Yes, the defunct Kilembe Mines is a gold mine. Well, not literally, but the base case value of the Kilembe Mines resource is $2.5b (Shs9.1 trillion) and that is not considering the by-products.
Let us breakdown the $2.5b estimate. The brownfield with its known copper ore reserves of circa 7.12 million tons, with a copper grade of 1.79 per cent and a conceptual cobalt grade of 0.19 per cent and working with an estimated metal recovery rate of 60 per cent and prevailing market metal price of $5,850 per ton of copper metal and the prevailing market price of $64,500 per ton of cobalt metal, translates to an estimate of $970m.
The tailings at Kilembe are cobalt rich and are approximately 5.5m tons with a cobalt grade of 0.114 per cent. Again, an estimated metal recovery of 60 per cent reveals an estimated value of $242m. The above components can be developed to provide the developer revenues early in the life of the project.
The component that shall make Kilembe the cash cow is the Greenfield. The $1.4 billion-dollar question is: How does the Greenfield project, which is largely an unknown, be the cash cow?
The preliminary exploration results provide the indication that a good copper and cobalt reserve shall, with definite promise, be unearthed. Applying the similar ore characteristics used in the Brownfield project above on the conservative base estimate for discovery of 10 million tons of copper and cobalt, the Greenfield project has an estimated reserve value of $1.4 billion.
The previous concessionaire threw a ballpark investment figure of $150m to $200m to rehabilitate the project but no form of feasibility studies and exploration had been undertaken. To arrive at a definite investment cost will require comprehensive studies to be undertaken at Kilembe, particularly exploration of the Greenfield as well as the Brownfield.
In structuring the Kilembe Mines project, it is critical to appreciate how the project dynamics fit in with similar projects on the international scale. Kilembe Mines may not attract the large mining multinationals, which ordinarily seek to invest more than 35 years. Kilembe currently has an estimate of seven years (about 1,000,000 tons/year, which is the rate of what was mined at the peak of Kilembe Mines operations in the 1960s).
Kilembe Mine is, therefore, a small mine, but this can change if an increase of the reserves is achieved through the exploration of the Greenfield.
The attractiveness of Kilembe is in its potential. This desirability should, therefore, be exploited by structuring Kilembe as an exploration project. It is important to note that Kilembe mines currently has several other components which increase the administrative burden to the investor and yet do not add much economic benefit to the overall project.
The structuring of the project should keenly consider existing conditions at Kilembe in setting up project deliverable timelines. A comprehensive due diligence should be conducted by the interested party so as to better appreciate the critical existing conditions such as the flooded lower mine levels and the haulage collapses in the underground mine and be better prepared to make plans for the redevelopment of the Kilembe Mines.
Project timelines should also consider the prerequisites necessary for implementation of the different project phases to reduce on the possibility of technical defaults arising from poor structuring.
To put this in proper perspective, the previous concession dictated that the developer upgrades the Mobuku I hydro power generation project in 24 months, however, this deliverable did not consider that the feasibility studies, permitting and licensing process, take the same period and an additional six to 12 months to reach financial close before the construction start date for the project.
The rule of the thumb for the period required from construction to commissioning of a small hydropower project such as Mobuku I is between 30 and 36 months.
To benefit from the revenues, the government may opt to use the combination of a joint venture and profit-sharing arrangement with the identified investor or alternatively the government can, as part of its solicitation requirements, request interested parties to propose as part of their submissions the best suited structure to undertake the Kilembe mines project addressing its unique demands.
With proper structuring and with government focus on the Greenfield, in case of another failed agreement, Uganda will still benefit due to the bankable feasibility studies showing proven ore reserves that can enable the government to carry out mineral exploitation or increase the profile of the Kilembe Mines thus increasing its attractiveness and bankability. It is important that government weighs the magnitude of benefits provided by all structures.
In developing the right structure for the Kilembe Mines project, it is required that the project documents and agreements are bankable so as to attract lenders and insurers thereby further ensuring the success of the project. There is a positive snowball effect with having a proper structure in rehabilitating the Kilembe Mines. On the developer’s side is positive project economics and a mitigation of operational and funding risks for the project and on the government side, a surge in revenues and the addition of thousands of jobs to the economy.
Mr Matte is a mining, mineral processing and mineral and energy economics engineer.