Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ivory Coast joins the African gold rush – but it's no quick fix for the economy

From the sky, Ivory Coast looks like a patchwork quilt, with fields of varying shapes and shades of green and brown woven together. In the 60s and 70s, the country's economy was built on agriculture and it became the world's biggest producer of cocoa, as well as Africa's leading exporter of rubber and cashew nuts.

When peace finally arrived in 2011, after more than a decade of conflict, President Alassane Ouattara's new government pledged to unlock the economy, not only by increasing trade with the non-francophone world, but by expanding it to sectors other than agriculture. 

"We are really open to all the world," the prime minister, Daniel Kablan Duncan, said last month at the start of the country's first investment forum since the 2009 coup that split Ivory Coast into a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south. "We are now normal … and we want the rest of the world here," he said.

Ivory Coast's historical reliance on agriculture has meant that it holds untapped potential for mining companies, with sources of manganese, iron ore, nickel, bauxite and, crucially, gold.

The country lies along the Brimian Greenstone Belt, a 2bn-year-old rock formation stretching from Senegal to Ghana, with some of the richest gold deposits in the world. It is thought that there is more gold under Ivorian soil than in neighbouring Ghana, currently Africa's leading producer of the precious metal after South Africa.

"There is a future for gold mining," said the newly appointed minister of industry and mines, Jean-Claude Brou, adding that the prospects looked "very, very good". Brou took up the post in November as the new ministry was formed, in a sign of the government's ambition to expand the industry.

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Guardian's website.


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