If you are invested in mining companies that operate in West Africa, you could be about to lose your money. Here’s why you might need to get out while you still can.
We need to look out for each other as retail investors. We are the little guys in the world of investment. We don’t get access to insider knowledge. We don’t get a lot of information until it’s too late and our shares have gone down. Because of this, I’ve been acutely aware of a lack of investor-related coverage regarding a particular geopolitical situation that is growing more and more perilous by the day.
Many of my articles focus on exciting opportunities, but this one is of a much more sombre tone. Islamic terrorist attacks from a range of jihadist groups, including Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State splinter group, ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara), the homegrown jihadist movement, Ansar ul-Islam, and Boko Haram, to name but a few, have been occurring at increasing rates in the Sahel region. It has sparked a ‘new wave of extremist violence…destabilising…the vast and impoverished semi-arid region south of the Sahara. (1)’
The attacks usually take the form of hit-and-run raids on villages, schools and police stations; roadside IEDs and suicide bombings. In one of the most severely affected countries, Burkina Faso, attacks have taken nearly 700 lives since early 2015 (according to an AFP toll correct as of December 2019). In addition, around 500,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Terror attacks in Burkina Faso tripled in 2018 to 150 (according to the US state department). Just last week, an IED attack on a bus in Toeni mainly carrying students back to their places of study after the New Year break killed 14 people. The week before, militants murdered 35 civilians, 31 of them women, in an attack on a military base and a town in Burkina Faso. 7 soldiers also lost their lives.
In a similarly horrendous instance last month, approximately 40km from Boungou Mine, Burkina Faso, an attack on a convoy transporting local employees of the company SEMAFO Inc. left 37 people dead and 60 wounded. This is devastating news for the community, the families and of course the country. These workers put themselves in grave danger in unstable jurisdictions in order to provide for their families, but at a cost.
This bloodshed was the third deadly attack on SEMAFO employees in the space of 15 months. In the following days, the market reacted by offloading SEMAFO shares: the share price plummeted and is down around 55% on Summer highs of CA$5.46. This is no temporary price drop and the situation in the region is only going to deteriorate further.
Investors need to hear the brutal truth about some companies: they are putting profits ahead of people’s lives. As an investor, this is not something I can stomach. Can you?
There are 8 countries that the UN, the French government and the UK foreign office amongst others say are most at risk from terrorist activity: Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
As some SEMAFO investors may tell you, companies, their employees and their investors are in danger. There will be casualties in the markets; take gold, for example, an area of particular focus for Ansar ul-Islam amongst others:
- In Mali, IAMGOLD’s Sadiola Mine (NYSE: IAG), Resolute Mining’s Syama Mine (ASX: RSG), Barrick Gold’s Morila Mine and Loulo-Gounkoto Mine (NYSE: GOLD), Hummingbird Resources’s Yanfolila Gold Mine (AIM: HUM) and Endeavour Mining’s Kalana Project (NYSE: EXK).
- In Senegal, Teranga Gold Corporation’s Massawa Gold Project and Sabodala gold mine (TSX: TGZ).
- In Burkina Faso, SEMAFO Inc. (TSX: SMF) has already brutally suffered, and companies like Nordgold may also be subjected to the risk of more bloodshed. The pits around Pama, Burkina Faso, have been taken over by terrorists, who rode in on pickup trucks with assault rifles causing local security forces to flee.
- In Niger, Sahel Mining Company’s Djado Gold Property and other junior explorers in the south will face turmoil and aggression.
- In Mauritania, Kinross Gold’s Tasiast Gold Mine (NYSE: KGC) and First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein (TSX: FM) face uncertainty.
- In Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti’s Obuasi gold mine and Iduapriem gold Mine (JSE: ANG) and Golden Star Resources’ Wassa Gold Mine and Prestea Underground Gold Mine (NYSE: GSS)
- In Togo, Premier African Minerals’ Dapaong Gold Mine (LON: PREM) and Gold Fields’ Damang (JSE: GFI).
- Lastly, although most of the region is mined artisanally, some Benin-based exploration companies find themselves exposed.
These gold companies could be at risk. If you are invested, you should do your research to see if your money could be too. Imagine extrapolating this to the entire mining industry in the region...
Security firms are stating that the situation is now an epidemic. The violence is deadly and has ‘raised fears among European and US allies that the Sahel will become the next haven for fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, (2)’ particularly after the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late-October.
The ideology claiming to have caused these attacks has made its way from Libya to Mali via social media and is propagated by local extremists. The regional statistics provide a serious cause for alarm. ‘Over the last six months…the security situation in the Sahel has continued to deteriorate with a rising number of attacks against civilians and security forces. (2)’ Jihadis killed around 50 Malian soldiers at the start of November. Moreover, just a few weeks ago, ISGS militants ‘claimed responsibility for an attack on a military installation in western Niger near the border of Mali on Wednesday, which killed at least 71 people and left 12 injured. (3)’
Such violence now threatens to spill into the entire region. According to U.S. Department of Defence research group, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of violent attacks by Islamist extremist groups in the Sahel has doubled each year since 2016; deaths linked to these attacks have doubled each year.
…people are realising the failure of the strategy that has been used so far to fight violent extremism
Last month, the UN security council commented on the Sahel issue: ‘meeting recently in Dakar, regional Heads of State renewed their calls for a more robust mandate for the joint force. “The situation in the Sahel is of serious concern and urgent action is needed.” (4)’
Throughout the region, ‘people are realising the failure of the strategy that has been used so far to fight violent extremism. (2)’
The Sahel region (West Africa) has issues that could be in flux for the foreseeable future. There are three possibilities when it comes to the incentives for the terrorists:
- Radical Islamic Terrorism
This is how these attacks are being positioned by the national governments, mining companies and financial institutions. If this is the primary driver for terrorism in the Sahel, this is an unpredictable enemy devoid of moral human thought or logic. An idea is an incredibly difficult (maybe even impossible) foe to contend with.
- Tribal Warfare
Though more of a prominent issue in central Africa, tribal attacks have a devastating impact on the Sahel. A tribal militia killed as many as 150 men, women and children in a village in central Mali in early June; at least 65 people remain unaccounted for. The raid appeared to be a reprisal for an attack carried out by a pro-government Dogon militia elsewhere in the Mopti region in March that killed 157 Fulani villagers.
- Criminal Enterprise (under the guise of ideology):
This is perhaps the reality of the situation as it has been in some of the oil-producing countries. Terrorists are no longer uncivilised renegades lacking the infrastructure and finances to make big things happen. Terrorist cells the world over are incredibly well-financed, and have a worryingly high level of business acumen. They can monetise commodities in the black market. Groups like Al-Qaeda and ISGS are seizing control of mines, oil & gas facilities and pipelines, and are running their own operations, generating billions of dollars of income. While dealing with criminals is usually more straightforward, as these individuals have rational fears and value life, the ideology used to propagate such criminal activity is without rationality. Perhaps the heads of terrorist organisations are easier to combat than the brainwashed soldiers.
Whatever the driver and however it is dressed up by the companies, terrorists hold a tight grip over the Sahel region, and it is unlikely their stranglehold will be broken for the foreseeable future without involvement from external intervention, which in itself brings more problems.
Irrespective of the reasoned business aspect of Sahel terrorism, the perpetuation of the ideology propelling its success is now in danger of becoming generational. This has been building up for a decade without any meaningful intervention and the attacks are becoming more frequent and more violent. The political instabilities, and lack of organised security services throughout the region, render the countries almost helpless in the face of this brutal onslaught. Sooner than you want to believe, some of the companies (and their revenue) that we are invested in could be consumed and controlled by local terrorist groups.
Mining companies are going to tell you they’ve got this under control; they will tell you government forces or privately hired militia can quash the insurgents, but I am sceptical of these claims. Some attacks have featured hundreds of committed, fearless and well-armed terrorists. There is only so much small security teams can do to defend themselves against heavily armed militia with no regard for their own lives. The seemingly bottomless pit of brainwashed cannon fodder will be irrepressible until the idea itself is exterminated. Until then, why put your money on the line?
However, some companies have managed to mitigate the issues in the Sahel. There are three large American military bases towards the Sahara in central Niger, including the biggest American drone base in the world. The French also have a strong military presence in the country as a consequence of the 50 years of uranium production so critical to their energy and security needs. Uranium companies Global Atomic Corporation and GoviEx appear to have sufficient protection, because of their proximity to the military bases and the huge, barren, surrounding desert providing sufficient deterrent.
In addition, the criminal enterprise/tribal element becomes increasingly irrelevant. Terrorist groups are able to extract the value of assets with more simple commodities, such as gold or oil, via artisanal means. Uranium is one that is unlikely to be of interest to them, given the complexities and difficulty of extraction, refinement and sale. Because Niger is such an established uranium country, terrorists lack the economic infrastructure in the region to make things happen as effectively. Global Atomic and GoviEx should have no concerns.
For the remainder of companies who aren’t so lucky, it seems another fatal incident is imminent. This is not the type of volatility that has an upside.
On a final note, let’s take a look at the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guidelines for many of the countries in the Sahel region:
If the government is advising against all travel in most of the region, you wouldn’t go there. If you wouldn’t go there, you have to consider whether you would send your money there.
You only have to take a look a SEMAFO’s press release after the incident to see the Sahel situation for what it truly is: an utter disaster, ‘Boungou mine site remains secured and our operations are not affected. (5)’ How on earth can SEMAFO claim their operations are unaffected: a number of their workforce have just been brutally murdered! How can they possibly expect future and existing workers to accept working somewhere they are shot at? Workers are not disposable. They need to be more responsible about the danger they are placing employees in, and the potential danger they are dragging your investment into.
It’s time we opened our eyes to some painful facts. There is significant risk inherent in investing in certain companies in this region, so investors should ensure that they have done their research and are comfortable with the true risk / reward return profile of their investments . There are much more stable jurisdictions to invest in after all.
If you see something in this article that you agree with, or even disagree with, please let us know in the comments below.
Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situations or needs. You should not rely on any advice and / or information contained in this website or via any digital Crux Investor communications. Before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice.