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26 february 2024

Dr M_zee_fula_ngenge (full).pngDr M'zée Fula Ngenge, Chairman of the African Diamond Council (ADC) & African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA), is a Mining Engineer and highly respected Senior Strategy Advisor who celebrated 40 years in the global diamond industry this year. He acts as a professional liaison within the international diamond trade and is well-positioned to influence, both the public and private sectors.

In 1986, Dr M‘zee was instrumental in introducing the Ideal & Super-Ideal Cut diamonds to the global diamond supply chain. These highly sought-after Hearts & Arrows diamonds have rapidly increased in popularity since the 1990s. He also served as Chief Administrative Developer in 2000 and became Project Launch Team Coordinator in 2001 for Kimberley Process (KP), a diamond certification scheme to eradicate blood/conflict diamonds.

In 2001, Dr M'zée was a principal trustee and decisive proponent to establish Dubai as a major diamond and jewellery manufacturing centre, laying the foundation for the successful launch of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) in 2002.

In early 2017, M'zée drafted a bold and assertive revenue recovery proposal that urged the Republic of Angola to implement "Operation Transparency"; and in late 2018 an internationally lauded campaign that was effective in combating illegal immigration, unlawful exploration of diamonds as well as environmental crimes related to the plundering of natural resources, such as diamond smuggling.

At the beginning of 2019, Dr M'zée was assigned as Chairman and Managing Director of the African International Diamond Exchange (AIDEX), Africa's most transparent rough diamond supplier for four diamond exchanges in Antwerp, the Diamond Exchange District in Ramat Gan, the world's largest diamond bourse in Mumbai as well as the largest Free Zone in the United Arab Emirates. At the end of 2019, he was entrusted as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the African Diamond Trust Fund (ADTF), a fully integrated, autonomous financial depository and vault operator for ethically mined rough diamonds originating in Africa.

Here, in an exclusive interview with Rough&Polished, Dr M'zée Fula Ngenge not only mirrors the recent INDABA event in Cape Town, but also clarifies his thoughts on the G7’s push to sanction Russian diamonds...

Some excerpts...

 

For those of us not fortunate to have witnessed the inaugural ceremony, please give a glimpse of the 2024 Investing in African Mining Indaba event.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Investing in African Mining Indaba. The fact that the event continues to successfully attract the presence of Sponsors, Strategic, Knowledge and Participating Partners, such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) is telling and speaks volumes to the level of interest that the event is currently generating.

There was strong U.S. participation this year from entities such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM Bank) and the U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR). Attendance was at an all-time high and the celebrated gathering of mining authorities and enthusiasts also coincided with South Africa’s 30th anniversary of Democracy.

The 2024 theme of the Indaba was “Embracing the power of positive disruption: A bold new future for African mining”, which made it effortless to witness and become conscious that a new era in African mining clearly exists. This distinct emphasis led and encouraged attendees to focus on highlighting and embracing energy transition, to conform to the industry’s sustainability needs as well as to commit to the constructive reshaping the value of mining supply chains.

During their keynote addresses, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema made an impressive delivery in his efforts to continue enticing mining investors into the Republic of Zambia. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on the energy sector to assist with boosting mining efforts as well as enlist in achieving a secure supply of electricity in the rainbow nation, where the nation is experiencing a railway crisis, where platinum have fallen 50% in the last six months and where the nation is producing half of the energy it did two decades ago.

The Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde made substantial headway by putting pressure on mining operators to prioritize responsible and sustainable investment for local development in the DRC, which is the world’s largest producer of green metals.

Mr Frans Baleni, who is the Chairman of the Mining Indaba’s Executive Advisory Board, proved to be an excellent host and his vast leadership experience was on full display as he went out of his way to make everyone feel welcome. It was also wonderful to witness notable recognition and a well-deserved tribute being extended to the visionary, lion-hearted and recently deceased leader of the Republic of Namibia, President Hage Geingob, who admirably led Namibia to become one of the foremost examples for mining nations on the African continent.

For the benefit of our readers, please give us a brief overview of the INDABA, its workings over the years; some of the progress that was made over the past decades in terms of partnerships; as well as its present status.

The Investing in African Mining Indaba started in 1994 and the term “Indaba” refers to 'A meeting of minds” in the isiZulu culture or Zulu language.

Furthermore, the term carries an indistinguishable and identical meaning in isiXhosa culture or Xhosa language, which can also be referred to as “Imbizo”.

To provide additional context, an Indaba is more specifically defined as a traditional assemblage of tribal Bantu leaders to discuss and exchange ideas of significance. While the dress code of the Mining Indaba consisted of an audience that typically exhibits business or business casual attire, South Africa’s cultural significance at the event becomes most evident upon arrival at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) venue.

The Mining Indaba has come to be the world’s leading backdrop for deal sourcing and corporate matchmaking, particularly for those looking to gain immediate access to the African mining industry. Like any other event of this magnitude, the even has certainly experienced challenges along the way since its inception, however, organizers have remained relentless in their efforts to ensure annual success.

With the exception of manganese discoveries in the late 1800’s and early mining operational efforts in the early 1900’s inside Cape Town’s seaside suburb of Hout Bay, there is a thorium and high-grade rare earth elements mine producing in the Western Cape that is located 350km from South Africa’s oldest city.

Several first time Mining Indaba attendees may find it rather surprising that the largest mining conference in Africa has been hosted in South Africa’s most beautiful city for the last 30 years. There were roughly 100 delegates and between 350 and 375 attendees at the very first Indaba and fortunate for the event, those like-minded mining professionals who collectively demonstrated preliminary brilliance of innate foresight and insight to promote the gathering at the outset appeared to have fully understood its understated value. Those same supportive industry pioneers continued demonstrating their collective advocacy by attracting a diverse array of stakeholders from across the globe to annually participate in this high-impact event.

In 2014, the Indaba began to attract and enjoy an influx of international media outlets and now, the event attracts more than 250 journalists. In 2018, the Republic of South Africa signed an MoU with Republic of Niger to cooperate in the fields of geology and mining that focused across the whole value chain, beginning with exploration and all the way to beneficiation. There was a little over 6,000 delegates in attendance in 2019 and the following year, that number exceeded 6,500. This year, attendance exceeded 10,000 delegates for the first time.

During the 2023 Mining Indaba, we heard Jose W. Fernandez, the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, deliver news that Anthony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State signed a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in December 2022, between the USA, the Republic of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This particular MOU supported the commitment between the DRC and Zambia to jointly develop a supply chain for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Please give details of the MoUs reportedly signed during February 2024... between Instituto Geológico de Angola and the Council for Geoscience in South Africa; and also between ENDIAMA and the De Beers Group.

A cooperation agreement in the field of geological research was signed between the Geological Institute of Angola (IGEO) and the South African Council of Geological Sciences, which took place on February 6th and deemed “Angola Day” at the Indaba.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed between the De Beers Exploration Holdings Limited and the Republic of Angola. We can see that De Beers, a mining company based in the United Kingdom may have their priorities in order by placing a strong emphasis on exploration in Angola, which is now referred to as the last frontier from natural diamond mining in Africa.

The De Beers Group of Companies will commit to efforts and operations that look explore both, below and above surface mining. De Beers currently has two below surface or underground exploration blocks in Angola that they secured back in 2022, both of which are now being actively explored. In the last seven years, De Beers has attempted to increase their geological understanding, which gives an opportunity to demonstrate to Angola what they have learned from airborne geophysics experts like South Africa-based, Spectrem Air Limited. High-resolution airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveys shall be conducted and utilized on the ground in Angola to fast-track technological development, which is necessary to provide high-quality data as well as be effective in enhancing drilling efforts in areas that bear kimberlite. Surface or above ground mining in Angola is where the real potential lies, given that it positions De Beers to benefit from the recent reform efforts and revised legislation that is designed to assure greater transparency.

De Beers possesses the capacity to honorably and legitimately enhance the quality of life for African youth via scholarships and entrepreneurial training programs within African diamond producing nations. In Angola, a strong emphasis will certainly need to be placed on encouraging young Angolan girls through De Beers’ mentorship programs and to prepare or develop African women to occupy senior leadership roles as well as in technical mining positions.

De Beers translocation and conservation efforts can also become essential to increase wildlife populations to coexist with launching a successful tourism sector in Angola. De Beers’ sorting technology can certainly add value to how business is conducted within Angola’s national diamond trading company and would lend a great deal of optimism to the acceptable setup of the long overdue Angolan Diamond Exchange.

Finally, it should not come as a surprise to witness De Beers’ establish and open of a “Forever Mark” shop inside Angola’s new António Agostinho Neto International Airport in the near future.

Can you please update us about the subjects discussed in the Ministerial Symposium during INDABA on both days... on Minerals and Energy, Mines & Minerals, Mining Development, Natural Resources and other allied departments in Africa?

From my perspective, Mining Ministers are beginning to grasp and acknowledge the importance of collaboration between the private sector, African governments, and industry governing bodies that contribute to a more vibrant mining sector as well as African civil society, who tends to courageously confront overlooked issues that encourage transparency in the sector.

To provide more clarity, several African Heads of State are now appearing to possess a more superior understanding of the mining priorities and objectives of governments in both, the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Given their unvarying and unbiased exposure to both sides, the Republic of Angola may prove to be best positioned nation to play a key role in efforts for other African mining nations to uncover the strategies of the USA and China.

During the two days, it became rather evident that mineral-rich nations in Africa have become more open to foreign investment and partnerships, however, it also became obvious and clear that Africa’s highly sought-after natural resources, minerals and assets should prove to be much more beneficial to the producing nations and their citizens in the long run, much more than they are for those resorting to predatory extraction tactics in their own selfish efforts to achieve immediate and external economic success.

The importance and effectiveness of focused skill transfer, recurrent training and development in the African mining sector was also emphasized and highlighted during both days, particularly in the areas of engineering and advanced technology. If African governments fail to hold foreign mining companies accountable to support or subsidize educational and employment mobility as well as mentorship programs, the African mining industry will definitely be at risk of being rendered as powerless or regarded as underdeveloped. There is no better industry to begin grooming a more competent and highly-skilled population than the mining sector, so African governments must courageously engage foreign mining companies by placing a more concentrated emphasis on the nation’s educational demands at the outset of the negotiations phase.

This mining sector is not and has never been immune to failure, however, I will admit to it being one of the world’s most resilient industries. There are several challenges in the sector that exists beyond legislation, which often hinges on the lack of a sufficient infrastructure, such as the inconsistency of reliable electricity and the absence of high-speed rail transportation.

Despite that, geopolitical tensions affecting the mining industry also continue to persist, so access to critical and strategic minerals became a prevailing topic during the symposium, principally since these extractable substances are key to the world’s hankering defense industry. These profound discussions were accentuated by efforts to increase the responsible sourcing of conflict minerals, particularly in close proximity of the Lobito Corridor, a railway project that connects the Indian Ocean in the United Republic of Tanzania to the Atlantic Ocean in the Republic of Angola. The Lobito Corridor not only places an essential emphasis an infrastructure development, it must be known that is the most valuable railway route on the African continent for transporting strategic minerals, critical raw materials (CRMs) and products of the electric vehicle (EV) battery value chain. The Lobito Corridor has even become the most popular route for the Rovos Rail, a South Africa-based luxury passenger train that annually operates between Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Lobito (Angola) during the month of July.

The LOBITO Corridor also provides right of entry to both, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where illicit mining is historically rampant and also to the Republic of Zambia, where China is well-positioned to take over the operations of the TAZARA railway, another important railway development that links the port of Dar es Salaam to the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia's Central Province. China’s competitive refurbishment pledge to invest US$1 billion in the TAZARA rail is their competitive response to U.S.’s investment in the LOBITO Corridor to secure minerals for the Western hemisphere out of the Angola’s Port of Lobito.

The United States government has historically depended on Africa’s former colonial powers to achieve their obscured resource aspirations on the African continent, however, this uncertain reliance has often raised far-reaching Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) predicaments that the USA is not always willing to assume full responsibility for, alternatively, the USA is now resorting to a more hands-on approach when it comes to African affairs and engagement, as we are beginning to witness through U.S. commitment to invest in solar and renewable energy inside the Republic of Angola.

With regard to more distinct mineral circumstances, the demand for cobalt and nickel will be amplified by twenty times, graphite is set to increase by twenty-five times and the demand for lithium will easily increase more than forty times over the next two decades, so the DRC and Zambia are now being singled out by the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA) as the key sources of these minerals, with the Republic of Angola on the west coast and the United Republic of Tanzania on the east coast of Africa serving as facilitating exit points. Long-term success of these projects will certainly vary from country to country and will depend heavily on consistent legislation, harmonious leadership and sustainable transformation on the African continent.

The resurgence and interest of nuclear power worldwide is bringing uranium back in the spotlight, especially where there are large concentrations in countries like Namibia, Niger, South Africa and the DRC. After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was ratified 67 years ago, we saw Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa lead other African nations to join as members of the world's central inter- governmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the nuclear field. To date, there are 45+ members from the African continent, which contributes to the entire coalition of 178 members. It should come as a surprise in 2024, that African nations such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa now sit on the IAEA’s 35 member Board of Governors with an elevated level of influence that focuses on policymaking.

The Symposium also contributed to opportunities for the African Diamond Manufacturers Association’s (ADMA) efforts to rally potential members to collaborate more. The ADMA did raise some interesting facts concerning agribusiness and mining to help observers understand how both industries rely on each other to prosper and generate wealth. Since agribusiness does depend on mined minerals such as phosphates to fertilize the soil and given that the mining industry requires agricultural products to ensure that their workforce’s food sources are sustained, several Mining Ministers took great interests in the success of ADMA’s pilot programs in Angola as a framework to cultivate and integrate within their respective countries.

What was the final conclusion reached on the topics like health & safety measures, and sustainability in the mining sector; automation/new technologies impacting job availability for the youth of Africa and other important issues?

Since the mining sector is a capital-intensive industry that calls for long-term investment, heath and safety is, and will always be, a priority as well as concern for the industry. While processing plants require less people than they did a decade ago, there are still labor shortages that provide excellent opportunities for highly-trained, proficient and skilled personnel, especially those who are multilingual.

Mining has historically been dominated by a male workforce, however, when looking at South Africa’s mining sector as an example, the number of women employed over the last four years has impressively increased by 46%, which equates to more than 73,000. Women in Mining (WIM UK) raised several concerns and addressed for more inclusion of women in mining activities while confronted actions against gender inequality during their panel which focused on “Communities”.

Insightful and disruptive discussions were initiated by the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), which made its debut at the Mining Indaba this year. The presence of RMI made it possible for attendees and stakeholders to become more cognizant of why the automotive and electronics sectors are taking the initiative to invest in the mining sector.

The African Diamond Council (ADC) moved to encourage mining companies and natural resource ministers to engage in discussions that focused on developing mining infrastructures, while emphasizing the importance of community uplift and meaningful engagement where mining activities currently take place.

The ADC committed to intrepid efforts that encouraged the formalization of artisanal or small-scale mining. The ADC also launched its 2024 campaign to provide advanced traceability technology for the diamond and gemstone industry and well as the existing diamond certification scheme, which is touting their chairmanship as “Year of Delivery.”

Since diesel prices have increased significantly, it will prove to be more challenging and complex to electrify heavy-duty mining equipment at the same pace that efficient All-Electric Vehicles (AEVs) and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are now being manufactured.

There are several opportunities for mechanization in open-pit mining, which is facilitated by machinery and digital systems that make mines both, greener and safer. While there are many aspects of the mining sector that continues to lag, the industry has become rather innovative with respect to the digital frontier. What I see as a real benefit for the African mining industry is to have mining nations in Africa serve the official pilot program for automation, improved productivity, knowledge work and advanced technology.

The adoption and implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proving to be a game-changer in the mining sector, because it allows for more efficient exploration while generating greater yields. In addition to that, AI dramatically improves safety while maximizing extraction, maintenance and operational performance. Geologists and engineers in mining countries such as Zambia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia are beginning to reap the benefits from AI data that is designed to improve in areas of extraction planning and optimization.

Drones are beginning to replace helicopters that usually perform tasks in and around mines that would entail higher risk if undertaken by humans, which are composed of undertakings from mapping and surveying to inspection assignments and measurements of stockpiles.

What is the current situation in the diamond / gold / other precious metal mining sector in terms of investment from other countries? According to you, what are the potential benefits and opportunities for the African mining industry?

There is an obvious rivalry taking place between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, who are both vying for influence on the African continent. When African nations get distracted or caught up in semantics of “Cold Wars” or periods of geopolitical tension, the consequences tend to provoke “Hot Wars” and domestic instability, which infallibly puts African economies at risk of being dismantled or controlled.

In the last six months, the diamond industry has become rather fragile and this setback was primarily due to a weak demand of polished diamonds in the USA and China, as well as by an encroachment of synthetic, lab-grown and manmade diamonds that continue to contaminate the consumer market. After natural diamonds prices fell in the last quarter of 2023, India ceased imports on all rough diamonds between October 15th and December 15th. Since that time, natural diamond prices are slowly and gradually rebounding, while lab-grown diamond prices have decreased 90%, since their emergence.

African governments are witnessing the frustrations of diamond inactivity in the Russian Federation, which was the world’s top diamond producer. Comparable vexation is taking place in the State of Israel, which happens to be the primary supplier of gemstones to the world’s top diamond consuming nation, the United States of America. Given that Russia and Israel are nations that have recently become consumed with bloodshed and warfare, the African Diamond Council (ADC) remains fully committed to inhibiting armed conflicts within the borders of Africa’s diamond producing nations.

Furthermore, the ADC shall continue to encourage sustainable and positive transformation of the African mining industry for years to come, since many of the hindrances and impediments currently being observed in the African mining sector can be attributed to administrative deficiencies in the public sector.

Gold has been in high demand since the 1960s and this commodity has increased in price from US$35 per ounce to over US$2,000 today. Algeria is the African leader in gold reserves on the continent, with more than 174 metric tons. In 2022, the Republic of Uganda discovered 31 million metric tons of gold ore, which translates into 320,158 metric tonnes of refined gold and is estimated to be worth US$12 trillion. This recent revelation would make Uganda the richest gold producer in the world. In 2022, Uganda exported US$1.9 billion of gold to the United Arab Emirates.

At this present time, the Republic of Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Angola provide the best opportunities to attract foreign investment. While the Mining Indaba impressively exceeds expectations to highlight the mining sector, African nations may also have to result to globally promoting themselves beyond the African continent. Those governments would enjoy much more success through additional commitments to universally unmask their mining capacity as well as their potential to develop tourism resulting from this elevated interest in the Lobito Corridor. This level of increased visibility could be achieved through sedulous efforts to globally promote other important local industries throughout the course of the upcoming eleven months in varying languages, either by way of established multilingual international media platforms or via a series of international road shows.

In closing, what is your take on the G7’s push to sanction Russian diamonds and how does it affect member countries of the African Diamond Council (ADC)?

The G7 would like to see Antwerp designated as the sole entry point in the European Union (EU) for all global rough diamond production. The EU is also pushing to have all diamonds certified there, with the exception of banned diamonds of Russian origin.

With that being said, the global diamond industry is becoming more dysfunctional and those recurring abnormalities have become more obvious after seeing a concentrated effort being made to stop the flow Russian diamonds over the last 24 months so much more than efforts to end an armed conflict after an invasion that took place exactly two years ago.

The G7’s apathy with regard to Africa has been incredibly revealing and much of this indifference regarding the African diamond producing nations has also become more obvious within familiar circles of the World Diamond Council (WDC). While De Beers shows their support for the G7’s efforts, they also discreetly possess a strategic desire to sanction Russian diamonds, while dreaming of having the Belgian Federal Public Service of Economy at the Antwerp Diamond Office secure entry of their overstated Tracr blockchain platform to be assigned at the world’s industry-wide blockchain technology.

Woefully, De Beers’ GemFair technology, which engages artisanal miners and Tracr will not only fall short of Africa’s traceability expectations, but is deemed today as deficient or ill-equipped to effectively tackle the setbacks currently being experienced via Kimberley Process (KP) diamond certification scheme. Neither provides the African diamond sector with a bona fide traceability mechanism that is prepared to deliver the level of value required to supply the global diamond industry with what it demands to increase and maintain ethical diamond sales, ensure global consumer satisfaction or elevate the standards of the entire diamond value chain.

If implementation of a new diamond certification scheme in Antwerp is being explored, it could mean the end of the failing Kimberley Process (KP) that has been facilitating the laundering of diamonds possessing questionable origin. African diamond producing nations will not and do not have to depend on exaggerated or over-marketed traceability systems being proposed by those who aggressively promote what they fail to fully understand. While blockchain should be welcomed and embraced by the global diamond industry, the technology has yet to independently discard the endless consequences that negatively affect the production of and distribution of diamond produced by African nations over the last nine years, I am certain that the industry is remarkably close to presenting and delivering an effective traceability solution that the KP and the entire gemstone industry can embrace and be prudent of, so we must stand unified when the opportunity presents itself.

African leaders in diamond producing countries and global diamond consumers have become so suspicious and sagacious to repeated marketing and promotion efforts that are laced with the distorted messages. The global diamond industry is attempting to return to the way that diamond business was conducted and controlled in the 1980’s.

Let’s hope that the global diamond industry can exceed 117.5 million carats before the “Year of the Dragon” concludes.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished