"The country has suffered persistent instability which has prevented the realization of our political and economic objectives for many years. In 2013, rebels made siege to the capital city Bangui, triggering an international embargo and shutting off the country from the world. After 2016, diamond exports have resumed partially, thanks to an election that was recognized and welcomed by the international community. This fragility has truncated political programs and made policy launches unsuccessful. Additionally, armed groups have disrupted economic and business activity, but gold continues to be mined normally."
Despite its rich reserves in diamonds, timber, gol, and uranium, the Central African Republic (CAR) has had an unfavourable history that prevented the country from reaping the benefits of its resources. Could you start by giving us an overview of the resources that the CAR possesses and what has been the history of extracting these?
The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in the middle of the Africa continent. It has a vast and good geological setting for the existence of important mineral resources, representing a considerable asset for the development of its economy. The prospecting campaigns carried out during the colonial and post-colonial periods have identified 33 mineral substances. Among theses substances, only gold and diamonds are exploited in artisanal and semi-mechanized mining and therefore contribute to the state budget. The diamonds produced in the CAR are the fifth in the world in terms of their exceptional quality. The CAR is not an oil-producing country but it has three blocks that have been allocated by the state to private companies that have finished the first phase of research and intend to start exploration drilling in the coming years. To this is added iron, copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, uranium, colombo-tantalite - all partially studied and evaluated.
It is unfortunate then, that we are facing geopolitical challenges, including the pervasiveness of mining smuggling. However, political instability has been the real culprit of underdevelopment.
Illegal mining is believed to make up to half of all mining activity in the CAR. How is the current regulation tackling this particular challenge?
After the embargo was lifted, we restarted diamond exploitation in July 2016. However, the annual diamond exports actually declined in the first two years, largely due to illicit mining. Legal mining is concentrated in a small geographical area, as only five out of 16 provinces are embargo-free. The disorder in the country has disrupted the sector which escapes state control; resource diversion thus becomes very common and diamonds being smuggled through neighboring countries.
The eastern part of the country is still under the control of rebel groups, and this region coincides with the area where the highest quality diamonds are sourced from. The government plans on further extending our oversight and working on an operational framework that is agile and responsive to the current challenges.
There are two key aspects to our strategy: The first is working at a regional level, collaborating with neighboring countries to ensure a multi-focal control. The second priority is to strengthen our central purchasing office to ensure that legal mining is rewarded and well supported. Our actual objective is to reduce the number of purchasing offices to avoid frauds. In this way, we create provisions to both curb illegal activities and encourage correct practices.
A year ago, the Khartoum Peace Agreement was signed, but there are indications that the violence is yet to subside. How would you describe the current security situation and what are the measures taken to ensure the safety of travelers?
The country has suffered persistent instability which has prevented the realization of our political and economic objectives for many years. In 2013, rebels made siege to the capital city Bangui, triggering an international embargo and shutting off the country from the world. After 2016, diamond exports have resumed partially, thanks to an election that was recognized and welcomed by the international community. This fragility has truncated political programs and made policy launches unsuccessful. Additionally, armed groups have disrupted economic and business activity, but gold continues to be mined normally.
Security is the government’s biggest challenge and our top priority. Despite the presence of 15,000 UN Peacekeeping troops, insecurity remains a fact of life in the country. Nevertheless, the government is committed to peaceful resolution and it is currently in dialogue with marginal groups and we set up mixed intervention units in order to regain control across all regions which are now in the hands of rebel groups. We equally take visitors’ security concerns very seriously. The government is ready to provide support for visitors, business and official delegates, including the offer of close protection services. We will work together for the benefit of all in the country.
Would you like to share a final message to the international community?
Africa is referred to as the continent of the future and we have the most coveted mines, but nowhere does this resonate as strongly as it does in the Central African Republic. We have three advanced companies in oil research, we have great gold mines that has been stopped but will restart shortly and more possibilities for investment. Most of the country remains untouched and the potential for large, highly-profitable discoveries is unmatched. Additionally, the government has taken a series of steps to ensure a policy framework that is conducive for business. This includes three key areas, starting from a clear, stable and advantageous legislation which favors investors. Additionally, the government commits to the safety of visitors and issues guarantees for the investors in this respect. Finally, our legal system is highly protective of business interests. We are making a concerted effort to demonstrate the extraordinary business opportunities that exist in the Central African Republic. We want to dispel misconceptions by allowing the international community the chance to experience the country first-hand.
What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the Central African Mining Sector?
The Coronavirus pandemic has affected most countries in the world, including the Central African Republic. With the rapid and worldwide spread of the virus, it is clear that we are living in difficult times. The government cares deeply about the health and well-being of its people. While the national authorities are adopting various measures to protect citizens, we also encourage actors in the mining sector to integrate the guidelines provided by the World Health Organization. The impact will be likely felt most in these key areas: closure of purchasing offices, sharp drop in exports and taxes, massive fraud and contraband mining, and degradation of the health system of vulnerable populations.