ROBERT Friedland, the boss of Ivanhoe Mines, a large Canadian firm that digs out copper and zinc in Africa, is not one for pessimism. In his speech to an annual mining industry jamboree, Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, his promises about the potential of the business were as copious as the ore bodies his firm mines. But amid the hyperbole about electric cars, Chinese consumers and the “most disruptive copper discovery in the world” there was a note of panic. Money, he warned, is “a coward”, and may be about to flee.
The cause of fear is a new mining code that was passed by parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 24th. Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer; its reserves, mostly in the southern copper belt, are among the world’s richest. As important, it has emerged recently as the world’s leading producer of cobalt, a by-product of copper smelting that is used in batteries for electric cars. It also produces gold, zinc, tin and diamonds.