Over at his sterling blog, Noel Maurer has a series of very interesting posts (1, 2, 3) exploring the economics and the politics of Nigerien uranium. Niger, an impoverished former French colony in interior west Africa, came to particular prominence a few years ago as the country alleged to be involved in selling uranium to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in forged documents provided by Italian intelligence. Uranium plays a huge role in Niger, actually, as this unassuming country is the third-largest uranium producer in the world after Canada and Australia. France, as the former imperial power and a country that still takes a proprietary interest in the French Union’s various successor states and a country heavily invested in things nuclear, was obviously involved in that country.
In 1963, French troops rescued the government of President Hamani Diori from a coup. In 1969, the French discovered uranium, and two French companies got exclusive rights. In March 1974, French, Nigerien, and Gabonese representatives meant in Niger’s capital to discuss Diori’s insistance that the country’s uranium contracts be renegotiated. Coincidentally, Diori fell to a coup the next month. It seems that all of Diori’s French military advisors had gone on vacation and no one picked up the phone in Paris when news of the violence arrived. The New York Times went so far as to accuse France of abetting the coup because Diori wanted to give uranium concessions to Exxon. The next guy kicked French troops out of the country, but the French remained in control of the mines … and their troops came back in 1981 anyway.
Surprisingly, Niger managed to get a good deal out of it. It may get a better deal, now that a Chinese state-owned corporation is getting involved. Not that the uranium seems to have benefitted a country that, like most of the other countries in the Sahel, ranks among the poorest and least developed in the world.
Guess what other country’s involved? (Hint: It’s the second-largest developed country that’s a member-state of la francophonie.)
Two Canada-based mining companies have joined forces to intensify their development of a total of eight uranium properties in Niger. The development is set to boost investments in these uranium properties, potentially increasing Niger’s mining output.
The two Canada-based companies Northwestern Mineral Ventures and UraMin today announced they have entered into a joint venture agreement to form a new corporation that is to “advance a total of eight highly prospective uranium concessions in Niger,” according to a press release. Northwestern and UraMin both receive a 50 percent equity stake in the new company.
Northwestern has a 100 percent exploration stake in the Irhazer and In Gall concessions in Niger, which have returned very high uranium values from five of 16 surface rock samples collected from outcrops. The two concessions consist of a total of 4,000 square kilometres. The company is also involved in three uranium projects in Canada silver and gold mine in Mexico.
This involvement is somewhat controversial, not only with Nigeriens complaining about negative health effects from existing mines, but with a general discontent at the terms of Canadian corporate involvement in Niger. The abduction and eventual release of two Canadian diplomats taken in that country was at one point (falsely) linked to a “rebel group that says uranium mining companies from Canada and other countries are pillaging their land without proper compensation for residents.” The diplomats were apparently visiting one of the Canadian-owned mining sites. We’ll have to wait and see how the Nigerien uranium situation develops, I guess, and the extent to which Canadian business–and by extension, Canada–will benefit, or not, from this new economics endeavour.