Bill Witham

CEO | Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group

The presence of Australian mining companies on the African continent has steadily grown over the past two decades. The past two years has seen a resurgence in Australian investment, and Australian companies firmly believe they can add value across Africa. As part of our Future of Mining series AfricaLive talks with Bill Witham of the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group about the role we can expect to see Australian companies play in the future development of the sector.

AfricaLive: The last twenty years has seen incredible growth in the presence of Australian companies operating in the mining sector in Africa. What role does AAMEG play in serving its members on the African continent?

Bill Witham: The Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group is the peak body representing Australian companies engaged in the development of Africa’s resource industry. These companies are spread out and sometimes geographically isolated, so one body that can help members work together and collaborate on difficult issues is welcomed.

Our 80 plus members originate from the exploration, mineral and energy development, professional services, government and resources services sectors. We also offer associate membership for African Government participation.

AfricaLive: What are the primary reasons behind the growth of the Australian presence in the African minerals sectors?

Australia companies have been very active in Africa since the 1980s.  There was a wave of new investment in the 1990s when opportunities in Australia became more restricted but the industry had grown with a larger workforce and some of the world’s best exploration and mining technology. That excess capacity then went overseas to seek fresh opportunities in mainly Africa and South America. There was a resurgence in activity again in the late 2000’s brought on by Chinas rise as an economic power. Australian companies were very quiet from 2012 to 2017, but there has been another surge in investment over the past 18 months.

AfricaLive: Central to our reporting this year is the issue of the relationship between industry and government. These are relationships we see strengthening in certain parts of the continent, and weakening in others.

What do you think is the key to building genuine win-win partnerships between industry and government?

When industry and government can both understand each other’s needs and have empathy for their situation, then the conditions are set in which the companies have incentive to invest and employ people and the government and the people of the host country see a fair return for the extraction of their minerals.

AfricaLive: Embracing innovation and technology uptake is vital to ensuring profitability and growth within the sectors. Can Australian companies play a role in creating an innovation culture in the African minerals and energy sectors?

Australian companies definitely can play a big role in embracing innovation and technology uptake in the African mining scene. Where these innovations improve safety and allow some technology transfer to the host countries, these technologies will have the ability to open up mines that where once thought not possible to mine.

AfricaLive: How would you like the “Australian business brand” to be seen by African companies and governments?

We believe that we would like to see the Australian mining industry with its investment and involvement in Africa as admired, trusted and respected.

For Australia the challenge is to progress from being merely popular to be truly respected. In a fiercely competitive world, the degree to which Australia is viewed can have direct economic and social impact in the host African countries.