Opinion | The first step on a long road to establishing a viable mining sector in South Sudan

South Sudan has unique opportunities for the development of the mining industry, provided that this development is carried out gradually as part of a logical multi-annual action plan.

This type of plan, operating for decades, is needed due to competition from many other countries for new mining projects. It is worth saying this openly, it is a market where many other countries offer slightly better conditions and much safer investments.

Even now, in the difficult political situation around us, it is necessary to think about and work out gradual reforms and changes that will be understandable to the world’s major investors in this sector.

According to the authors, it is possible to develop such a plan for each of the twelve provinces, and in this article, we present a draft of such activities for minerals other than oil and gold.

We believe that for these other minerals, a different (less central) approach is necessary, ie working with local forces, authorities, local organizations and entrepreneurs.

First and foremost, the first step in any province should be to train even a small handful of people who will understand the difficult problems at the interface between the mining industry and environmental and socio-economic realities. To paraphrase a saying of one theorist: it is the frames that decide everything.

Technology and sector development policy

The special situation of South Sudan results from the fact that there has been progress in the technology of mineral extraction and it has become relatively cheaper than in the past to transport machinery and equipment to the site of the mine construction. At the same time, new technologies are more water-saving, which is of key importance for investment decisions in South Sudan.

However, these water-saving technologies are not cheap and concern only a certain group of minerals.

Many minerals have high costs, not on the ore extraction side, but these minerals have particularly high costs for building a plant that will extract a commercial product from this ore.

In such a situation, the basic question arises whether it would make economic sense to transport ore to a distant processing plant at all. So far, the costs of transport by land, ie trucks, have been and are so high that many projects have been terminated because of this. But let’s look at such solutions that may be possible in the future. Ore rafting on rivers is a song of the future and in the conditions of this region it is technically impossible (for decades to come). However, projects of purposefully constructed airships for the mining industry begin – for moving mining machinery in parts and possibly production. It is worth noting that the ISL (in-situ-leaching) technique, which is water-saving, can only be used for some deposits, but the preparation of a mine in such a technology takes many years (even up to five years).

Also, the construction technique of modern fall tunnels, which resulted in a huge increase in extraction in Australia, requires many years of preparation and site research. Then the ordering of machines and devices takes place, which is also not easy because such a machine for drilling the downhole must be quite individually designed. This technological advancement will surely gradually allow for solutions that will lower the costs of building and operating a mine, even in such difficult areas as South Sudan.

Creating technical and human resources

South Sudan is in dire need to diversify its economy by establishing and developing mining sector. According to the authors, what is important is the creation of facilities for the mining industry, i.e. assembly, servicing and transport of equipment for mining machines, training people in the basic knowledge of the mining industry, development of competences in local authorities in understanding that oil mines and gold, and mines of other minerals require a completely different approach.

Technical facilities require the decision of each of the provincial authorities where they could be located. It seems like a fantasy, we do not have a mine yet and we are already indicating a place for technical service. Yes, but this must be done in advance, indicating to investors that here and there it will be possible to create a place for service or repair of mining machines.

We believe that each province should think about where and how it would be possible to create a technical center and educate people in the field of mining. Nobody “from the headquarters” will do it, because only local groups interested in this topic can come up with something real.

The second task of each province should be to create an education system for at least a few people from each year in the geological direction and also for several people in the direction of the mining industry. We are talking about a school for people from different provinces that would educate a minimum number of people – it would be the seed from which the national staff will grow in a decade.

A school of this type with scholarships for people from all provinces of South Sudan (say 4-6 people from each province for each year) would be the primary place to transfer knowledge to the future national staff. This can only be done by identifying and educating people on potential mining projects in South Sudan and their value for investment. Without the support of people who understand what such industry is, it will not be possible to convince local communities to the difficult process of agreeing to such investments.

History and potential resources

Previous geological survey and prospecting conducted in the 1970s and 1980s by Hunting Geology and Geophysics, Chevron Oil Company, and the Belgian Mission show that South Sudan have potential rich deposits of major metals, precious stones, energy minerals, and industrial materials including gold, copper, manganese, uranium, lead, zinc, nickel, marble, diamond and rare earth metals.

Since then, there has never been more detailed geological review to properly investigate potential quantities and commercial viability of the minerals.

Geological, hydrogeological, hydrological, environmental and seismic information as well as its archiving and description of the legal status

Geological information is important to determine where local mining companies can be set up.

It is worthwhile for each of the twelve regions of South Sudan to take steps to create a local database containing as much information as possible about their territory.

Creating such a database requires individual actions in each province, but it is easier now in the age of computers and the Internet. It is especially important for the mining industry to create a database of water resources and available storage options. Water is crucial for many mining investments – without it, even a valuable deposit is worthless because it is impossible to produce metal concentrate from it.

Thus, in each region, one would have to decide where there might be little water resources that could be used for the extractive industry – unfortunately often without recovery. So a local water resource management policy is needed and here only the regional authorities and society have to be active.

The real situation is that mining companies will not spend (substantial) money on geological research and preparation of the mine project if there is no allocation of water for mining purposes in the area. Therefore, it is water and information about its resources that will determine the direction of investment in the future.

In our opinion, the first task should be to raise the competences of people in local authorities of twelve regions in terms of the basic principles of organizing similar mineral management systems.

South Sudan, after the end of internal conflicts, there are no people at the local (provincial) level who would know the basic issues related to the promotion of mineral exploration and extraction.

According to the authors of the article, remote training (via Teams / Skype) for people from all twelve regions of South Sudan on the following topics should be organized:

Index of topics for the training of provincial officials and representatives

Who the potential investors in South Sudan might be and what risks these investors need to understand before making any investment decisions.

What are the minerals, what is a mineral deposit, why are various minerals sought after all over the world

How far one mineral deposit can go, why are the boundaries of the mineral deposit irregular. Why the deposit may have different sizes depending on the changes in the price of the mineral – what do the so-called geological resources and what do the so-called industrial resources.

What is a concession area – which means that an entity has the right to search for a mineral in a given area

What is geological information, i.e. something that is collected as a result of research

From prospecting to building a mine – why does it often take 4 to 15 years? How is the construction of a mine being prepared and how is the construction of a processing plant carried out?

Water problem – the amount of water for the mine and the amount of water for the processing plant. Dangers related to the contamination of this water.

What minerals provide the most employment in their extraction and processing.

Why do mines operate for a short time – sometimes only 8-10 years, sometimes 15 years and very rarely over 30 years.

Problems with leaving heaps and remains of the mine and mining plant – who is to clean it up and how.

What contamination is formed after almost every mine. How should the mine area be secured so that it does not damage the environment in its vicinity?

Distribution of money from profits – problems that await South Sudan in this regard

How much can South Sudan really gain from a mine that sells a concentrate of a given mineral for $ 200 million for, for example, 10 years of production.

Why local communities should receive a higher percentage of income from small mines opened on the local market. How to establish these issues.

Why are medium-sized and small mines a much higher percentage of income for the local community than “Big” giants.

How to estimate the value of water that will be irreversibly used by a given mine. Why is it so important in the overall decision-making process.

Why is it important to create special economic zones for the production of machinery and equipment for the mining industry. What can be achieved this way.

Should the mine have its own energy generation system? Or maybe there should be an energy supply system for a group of mines (a kind of “energy company”) for a region where more mines can be built. What is worth discussing in each region of the country – without energy, there will be no mines.

Conclusions

The authors of this article can assist in giving lectures in such an online training for provincial authorities.

In our opinion, a first step is needed on a long road that will take many years. And the described sequence of conduct is the most logical sentence

However, what is needed is someone who would fund the idea and set up the technical site of such an online academy for the provincial authorities. As always, you need a sponsor who would like to sponsor such an undertaking, i.e. by agreeing who from each province could take part in a several-hour-long training in these matters once a month.

We are open to cooperation.

About the authors:

For 25 years, Piotr Syryczyński has been leading various projects of privatization of mining plants and their nationalization. He participated as a banking engineer in supervision over the implementation of new investments. He has experience from a number of European countries and projects in Siberia. He can be reached at qwerty@zwarszawy.pl or Piotr.syryczynski@multiconsultgroup.com

Akoon Maluach

Akoon Maker Maluach is a former student of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. He holds a combined Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering with Honours from ANU. He served in Australian Army Reserve from 2008-2012. He can be reached at akoonmaker@gmail.com 

Marzena Sadowska, a hydrogeologist with many years of experience in geotechnical supervision, projects for the construction of new plants, also underground and water intakes, problems arising from the operation of mines and similar issues.

Source: Radio Tamazuj