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Cameroon Explores Mineral Wealth by Air

Major mining companies like Rio Tinto, unloading iron ore in Australia in December, 2013, will learn the true extent of Cameroon's resources after a World Bank-funded aerial survey of one of Africa's mineral-rich nations.
The world's major mining interests - including Australia's Sundance, Canada's Rio Tinto Alcan and China's SinoSteel - will get a new look at the minerals hidden beneath Cameroon when the government completes a sophisticated and expanded aerial survey of 457,000 square miles of the nation.

All of the old claims that Cameroon possesses one of Africa’s largest reserves of mineral resources were based on a 40-year-old survey of less than half of Cameroon. Despite those out-dated claims, global mining industry giants continued to rush in: Australia’s Sundance, Korea’s C&K Mining, Canada’s Rio Tinto Alcan, and China’s SinoSteel, among others.

To date, the government has issued an estimated 170 exploration permits enabling the mineral-hungry investors to probe the country’s remotest parts, digging around for leads to possibly buried deposits of bauxite, uranium, diamonds, rutile, zinc, iron ore, nickel, cobalt, manganese, natural gas and oil.

Swelling numbers of new finds have recently inspired fresh government interest in expanding its understanding of the country’s available mineral wealth. The Ministry of Mines, Industries and Technological Development has launched a minerals stock-taking venture across parts of the unexplored 60 percent of territory making up Cameroon.

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Cameroon’s mining sector has frequently come under fire for failing to assume its ascribed role as Cameroon’s engine to drive new industry and more jobs. Mining currently contributes a meager six percent to the country’s revenue in the annual budget.

Bonde says the plan is to raise that amount to 10 percent in the coming years.

”It’s a very promising sector which we intend to valorize,” says Emmanuel Bonde, Cameroon’s Minister of Mines, Industries and Technological Development. “But mining processes are usually lengthy and the populations expecting to find jobs in the sector must be patient, because there is no need rushing to end up with mistakes like auctioning our mineral wealth.”

The minister of mines says the geophysical survey will help streamline the sustainable management of the country’s mineral potentials.

“Starting in January of this year, four small aircraft flying at altitudes as low as 80 meters will become a familiar scene for residents of six of the country’s ten administrative regions,” says Bonde. The aircraft are small and are fitted with sensors that visualize sub-surface geological structures, he said.

The aerial geophysical survey will cover 160,000 square-kilometers in six regions – the Adamawa, Centre, East, North, Littoral and West regions, says Guillaume Sosthène Mananga, coordinator of a World Bank-funded Mining Sector Capacity Building Project. He manages the national minerals assessment that was launched in 2011.

That’s about a third of Cameroon’s total surface. By June, 2015, the project is expected to culminate in the identification of new reserves.

The operation will cost 2.1 billion FCFA - about 4.2 million in U.S. dollars – and is being performed by Canadian Geotech Airborne Ltd, which has been doing similar aerial surveys for 30 years.

Using aero-magnetic techniques increasingly employed in studying the earth’s properties, the geophysicists say they will produce for Cameroon 13 new geological maps, up from one currently; as well as expand the size of explored portions of Cameroon’s territory from 40 to 70 percent.

Experts say apart from being more modern, efficient and rapid, the survey is also environmentally-friendly as it rules out the need for exploration excavations. According to the World Bank, the project will eventually contribute in enhancing efficiency and transparency in the mining sector and also improve the frameworks for sustainable mining development.