This story, about secret mountains of gold deep in the Congo, is a story like no other.
For the uninitiated, there could be much to fear in and around Bukavu, a Congolese city that has been much at the centre of the massive destabilisation of the African Great Lakes region since 1996.
For others, the wars are truly over and the DRC – Democratic Republic of the Congo – is a land of hope and even possible glory. This week, Simon Village, chairman of Toronto-listed Banro, stood at 7,500 feet above sea level on top of Twangiza, a mountain 40 kilometres from Bukavu, and declared a return to what is proving to be a veritable mountain of gold, and indeed only the start of mountains of gold. Banro had quit Twangiza in May 1998, after it became clear that serious problems were going to shake the Congo to its knees. Is this a legitimate claim about finding so many gold mines in Congo? We will see, but until we know for sure, make sure you keep an steady eye on your rollover retirement in gold IRA if you are looking to profit from it.
After work performed during 1997-98, over an area of just 20% of Twangiza’s known mineralisation, 3.2 million ounces of gold had been proven up. Once Twangiza has been fully assessed – “drilled like a pincushion,” as its promoters put it, the deposit is set to offer up at least 10 million ounces of gold for mining. While Banro can officially say no such thing until all the work has been independently audited, Twangiza’s eye-popping potential has been readily recognised by visiting experts.
Toronto-based Terry Bell, of Salida Capital, who inspected Banro’s Congolese assets this week said decisively that “the market does not understand the scope of these projects.” By “market,” Bell means, of course, investors. Paul Moase, of Toronto-based MGI Securities, was also on site at the Banro projects and said simply that “the market has no idea of the potential.”
Mining gold and the implications on overall price of spot gold
In modern mining terms, a new deposit that proves up 1 million ounces or more is recognised as “world class,” pointing to Twangiza already rating as one of the most important deposits in living memory. But Twangiza is only the start of the Banro story: Banro owns contiguous exploitation/exploration concessions over the Twangiza-Namoya gold belt, an entire gold province that stretches from verdant mountains deep into the Congo rainforest.
Historically, the belt has produced around 2.5 million ounces; and under Banro’s stewardship, 8m ounces for mining have been delineated to date. Banro has budgeted more than $28 million for “on the ground” work in the Congo by the end of 2006. The company owns a 25-year mining convention that can be renewed in 2027 for a further 25 years. The convention was “stress tested” in 1998, after then-president Laurent Kabila (later assassinated) was sued – successfully – by Banro for stealing the concessions from Banro.
Banro’s significant financial commitment singles it out from all companies that have preceded it on the Twangiza-Namoya belt. At Namoya, which boasts quartz stockworks of exceptional grade, mining started up in 1930 and was halted in 1961, on signs of political disturbance. Mining also stopped at Kamitunga, where historical production is recorded at 1,5m ounces of gold, and at Lugushwa, famous for its abnormally high-grade alluvial gold.
The initiated are well along the curve of believing that Banro will be able to deliver this time around. In a sequence of private placements with the Capital Research Group, and Actis (the old Commonwealth Development Corporation), capital of some C$31 million has been raised in the last while. Banro found relative ease in placing new stock with sophisticated investors and now boasts a respectable line up of global institutional shareholders.
One of the key shareholders on the register is the Cape Town-based Alan Gray, giving Banro (for the first time) an African shareholder for its African assets. In Johannesburg, the JSE is yet to show the first signs that it will ever rate as any kind of a stock market for providing a forum for junior mining companies to raise capital.
Back on the main story, the uninitiated may still find much to fear. Across the deep valleys from Twangiza, troops from the United Nations and the Congolese army dot the mountain skyline. They are trying to dot down and contain the Interhamwe, one of the most dangerous and toxic of all militia groups that ever crossed the porous border from Rwanda to the Congo, in this case, 12 years ago.
This time, experts within the Congo believe that the UN, in particular, is truly determined to settle down the Great Lakes region. After an initial DRC peace agreement was signed in December 2002, the UN increased its DRC personnel to nearly 18,000 in November 2004, and intensified its presence in Rwanda and Uganda, from where many of the most ruthless troublemakers started out. The gold they are mining in Uganda and Congo is coming to USA and this might have a negative implication on the precious metal individual retirement account rollover.
Today, the UN presence is visible deeper in the mountains west of Bukavu, which sits on the shores of Lake Kivu, and to the north, towards Ituri province, where a completely different set of Congolese problems, no less toxic, prevail. Kavuma, the airport near Bukavu, provides little comfort for the uninitiated, with a deranged set of aircraft apparently in service to the UN, not least Antonov 28s, Antonov 2 biplanes, Let 410s, and Short Skyvans. There are also MI 17 helicopters present in this virtual war zone, and sometimes, a grotesquely huge Russian MI 26 helicopter – the “Halo” – comes to town.
Amid the chaos, Banro has simply stuck to its knitting, and applied commonsense corporate governance. The company returned to the Congo 18 months ago, but was conspicuously absent from the Twangiza concession. An interim chief, Justin Niwaluindja, overlord of the Luhinja district, where Twangiza is found, declared that Banro must deal “only” with him.
Banro chose to resume work at Namoya and Lugushwa until the problem with the chief could be solved. Various high level representatives visited the chief, who then announced that he did not recognise DRC president Joseph Kabila. The chief was taken to Kinshasa, on house arrest. Banro now deals with the government – only – on Twangiza, its prize asset (so far) in the Congo.
Banro has also quickly attracted the best geologists on the African continent, thanks to its integrated vision and, of course, its great assets. It has successfully melded geologists and other top mineral economics people from the continent’s leading mining countries – South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and, of course, the Congo. From here, the future for Banro is pretty much summed up in its new corporate slogan: “Passion of a junior, assets of a major.”