B2Gold aims to double Fekola output even as Mali struggles with new democratic order

Clive Johnson, CEO, B2Gold

CANADIAN senior gold producer B2Gold is looking to double production by reaching one million ounces from Mali. This would make good on CEO Clive Johnson’s prediction two years ago that the company was moving into “elephant country” north of its Fekola mine.

That’s despite the numerous problems affecting Mali which is currently under a trade embargo from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) because of the military coup staged in 2020.

In December last year the military government proposed remaining in power for up to five years because of security concerns before holding elections which ECOWAS found unacceptable.

Addressing the Mining Indaba in Cape Town on Tuesday Johnson commented: “There’s  been a lot of negative publicity about Mali which is understandable given the issues that it faced. At the end of the day Mali continues to be an excellent country to be in gold mining.”

B2Gold reported for its March quarter that Fekola continued to operate at full capacity despite ECOWAS sanctions and the company expected to meet 2022 production guidance.

Fekola is the 11th largest gold mine in the world currently producing around 570,000 ounces of gold annually.

Johnson’s optimism is despite the fact B2Gold had to take the Malian government to international arbitration over the exploration permits for the ground some 20 kilometres north of Fekola where it believes it has found a new mine on the Anaconda project.

He also remains upbeat on the country despite the assessment voiced earlier at the Mining Indaba by Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow that Mali was an example of an African country which is getting greedy by imposing taxes on its mining industry that are way too high.

“All hell has broken lose and the international attitude is basically don’t buy shares in companies that are invested in Mali.

“We are hoping the new government will agree to elections, but this is a government that is committed to gold mining like every government before. They understand the critical importance of it and Mali is a good place to be in the gold mining industry.

“We do not find the tax regime to be excessive at the end of the day. It’s something you always have to be aware of – you cannot kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s high but not excessive and our operations are under earlier mining codes.”

The trouble over Anaconda started when B2Gold tried to renew its prospecting licence over the area but the Government argued they were late and it had been granted to another party. “We took the step of filing international arbitration proceedings,” said Johnson.

“That’s one of the great things about Mali – you can go to Paris and win at arbitration and it is binding. We did not want to go through that process, but we had to get the government to understand that we thought we were right legally.”

The new exploration permits were granted in February and B2Gold dropped the arbitration proceedings.

Said Johnson: “So we resolved that issue and we now have that entire belt and that region is wide open geologically.

“There may be another Fekola up there and we may end up building another mill there so the potential to produce one million ounces of gold annually from two mills in our mind is very real. We will spend $33m on exploration there this year.”