By Mustapha Darboe
Gambian geo-scientists at the country’s geology department, the institution responsible for mineral exploration in the country, has confirmed to The Standard that there is no known uranium deposit in the country.
Recently, news about the extractive industry of the country became a hot topic when reports emerged that former president Yahya Jammeh has been secretly mining an unidentified mineral reserve — suspected to be diamond or gold field by locals — at a place near Badari village in Upper River Region.
But officials at the geology department said they have only issued licence for prospecting to a company reportedly affiliated with Jammeh in URR but they did not license them to do any mining.
“We have issued a licence for prospecting (research) by a company called Apam & Co Limited in 2013. Later we were told by those who were engaged in the prospecting that they were even doing mining,” Alieu Jawo, a geo-scientist at the geology department told The Standard.
However Jawo said Apam, which ceased operations in 2015 for reasons best known to the company, has not made any disclosure to them as the authority of mining in the country.
The former government claimed in 2013 after it fell out with Carnegie Minerals that the company has violated its mining licence by mining uranium, titanium and iron ore.
Carnegie later won a US$23 million damages lawsuit after it sued Gambia for illegal termination of its mining contracts at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in 2015.
Abdoulie Cham and Jawo, both geo-scientists at the geology department, said what has been confirmed were ilmenite, rutile and zircon in fields at Kombo South villages of Kartong, Gunjur, Sanyang, Tujereng and Batokunku.
“What the government was calling a uranium was just trace elements, insignificant amount, in the mines. It was not a deposit that you can explore or you can say is economically viable,” Jawo said.
However, Cham said Gambia is under-explored, despite potential of existing minerals and the country needs “mining companies to come and explore” its potential mining fields.
“We have not identified any uranium in this country. I can’t say if we have it or not because as geo-scientists we have to do a study before we can say anything,” Cham said.
The first geological study on Gambia was done in 1925 and the latest was in 1995 by the Chinese, a study which identified potential mineral fields.
Jammeh once claimed Gambia is rich in minerals but President Adama Barrow said the country’s minerals and hydro-carbon potentials were highly exaggerated and shredded in secrecy during his recent state of the nation address.
But Cham said the country needs “credible investors” in mining to come and do prospecting in order to establish facts about potential mineral fields before they are issued licences.
He said the geology department issues licence after vetting the interested company and examining the environmental implications of the project, among others.
The geology department was the institution that Jammeh claimed was receiving the money from mines with the Area Councils, though initial findings later revealed that they were siphoned by himself to accounts at the Central Bank affiliated to him.