Eritrea, a funnel shaped country that borders The Red Sea, was, because of its unstable political history, a bit of a mystery to the international mining community. But an unprecedented era of peace and stability is changing things quickly.
Eritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous. The Tigrinya people and the Tigre people together make up about 80% of the country’s total population. The rest of the country consists of various other Afro-Asiatic groups. Like its demographic makeup, mining deposits in Eritrea are also heterogeneous; since the Eritrean government embraced mining development in the 1990’s a number of unique deposits have been found in the country that consist of a combination of gold, silver, copper and zinc.
Eritrea’s government, however, is a stark counterpoint to the country’s diversity. Eritrea is a single-party state. The government is run by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). No other political groups are currently allowed to organize, although the Constitution of 1997, which has not been implemented, provides for the existence of multi-party politics. In 2008, the government of Eritrea made it more attractive for foreign companies to prospect and develop projects when they set their stake at 10 percent with an option to buy a further 30 percent. Industry analysts consider this to be a relatively small claim compared to other countries in North Africa like Egypt which mandates a 50 percent stake or Sudan at 60 percent. And as a result, some industry experts predicted an impending mining boom in Eritrea.
A video released in 2009 focusing on the Eritrean mining industry provides an excellent overview of the country and its approach to mining:
The bottom line for international miners? The Eritrean government is proactive and pro-mining. The Ministry of Energy and Mines carried out modern technology-backed study and exploration activities in 2010 with a view to reinforcing the ongoing mining endeavors in the country. Alem Kibreab, director general of the Mining Department, explains the mineral resources in the country are owned by the people themselves and that the Government shoulders the responsibility of their management. Since the 2008 policy that encourages mining investment in Eritrea, Mr. Kibreab notes that twenty foreign companies are now engaged in studying, exploring and mining in the country.
Eritrea’s most advanced project is the Bisha mine operated by Nevsun Resources (TSX:NSU). Its 27 million tonnes of ore reportedly contain 1 million ounces of gold, 11.9 million ounces of silver, 800 million pounds of copper and over 1 billion pounds of zinc. The Bisha mine went into full commercial production in February of this year and Nevsun recently reported the mine produced 105,000 ounces of gold from January to April. Within the deposit, gold and silver is found in the top 35 meters and will be mined over the first two years. During last week’s sell-off in commodities shares of Nevsun faired extremely well and were actually up $0.08 on the week closing at $5.25.
Another company developing gold, silver, copper and zinc projects in Eritrea is Sunridge Gold (TSX-V:SGC). Sunridge has four projects with a combined NI 43-101 resource of 1.05 million ounces of gold, 31.8 million ounces of silver, 1.28 billion pounds of copper and 2.05 billion pounds of zinc. The company’s Debarwa deposit has similar geology to Nevsun’s Bisha mine. The company has been relatively quite of late on the news front but drill results are expected soon from Emba Derho (one of the company’s three northern deposits); and, an updated resource calculation is expected this month from their flagship Debarwa deposit factoring in drill programs conducted in 2009 and 2011. Sunridge Gold also survived the recent correction unscathed closing the week unchanged at $0.95.
NGEx Resources (TSX:NGQ), a diversified international mining company that boasts Lukas Lundin as its Chairman, also has a foothold in Eritrea. NGEx’s Hambok project is located near the Bisha mine and in January, 2009 the company reported a NI 43-101 indicated resources estimated of 231 million pounds of copper, 530 million pounds of zinc, 2.3 million ounces of silver and 68,000 ounces of gold. The mini-mining meltdown was less kind to NGEx Resources, shares of the company were down $0.13 to close the week at $3.36.