(Business in Cameroon) - In the framework of the Mbalam-Nabeba iron ore development project, Cameroon’s National Mining Company (Sonamines) will be in charge of the mining component. This is one of the information contained in a letter dated February 25, 2022, sent by State Minister Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh to Minister of Mines, Gabriel Dodo Ndoké, clarifying the role Sonamines is to play in the exploitation of the Mbalam-Nabeba iron ore straddling Cameroon and Congo.
"By order of the President of the Republic, I have the honor to inform you that in the framework of the development of the Mbalam iron ore project, Sonamines will take charge of the mining component of the project. It will make due diligence to set up a consortium, possibly with Chinese firms Yiantian Port, China Railways Corporation Co (CRCC), Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC), China Baowu Steel Group, Shanghai Tsingshan Mineral Co Ltd, and the partner of the Nabeba project, for the joint development of the Mbalam-Nabeba iron project... ," the State Minister wrote.
In addition to positioning Sonamines at the heart of the Mbalam iron ore exploitation project, this letter reveals the names of five other firms that are eying the project. In late 2020, when speaking before the Finance Committee of the National Assembly to defend the budget allocated to the ministry he is overseeing, Mines Minister Gabriel Dodo Ndoké, announced that the Mbalam mining project would be exploited with a “consortium of five Chinese state firms.” He did not name those firms.
The February 25, 2022, letter also reveals that having obtained the concession of the mineral terminal of the deep seaport of Kribi, as well as the contract for the construction of the 510-km Mbalam-Kribi railroad, Chinese duo AutSino-Bestway Finance could join the consortium to contribute to the exploitation of the Mbalam iron deposit.
Indeed, "the partner in the Nabeba project", which, under the terms of discussions with Sonamines, could join the consortium formed by the five Chinese state-owned companies mentioned above, is none other than Sangha Mining. This Congolese state firm, fully controlled by Bestway Finance (AutSino's partner in Cameroon), took over Australian firm Sundance’s assets in the Congolese part of the project.
At this stage, there is no indication that an extended consortium will come into play. Discussions to form a large consortium with AutSino and Bestway may not be successful. However, if successful, the AutSino-Bestway Finance duo could regain control over the mining component of the Mbalam (by effectively taking over Sundance’s assets on the Cameroonian side) after obtaining contracts for the construction of all the related infrastructures.
Brice R. Mbodiam