Despite a combined GDP of under US$800 billion and a population of barely 400 million, the 6.1 million km2 of West Africa is an important area for gold exploration and mining.
West Africa is a complicated mix of interlocking political unions. The region, according to the United Nations definition, comprises the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS; Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo), plus Mauritania (which withdrew from ECOWAS in 1999) and the offshore territories of Ascension, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha. The mainland area to the north, the Maghreb (Morocco and Western Sahara), is considered part of North Africa.
Formed in 2000, the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) is a group of six countries within ECOWAS that plan to introduce a common currency called the Eco; Gambia, Ghana, Guinea (the only Francophone member), Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Eight of the ECOWAS members are in the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest-Africaine (West African Economic and Monetary Union). UEMOA was established to promote economic integration among countries that share the CFA franc as a common currency, which is tied to the euro. These are the French-speaking nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, plus the Portuguese-speaking Guinea-Bissau.
Search for Precious Metal
According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the global gold-exploration budget was an estimated US$4.9 billion in 2018. At the recent INDABA conference, the new boss of Barrick, Mark Bristow, described Africa, and West Africa in particular, as "elephant country".
West Africa has been the world's third most important region for gold exploration over the past 10 years, with a total of some US$5 billion being spent. This expenditure has paid off, and West Africa has been the leading region for gold discoveries over the past 10 years, with some 79 Moz identified. Over half of the region's highly prospective Birmian greenstone belt lies in Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire, but Ghana and Mali have benefitted more from gold-mine development because of their more favourable geopolitical factors.
The region's exploration targets have changed recently, with Burkina Faso being West Africa's leading target in the search for gold last year. The country ranking ninth in terms of annual gold-exploration expenditure budgets, with US$149 million according to S&P Global. Ghana was in 12th place with US$102 million, Côte d'Ivoire ranked 13th globally with US$97 million and Mali ranked 14th with an annual gold-exploration budget of US$91 million last year.
In a research report in December 2018, S&P Global reported that global gold production last year was set to have increased from 106.7 Moz in 2017 to 107.6 Moz, up 0.8%. S&P Global expects the mined supply of gold to reach 113.2 Moz this year.
West Africa is the fourth largest gold-producing region in world, and Ghana is West Africa's top-ranked nation — being the 10th-largest producer with 3.38 Moz in 2017 (S&P Global estimates a 7% decline to 3.1 Moz in 2018). The country had seven mines producing over 200,000 oz in 2017; Gold Fields Ltd's Tarkwa (566,400 oz) and Asanko (205,000 oz), Newmont Mining Corp.'s Akem (473,000 oz) and Ahafo (349,000 oz), Kinross Gold Corp.'s Chirano (246,000 oz), AngloGold Ashanti Ltd's Iduapriem (228,000 oz) and Perseus Mining Ltd's Edikan (208,200 oz).
Mali is in 16th place globally with 1.62 Moz in 2017; coming largely from Barrick's Loulo (730,400 oz in 2017) and Resolute Mining Ltd's Syama (200,500 oz) gold mines. The country is expected to have produced 2.0 Moz in 2018.
Burkina Faso ranks 19th globally, with 1.56 Moz in 2017 (and an estimated 1.8 Moz last year). This output was mainly IAMGold Corp.'s Essakane (432,000 oz in 2017), SEMAFO Inc.'s Mana (206,400 oz) and Nord Gold's Bissa (195,700 oz) gold mines.
Côte d'Ivoire is also an important regional producer, with 716,000 oz of gold in 2017; mainly from Barrick Gold Corp.'s Tongon (288,700 oz) and Endeavour Mining Corp.'s Agbaou (177,200 oz) gold mines.
It is clear then that mining is important to the region. For example, Ghana's Minister of Mines, Hon Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, told delegates at the recent INDABA conference that mining accounted for 6% of Ghana's GDP, 16% of the government's revenue and 40% of the country's exports.
However, Ghana's President, Nana Akufo-Addo, who also spoke at the conference, said the history of mining in Africa was "not always a happy one". He pointed out the irony that "the continent with the richest resources has amongst the world's poorest people". President Akufo-Addo said that the distribution of mining's wealth must change. The mining industry seems receptive to the new mood across the continent, and Mr Asomah-Cheremeh affirmed that the "government of Ghana is ready for collaboration". He seemed to speak for the region as a whole.