In November 2019, local gunmen killed 37 employees of Canadian miner Semafo who were travelling to work at the Boungou mine in Burkina Faso, raising awareness of the dangers faced by mining majors operating in foreign countries.

Global data logo “Quantifying the risks involved when exploring for, and exploiting mineral deposits is by necessity an expert field, but how can mining companies mitigate these risks?” says GlobalData’s mining technology writer, JP Casey.

“Generally speaking, your first step is to identify the risks and to stop ignoring them,” says Charles Dumbrille, president of the Mining Security Working Group told GlobalData. “When an incident such as the one we have seen in Burkina Faso occurs, the industry says the risks have increased.

“But the risks have not increased; they’ve just been ignored. For many years, reliable analysis on Burkina Faso has been providing assessments and security recommendations that have been ignored. To date, there have been about 460 attacks suspected to have been perpetrated by militants in Burkina Faso in 2019. Out of these, ten attacks targeted established and artisanal mining sites. Additionally, three attacks targeted mining convoys over the course of the year.

Casey says the Semafo attack further highlights the volatility witnessed in Burkina Faso’s Est Region, where armed bandits and militants operate relatively unhindered due to the shortcomings of the local security apparatus. The attack reflects the inefficiency of the measures taken by the authorities.

“You’re talking [about] the old-fashioned security around access control: the safety of the staff and the safety of the products, all those things that need to be built in,” says Martin Taylor, associate director at security firm AKE International. “But then you have the additional security issues which need to be overcome regarding getting your work force in and out of that facility.

“People aren’t stupid. They know for a fact that the only way you’re going to get to the facility is either by flying everybody in by helicopter, which is very expensive, or they’ll land at the airport, they will drive from point A to point B, and they always swap around their staff.

“They know that, at certain times, they’re going to move from point A to point B along that road, between certain times. If you’re predictable in what you’re doing, you become vulnerable.”

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