"In West Africa, much more dangerous than the pandemic is the war, and this war is spreading, so we need to see business and international actors help local governments prevent these democracies from being converted into military dictatorships and enable markets to thrive for the ultimate betterment of these societies."
What are your observations regarding the impact of Covid-19 in West Africa?
Unlike Europe or North America, which have been grappling with the trauma of the pandemic, West Africa has not seen the same high infection and mortality rates. In fact, statistics show relatively low death tolls in countries like Ghana, Mali and Niger. The main reason for this difference is Africa’s young population profile: the median age in Mali, for instance, is at around 17, while Spain’s is 45. Fewer elderly, obese or medically vulnerable people have changed the outlook for African countries. On the other hand, while the situation on the ground has been less severe compared to other parts of the world, the different versions of lockdown imposed by each country have disrupted travel, affecting the mining sector. Exploration activities, in particular, have been strangled by the juniors’ inability to move people and equipment. Producing mines have also seen their people trapped either out of position or at the site of operation for months on end, before travel bans were lifted.
How has the Sahel war developed over the last few years?
More than the coronavirus, the scale of violence from the Sahel war has been critically affecting the mining industry. The situation in the Sahel has always been serious, but recently it has escalated, having spilled from Mali across borders to Western Niger, as well as Burkina Faso, which is becoming the epicentre of this war, and even to the north of Ivory Coast. While the international community is trying to solve the problem in Mali, the violence has been creeping into other countries and getting worse. In Mali itself, the recent coup is another worrying development: the military that dismantled the civilian leadership is unlikely to be accepted by ECOWAS as legitimate, which could lead to a power vacuum. The ECOWAS has been unable to reverse the coup, and the coup leaders are now calling for a longer period of military rule.
Do you believe there is scope for better inter-governmental collaboration in the region?
Yes, and Mali is an illustrative example of how this is failing right now. The international community is treating Mali as a country with problems, but it is ignoring its neighbours. In Mali, the war has been contained because of the presence of an international military operation made of different missions, including the French, UN, the G5, and the EU. The problem is that there are no international troops in Burkina Faso or Niger. The violent extremist organizations, however, have no respect for borders and they will go anywhere in the region. The international community is not nimble enough to be able to project its assistance across the region yet. This is placing commerce at risk.
Exploration companies are often the most affected by security risks, and probably the least prepared to tackle these challenges. How does MS Risk cater to this sector?
Junior miners do not usually have the internal resources of global mining groups. We help juniors from cradle to grave (pardon the pun!) to understand the risk environment. Our work entails a proper risk assessment and due diligence: an assessment of the local security resources, including contacting the government to get soldiers, gendarmerie, or police, and evaluating whether these are properly equipped, trained, and compliant to the voluntary principles on security and human rights. We apply that same scrutiny to private security resources. MS Risk also engages in building-in crime prevention mechanisms and ensuring there are different layers of physical security that are inter-operable. For instance, a camera system, an alarm system, and fencing need to be well-integrated and complement one another. They need to combine with practical procedures to provide synergy to security models. We also look at journey management routines and checking the security conditions on the routes. Beyond these obvious areas we are crisis responders and underpin client operations.
Could you also tell us about the crisis response capability of MS Risk?
There are three parts to MS Risk: we have a team of analysts, a team of security consultants, and a crisis response capability. On the latter capability, we work for a large number of syndicates in the Lloyd’s of London insurance marketplace who will name MS Risk in insurance policies. Other organizations decide to self-insure and will hire us directly, in which case MS Risk becomes an embedded crisis advisor. By ringing our 24 hours hotline, our clients will be advised on how to respond in cases of threatening communication, kidnapping, or even attack, so that they can exercise their duty of care to their workers and to their shareholders.
Could you elaborate on the functions of the D-Risk database?
Companies in the Sahel need to understand the environment they are present in: in Western countries, one can easily check local crime statistics to understand what they are exposed to, but such data does not exist in the Sahel. Eight years ago, my colleagues and I lamented precisely this gap and so we built this database, and today we operate D-Risk with our friends at Sahara Natural Resources. D-Risk contains over 17,000 security incidents plotted. We feature four types of incidents, mapping any instances of kidnapping, confirmed terrorist activity, violent crime, and finally, public disorder. These have been inputted from a massive open-source monitoring system, fed by our analysts, our internal sources on the ground, and other private sources shared with us.
Do you have a final message for our audience?
Africa has done a better job of managing the effects of the pandemic so far, and we need to find ways to work in a Covid-19 environment and enable the mining sector to operate at full speed. In West Africa, much more dangerous than the pandemic is the war, and this war is spreading, so we need to see business and international actors help local governments prevent these democracies from being converted into military dictatorships and enable markets to thrive for the ultimate betterment of these societies.