Guyana, Surinam, Brazil and India.
Africa's share in world resources of uranium and bauxite together is higher than its share of world copper resources. The concentration of world mineral deposits in Africa is of vital significance in a world context, but Africa itself is unable to exploit this advantage vis-à-vis world needs because its mineral producing countries are generally too small to allow for effective collective action.
For example, copper resources are heavily concentrated in Zaire and Zambia, with Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan having only small reserves; Guinea alone holds about three quarters of total bauxite reserves, while Cameroun (9%), Mali (7.5%), Ghana (5%), Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Madagascar account for the remaining quarter; South Africa and Namibia together have more than 300,000 tons of uranium, Niger about 160,000 tons, Gabon 20,000, and Algeria, where resources are not yet exploited, 28,000 tons.
Only iron ore reserves are relatively scattered throughout the continent as many countries have quite substantial actual and potential quantities.
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