Africa’s success in luring mining invest- ment can be credited not only to its valuable minerals but also to its growing skills base of experienced local engineering expertise, says consulting engineers and scientists SRK Consulting chairperson Roger Dixon.
“The continent’s strong mineral history and the steady nurturing of our key mining- and infrastructure-related knowledge make our mineral sector increasingly accessible to investors,” he says.
He believes that nurturing the industry begins by supporting universities across Africa that produce engineers for the mining industry, while these graduates should be introduced to the minerals industry to gain empowerment through mentoring and experiential training.
Dixon says while a shortage of skills still troubles the industry in Africa, and elsewhere, there is considerable local expertise to help investors enter the market and provide sustainable solutions for a range of disciplines and challenges.
He states that universities and mining industries in West African countries, South Africa, Zambia and, previously, Zimbabwe, have produced a constant stream of graduates who gained experience in the local industry. However, for many reasons, such as the employment of expatriate graduates, African engineers were not always empowered to assume leadership roles.
Further, Dixon says investors must not only find the right technical proficiencies to explore and develop mineral deposits, but also navigate national policies and procedures.
Understanding the legislation of African countries and how it is applied and administrated is vital for successful project implementation.
Dixon says this may not always be clear or well observed as a result of lack of capacity in relevant government departments needed to develop and apply meaningful legislation for African countries’ mineral industries.
Many companies also have to bridge cultural gaps regarding the business practices employed in Africa by understanding the prevailing cultures of the country in which they operate. This makes it more difficult and time consuming to deal with the sub- stantive technical issues that companies have to address to develop a project, he notes. The growing presence of companies from China and India in Africa, in recent years, has highlighted this.
“But the good news is that African expertise is up to these challenges, which is evident when observing the daily increase of young African engineers and scientists,” Dixon says.
At the West African Mining and Power Exhibition, in Ghana, in June, much interest was shown in the region’s opportunities and in SRK Ghana’s services, states country manager John Kwofie.
He says Africa’s world-class mineral deposits and growing consumer market make it a target for extractive and retail industries alike.
The high-growth economies of the world, such as China, are targeting Africa, which is where the world’s next billion consumers are, for minerals to fuel their industrial growth and to sell their goods, Dixon believes.
He highlights that the dramatic increase in cellular phone users in Africa, where the number of users escalated by more than 500% in five years, signals great opportunities.
“When populations and economies grow, they need food, infrastructure and consumables. To grow food, they need fertiliser, which comes from minerals. They also need water, power and logistics infrastructure to sustain this growth. As disposable income increases, so does the demand for consumables that are also derived from minerals. These represent the opportunities for mineral growth,” he states.
SRK is demonstrating the value of employing local expertise in its global offices, which can draw on specialist competencies from its global network, says Dixon.
“Combining international best practice with local experience will be key in meeting Africa’s industrial and infrastructural demands.” SRK has offices close to mining regions, managed by nationals with local knowledge and combining international and local expertise creates a unique advantage, states Dixon.
SRK’s global network of consulting engineering firms includes offices in South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Ghana.