01 Nov Interview with Olefile Cisco Mashabila, CEO, Botswana Geoscience Institute
Business Focus: What are the key characteristics and opportunities in Botswana’s mining sector and why is it considered an attractive investment destination?
Botswana’s mining sector has been and continues to be dominated by diamond mining, contributing 85% of the country’s export earnings and two-thirds of the gross domestic product (GDP). Approximately 25% of Botswana’s land area, the narrow eastern strip, and Ghanzi ridge is covered by pre-kalahari sand, where all of the mines in Botswana have been discovered. The unexposed 75% pre-kalahari geology rocks in Botswana are potential metallogenic provinces with unexplored and untapped mineral potential that would drive diversification from diamonds. Other mining activities, such as quarries, industrial minerals and prospecting activities also contribute smaller portions to the total GDP. The industrial mineral endowment remains a good future investment opportunity.
Botswana has large untapped resources of semi-bituminous coal in various parts of the country. Plans are underway to explore, develop and exploit the cleaner ‘greener’ Botswana is an investment destination for everyone. Our policy and/or taxation regime are amongst the best, if not the best. We have readily available and accessible national geoscience data and information online; we have the infrastructure that facilitates investment. We administer the prospecting license application process through the online mining cadastre system and this promotes process transparency and/or confidence from end to end. The political stability and human capacity endowment are also attractive.
Business Focus: What are the key components of Botswana’s Vision 2036, particularly in relation to achieving a high-income, export-led economy, and how does the Ministry of Minerals and Energy (MME) and Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) contribute to this vision, focusing on sustainable development, mineral exploration and strategic partnerships?
Botswana, through Vision 2036, aspires to be a high-income country with an export-led economy. This will be achieved through diversified, inclusive, and sustainable growth driven by high levels of productivity. The vision sets the country to achieve ‘prosperity for all’, underpinned by four major pillars of sustainable development, human social development, sustainable environment, and governance, peace and security. In 2020, the government introduced a transformative reset agenda focusing on five pillars: saving lives from COVID-19, aligning the Botswana government machinery to the presidential agenda, digitization, value-chain development, and mindset change.
The Ministry of Minerals and Energy (MME) aligns with the national vision, the global agenda for sustainable development – SDGs, along with the national reset and reclaim agenda. As a significant contributor to Botswana’s GDP through mineral exports, the MME strategy focuses on mineral exploration, mineral exploitation and mineral beneficiation. The Ministry’s areas of focus pave the way for BGI to play mainly in the upstream mineral exploration phase.
Our role as Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) is to undertake research in the field of geosciences, provide specialized geoscientific services. We are the custodian of the country’s geoscience data and information. We promote the search for and exploration of any mineral in Botswana and play as an advisory body with respect to geosciences and geohazard identification and management. We also play the regulatory role to support government geoscience discipline initiatives. We recently developed and completed a new transformative Strategic Business Plan 2023-2028, aimed at shaping the organization to align with global and national expectations. The strategy is anchored on the overall goal to improve mineral prospectivity in Botswana. The four areas that we will impact are geoscience research and knowledge management, partnerships and collaborations, operating model enhancement and financial sustainability.
The new operating model encompasses a redefined organizational design and/or ‘fit-for-purpose organization’, human capital optimization, research and technological capacity and inculcating mindset change to achieve a high-performance culture.
BGI partners with various governments on collaboration, e.g: our partnership with US geological surveys and the Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security (JOGMEC), communities, academic research institutes, among others, to effectively deliver its mandate. The institute is already working with global partners from Japan, Canada, the USA, and other collaborators on various projects. The benefits of partnerships are far-reaching in terms of capacity building for our geoscientists, adoption and use of new technologies, financial sustainability of the institute and overall socio-economic development of Botswana.
Business Focus: What recent projects has Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) undertaken to promote mineral exploration, and what ongoing initiatives are in place, particularly focusing on rare earth elements (REE), battery metals, construction and industrial minerals and the development of cement deposits in Botswana?
Recently completed projects by BGI:
- In 2023, BGI completed a project to promote mineral exploration on the northern part of Botswana that is totally covered by kalahari sands, an impediment to exploration.
- The project was dubbed ‘Interpretation of Aeromagnetic Data of Northern Botswana-covering’ and covered approximately 45% of Botswana land mass.
- The project integrated and beneficiated various geoscience data sets that include high resolution geophysics, detailed geological boreholes, geological and remote sensing data for Northern Botswana.
- These were collated, reprocessed and interpreted to produce new maps highlighting improvements in geological and mineral potential maps. The project also produced an updated National Pre-Kalahari Geological Map of Botswana at scale 1:1,000,000 and National Geological Bulletin of Botswana incorporating more than 20 years of geoscience work published in Botswana.
Other ongoing projects include:
- Rare earth element (REE) in Botswana. There has been very little exploration for REE and battery metals despite the presence of suitable geological settings (rocks). BGI has undertaken a project to review and advance some of REE exploration projects previously undertaken by the private sector.
- Work has already progressed on known carbonatites at Kokong, cut-off grade (COG) deposits in Shoshong and various sampling of granitic and some per-alkaline rock throughout the country.
- A mineral prospectivity mapping of eastern Botswana for these critical metals, sponsored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and jointly undertaken by USGS and BGI experts will be completed this year and is already at an advanced stage.
Construction and industrial minerals:
- Botswana imports 99% of its cement needs and BGI, in collaboration with some local research institutes, has recently completed a nationwide assessment of cement deposits.
- Follow-up work on some high potential areas in southern Botswana (Letlhakeng) is currently being undertaken.
- The institute has also completed a report on construction aggregates to identify potential sites. The intention is to support the local construction industry while guarding against potential environmental degradation resulting from mining of these products.
- To support local economies, the Institute has also identified various shale and clay deposits country-wide.
- The government has also invested in national geological investigations to review mineral potential and promote exploration in central Botswana and the Molopo Farms Complex. The project identified sites with potential for hosting precious and base metals (copper, nickel, platinum group metals (PGMs), gold) and REEs.
Business Focus: How does Botswana invest in geoscience professional training through global partnerships, scholarships and local collaborations with universities and education providers, including talent management at Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI)?
Botswana has invested in training of geoscience professionals. In partnership with some worldwide research institutes, eg: the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), we got scholarships for the different specialized fields in geoscience. The government also provides funds and focuses on human capacity development through the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.
Through its talent management programme, BGI ensures continuous professional development of its employees. Professional registrations, affiliations and partnership exchange programs facilitate continued human resource development. The Institute partners with local universities and other education providers to sharpen geoscientific knowledge, skills and competencies.
Business Focus: How did BGI’s 2022 digital platform implementation boost Botswana’s global standing and streamline geoscience data access and licensing? Also, how do collaborations, especially with JOGMEC, advance earthquake monitoring and AI-driven mineral prospectivity mapping for exploration benefits?
BGI technology and online platforms:
- In 2022, BGI completed four critical digital platforms that allowed access to geoscience data (Geoscience Portal) and online application for prospecting and mining licenses (mining cadaster), administered by the Department of Mines.
- An online library (LIBWIN) allows virtual access to critical exploration and geoscience reports and an online library for exploration and water boreholes in the country (BOREHIVE).
- All these platforms are available on the BGI website www.bgi.org.bw.
- The launch of project products and online platforms has seen a positive response from the international community as our Fraser rankings of magnetic particle inspection (MPI) and geology-driven integration (GDI) increased from 31% to 72%, with Botswana being the best jurisdiction in Africa.
- BGI and JOGMEC have a long-standing partnership that started with the setting up of a remote sensing center (RSC), followed by carrying out joint projects on the practical application of remote sensing.
- Earthquake monitoring. As part of its mandate, BGI monitors geohazards including earthquakes. The Institute has set up a network of telemetered autonomous recording stations to monitor earthquakes.
- With the recent emergence of mine-induced seismicity, such a network allows for expedient detection of earthquakes.
- Mineral prospectivity using artificial intelligence (AI). Latest data modeling and data analytics are emerging fields that can allow large volumes of historical data to be integrated to highlight areas of mineral occurrences using AI techniques. BGI forged a public-private partnership in 2020 with Bell Geospace. This was to undertake a project with a scope to reprocess existing full tensor gradiometry (FTG) data that Bell Geospace acquired, to further interpret and integrate with other geoscience information and to use AI techniques for the production of mineral prospectivity maps. This was conceived to benefit the exploration industry by providing targets for further exploration and development.
Business Focus: How does mining revenue sustain Botswana’s economy, and what steps can the country take to attract foreign investment through enhanced exploration and digital transformation?
Mining revenue continues to be the backbone of Botswana’s economy, despite diversification efforts. Mining generates the most export earnings. With intensified exploration through partnerships and collaborations, embracing digital transformation and adoption of advanced geoscientific research, Botswana stands a better chance to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). Opportunities for new investments and opening of new mines exist for prospective investors, even so since Botswana’s landmass is yet to be unearthed for mineral potential.
Business Focus: What are your personal priorities as CEO of BGI, and what is your vision for the future of Botswana’s geoscience sector and BGI?
With so much mineral endowment and wealth, my main personal priority at BGI is to see an enhanced Botswana’s mineral exploration landscape. I am looking at BGI carrying out projects and impactful research that improves the mineral prospectivity index rating globally ie. luring investors to come and invest in Botswana.
There is no doubt that with less than 20% of Botswana’s mineral wealth exploited, the remaining 80% remains partially exploited or unexploited as such presenting opportunities to diversify and exploit minerals in Botswana optimally.
Our policies promote transparency and good governance. We subscribe to the international standards of mineral resources and reserve declarations. All our declarations are underpinned by ethical standards of resource reporting and due diligence principles; transparency, materiality and competence.
Business Focus: What is your final message to the readers of USA Today?
Botswana is the destination of mining investment now and in future. We have rich and/or promising prospects of strategic and critical minerals. Our resources remain untapped; we are the future of mining in Africa and the world at large. We are yet to define critical mineral resources or battery minerals and drive the environmental, social and governance (ESG) for sustainability. Our tax regime, policy regime and investment attractiveness are at their best; the destination of Mining is Botswana. We have the infrastructure, technology and human capacity with competent resources. We have a stable political environment and an attractive tax regime.