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Minerals from the Smiling Coast

The Republic of The Gambia, like most of the nations on the African continent, have access to natural resources. The Department of State for Trade, Industry and Employment regulates the sector in The Gambia. Their policies are geared towards attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). Some of them are the feasibility of repatriating one’s capital and profits, special investment certificates, constitutional guarantees and safeguards that assure that no nationalization or expropriation of the investments will occur. The following companies have been present in the Gambia Mining Sector since 2003: Astron from Australia, Carnegie Minerals Ltd. from The Gambia, Carnegie Minerals Plc from the United Kingdom, Gamicao S.A from Luxembourg and Alhamdulillah Petroleum Mineral from The Gambia.

The Gambia’s mines produce the following: clay, laterite, sand, gravel, silica sand and zircon. However, one must note that all these minerals are utilized differently in the various industries worldwide that employ them. According to Wikipedia, the following definitions could best describe these minerals.

Clay: “Clay is a type of fine-grained natural soil material that contains hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates (clay minerals) that develops plasticity when wet. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure. Clays are plastic due to particle size and geometry as well as water content, and become hard, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Depending on the soil’s content in which it is found, clay can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red. Although many naturally occurring deposits include both silts and clay, clays are distinguished from other fine-grained soils by differences in size and mineralogy. Silts, which are fine-grained soils that do not include clay minerals, tend to have larger particle sizes than clays. There is, however, some overlap in particle size and other physical properties. The distinction between silt and clay varies by discipline. Geologists and soil scientists usually consider the separation to occur at a particle size of 2 μm (clays being finer than silts), sedimentologists often use 4–5 μm, and colloid chemists use 1μm. Geotechnical engineers distinguish between silts and clays based on the plasticity properties of the soil, as measured by the soils’ Atterberg limits. ISO 14688 grades clay particles as being smaller than 2 μm and silt particles as being larger. Mixtures of sand, silt and less than 40% clay are called loam.

Laterite: Laterite is a soil and rock type rich in iron and aluminium and is commonly considered to have formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are of rusty-red coloration, because of high iron oxide content. They develop by intensive and prolonged weathering of the underlying parent rock. Tropical weathering (laterization) is a prolonged process of chemical weathering which produces a wide variety in the thickness, grade, chemistry and ore mineralogy of the resulting soils. The majority of the land area containing laterites is between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Laterite has commonly been referred to as a soil type as well as being a rock type. This and further variation in the modes of conceptualizing about laterite (e.g. also as a complete weathering profile or theory about weathering) has led to calls for the term to be abandoned altogether. At least a few researchers specializing in regolith development have considered that hopeless confusion has evolved around the name. There is no likelihood, however, that the name will ever be abandoned for material that looks highly similar to the Indian laterite occurs abundantly worldwide, and it is reasonable to call such material laterite.

Historically, laterite was cut into brick-like shapes and used in monument-building. After 1000 CE, construction at Angkor Wat and other Southeast Asian sites changed to rectangular temple enclosures made of laterite, brick, and stone. Since the mid-1970s, some trial sections of bituminous-surfaced, low-volume roads have used laterite in place of stone as a base course. Thick laterite layers are porous and slightly permeable, so the layers can function as aquifers in rural areas. Locally available laterites have been used in an acid solution, followed by precipitation to remove phosphorus and heavy metals at sewage-treatment facilities.

Laterites are a source of aluminium ore; the ore exists largely in clay minerals and the hydroxides, gibbsite, boehmite, and diaspore, which resembles the composition of bauxite. In Northern Ireland they once provided a major source of iron and aluminium ores. Laterite ores also were the early major source of nickel.

Gravel: Gravel /ˈɡrævəl/ is a loose aggregation of rock fragments. Gravel is classified by particle size range and includes size classes from granule- to boulder-sized fragments. In the Udden-Wentworth scale gravel is categorized into granular gravel (2 to 4 mm or 0.079 to 0.157 in) and pebble gravel (4 to 64 mm or 0.2 to 2.5 in). ISO 14688 grades gravels as fine, medium, and coarse with ranges 2 mm to 6.3 mm to 20 mm to 63 mm. One cubic meter of gravel typically weighs about 1,800 kg (or a cubic yard weighs about 3,000 pounds).

Gravel is an important commercial product, with a number of applications. Many roadways are surfaced with gravel, especially in rural areas where there is little traffic. Globally, far more roads are surfaced with gravel than with concrete or asphalt; Russia alone has over 400,000 km (250,000 mi) of gravel roads. Both sand and small gravel are also important for the manufacture of concrete.

Silica: Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, is an oxide of silicon with the chemical formula, most commonly found in nature as quartz and in various living organisms. In many parts of the world, silica is the major constituent of sand. Silica is one of the most complex and most abundant families of materials, existing as a compound of several minerals and as synthetic product. Notable examples include fused quartz, fumed silica, silica gel, and aerogels. It is used in structural materials, microelectronics (as an electrical insulator), and as components in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Inhaling finely divided crystalline silica is toxic and can lead to severe inflammation of the lung tissue, silicosisbronchitislung cancer, and systemic autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Inhalation of amorphous silicon dioxide, in high doses, leads to non-permanent short-term inflammation, where all effects heal.

Zircon: Zircon: is a mineral belonging to the group of nesosilicates. Its chemical name is zirconium silicate, and its corresponding chemical formula is ZrSiO4. A common empirical formula showing some of the range of substitution in zircon is. Zircon forms in silicate melts with large proportions of high field strength incompatible elements. For example, hafnium is almost always present in quantities ranging from 1 to 4%. The crystal structure of zircon is a tetragonal crystal system. The natural colour of zircon varies between colourless, yellow-golden, red, brown, blue and green.

The name derives from the Persian zargun, meaning “gold-hued”.[9] This word is corrupted into “jargoon“, a term applied to light-colored zircons. The English word “zircon” is derived from Zirkon, which is the German adaptation of this word. Yellow, orange and red zircon is also known as “hyacinth”, from the flower hyacinth, whose name is of Ancient Greek origin.

The Gambia as we know it today is working harder and harder to build its highly needed infrastructure that will catalyze growth in many sectors of its economy. How much of these minerals are utilized in these ambitions? How do we create more jobs and opportunities for the manufacturing industries in our nation? These are key questions to consider being that every year, natural resources are exported, manufactured and the finished goods find their way back into our markets where consumers demand more and more.

At the community level, how can one organize the neighborhoods to form associations? These organisations will in turn secure, thanks to partnerships created with the regulating bodies of The Gambia, the necessary gravel and equipment to build all the roads in their respective neighborhoods for example.

Furthermore, educating the younger generations and showing them how studying Geology could enable them to work in this sector and develop it accordingly so that it can contribute considerably to the GDP of The Gambia. Transformation technologies can be applied and finished products can be derived from these natural resources thanks to the appropriate research and development initiatives.

Inclusion should be the first priority when it comes to these industries and the communities that they affect directly. The FDIs are highly needed, yet we do have highly qualified Gambian nationals that could make quite a difference with the appropriate financial resources geared towards investments in the sector. The various institutions in the government should reach out to the citizens of the various communities and engage them in the ongoing nation building process of the 3rd Republic. The future of our resources is in our hands and should be preserved meticulously for the generations to come to benefit from them.

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