Cameroon?s new mineral research center will begin operations this year.  

South Korean mining researchers are making trips to Cameroon to determine the overall cost of the facility, to be located in the capital, Yaounde.

They  say the center will cost several millions of dollars and will ultimately be offered to the Cameroon government as a gift.  

The research center will be manned by scientists who will identify rock samples collected from across the country.  They will use sophisticated equipment to conduct detailed studies.

Artisanal diamond mining in Cameroon
Artisanal diamond mining in Cameroon

The Korean investors say the facility will also have geological engineers to help in the design and construction of mines -- and economic geologists to determine the commercial feasibility of projects.  They will decide whether there are enough minerals to justify the cost of a mining venture.

Choi Jong Ho the director of the Energy, Climate Change and Environment Division in the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says, ?we?ll not only build the laboratory,  and train the personnel but we?ll receive your experts in Korea and train them in several stages (shifts).  We?ll also teach your personnel to operate the research laboratory so that after two years, you could run your laboratory by yourself.

Archeologists say Cameroon, with a surface area of 475,000 sq km, has huge reserves of gaseous, liquid and solid mineral resources.

The government say more than 50 varieties of minerals have been identified in large enough quantities for viable commercial exploitation.  They include uranium for nuclear energy, and two minerals in high demand by South Korea:  bauxite for the aluminum needed for automobiles, and iron ore for cell phones and heavy equipment.  

For several years, Cameroon?s mineral wealth has been lying fallow, with most of the operations left in the hands of small-scale and artisanal exploiters.

Experts blame red tape as well as sluggish exploration and exploitation.  They add that until a few years ago Cameroon heavily relied on its petroleum, which accounted for half of its exports.

With potential oil deposits becoming harder to find, the government has been trying to attract investors in other minerals.

But it?s been a slow process of complications in obtaining mining permits and inadequate infrastructure, including roads, railways and ports.  The most important problem is the absence of geological and mining data over large portions of the country.

Calistus Fuh Gentry is secretary of state in the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Technological Development.  He says the Korean laboratory will make strides in exploring and sizing up the country?s mineral potential.

He says , ? 60 percent of what is under is yet not known.  To do anything, you need to send samples outside the country.  Sometimes, it takes three months and it is very expensive.  With this national laboratory, we are going to increase exploration for the rest of the national territory and companies doing exploration in Cameroon who are going to be able to develop their projects faster and it?s going to cost less.?

Critics see the Korean gift as a way to win preferences in mineral exploitation permits, as Cameroon seeks to diversify its oil-driven economy, the largest in the Economic Community of Central African States.  

Several global mining giants are ready to invest in anticipation of a spike in demand this year.  Among them are China?s Sinosteel, the USA-based Hydromine and Australia?s Sundance Resources.

They are in partnership with the Cameroon government, which is the major stakeholder in existing mining companies.

The agreement was signed in December, and the government has issued about to 90 exploration permits.

Records from the prime minister?s office show that the country holds over 750 million tons of bauxite reserves, 200 million tons of iron ore, 736 carats of diamond reserves and vast reserves of cobalt, nickel, manganese, gold, uranium and hydrocarbons.

A number of exploratory ventures that were delayed by the economic downturn will resume this year.  And the government has announced new spending on infrastructure.  It is concluding studies aimed at building a new deep port on the Atlantic, in the tourist town is Kribi, railroads to link up the mines and the ports and hydroelectric dams to run power plants.  

Cameroon has 20 million inhabitants, with 70 percent of them unemployed.

The government says not only will the agreement promote infrastructure development, but also the minerals sector offers the best chance of improving the country?s economic outlook with job creation.