While some African countries are notoriously hard to do business in, Mali doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Explorers are gearing up for the next round of exploration now the wet season is over.
We’ve all seen the headlines highlighting the issues in the Congo and Tanzania, but when it comes to underexplored Mali, the West African country is proving ideal for some miners.
BHP (ASX:BHP) was one of the first Aussie miners to venture in sometime in the 80s, but it was not a long-term stay.
After finding a bit of gold, the major offloaded its tenements to others and exited Mali.
Since then several large multi-million-ounce (Moz) gold discoveries have been made, including the 8.5Moz Morila mine, the 13Moz Sadiola mine and the 8Moz Syama mine owned by Perth-based Resolute Mining (ASX:RSG).
South Africa-based producer AngloGold Ashanti (ASX:AGG) is a partner in the Morila and Sadiola mines.
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Former ASX-listed gold junior Papillon Resources, meanwhile, was swallowed up by Vancouver-based gold producer B2Gold Corp back in 2014 in a $US570m deal ($790.6m), which was a nearly 21 per cent premium to Papillon’s market value at the time.
Papillon had made a discovery known as “Fekola”, which grew to become an 8Moz gold mine and started production late last year.
Bridge Street Capital analyst Dr Chris Baker says Mali is geologically similar to the prolific gold regions of Western Australia.
“The whole of West Africa from Ghana all the way through to Mali and Senegal is very prospective for gold orebodies and there have been some very, very large orebodies found,” he told Stockhead.
“In the last 20 years we’ve seen two or three big gold rushes in West Africa.”
The Senegal-Mali Shear Zone hosts these major gold discoveries and is similar to Western Australia’s Boulder-Lefroy fault, according to Dr Baker.
The zone already has defined resources of around 30Moz.
Lots more gold to find
But Mali is still largely underexplored, and only a few junior players have cottoned onto the country’s abundant mineral wealth.
“Having spent much time looking at sub-Saharan Africa and its gold deposits, one of the areas we keep coming back to is Mali, and particularly deposits along the Senegal-Mali Shear Zone,” Dr Baker said in a recent research report.
Oklo Resources (ASX:OKU) has just sunk a further $5m into more drilling following the wet season.
Prior drilling delivered thick intersections at grades of up to 36.9 grams per tonne (g/t) at the Dandoko project.
“[Mali] hasn’t been well explored because the ground that Oklo, just for example, is exploring, really has seen very little exploration at all historically, yet they’re surrounded by the best part of resources plus production of 30 million ounces within a 100km radius,” Dr Baker explained.
“This ground has seen very, very little exploration historically.”
Dr Baker said gold deposits in Mali are higher grade than gold deposits found in other West African countries.
“Average grades in West Africa are generally not all that high, they’re sort of between 1.5 and 2 grams, and the orebodies in Mali are averaging over 2 grams, and some of them are even higher than that,” he said.
“Not only are you finding big orebodies, you’re finding them at quite reasonable grades. It just makes the economics of that orebody that much more attractive.”
Earlier this year Indiana Resources (ASX:IDA) placed its Ntaka Hill nickel project in Tanzania on the backburner and picked up some prospective gold ground in Mali.
The company has reported hits of up to 4.86g/t from just 12m down at its Koussikoto Ouest project in western Mali.
Indiana has also entered into a joint venture over the Kossanto West gold project, located immediately adjacent to the north of the Koussikoto project.
Birimian (ASX:BGS) has two gold projects — Massigui and Dankassa — in Mali.
But the company’s main focus is its Goulamina lithium project, also in Mali.
In November, Birimian bowed to shareholder pressure, with the exit of three directors and its company secretary.
Since then two new directors have joined the ranks and Birimian this week announced some crucial (but non-binding) agreements with big Chinese companies to help move its Goulamina project into production.
Mali welcomes miners
Dr Baker describes Mali as a mining friendly jurisdiction.
“I think Mali is, by African standards, one of the more friendly jurisdictions that I can think of, if not the most friendly,” he said.
The government already has the right, and will usually exercise that right, to take a 20 per cent stake in a mine before development — providing emerging projects with equity from the government.
“That was what caused a lot of problems in Tanzania, where the government didn’t always have equity in projects and didn’t always see royalties,” he explained.
“I think the royalty regime is attractive and there has been no disruption to mining and threat of increases of royalties like we’ve seen in Zambia or the DRC.”