Mining is important to the economy of Ethiopia as a diversification from agriculture. While it currently accounts for a very low percentage of the country’s gross domestic product, Ethiopia’s mining sector is undergoing an enormous transformation with an increase in opportunities for investment. According to findings from recently conducted geological studies, a wide variety of mineral resources are available in the country, including gold, platinum and petroleum.
The goal of the Ethiopian Government is to increase the contributions of the minerals sector reportedly by up to 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) within 10 years. In recent years, the Australian Government has supported Ethiopia’s efforts to harness mineral wealth for development. One way support has been provided is through capacity building in order to equip Ethiopian professionals with specialised knowledge and skills to more effectively utilise and benefit from mineral resources.
Through Australia Awards and the International Mining for Development Centre (IM4DC) programs, the Australian Government has provided capacity building opportunities to Ethiopians in the extractives sector. Since 2011, 25 Ethiopians have benefited from a scholarship from Australia Awards to study courses in the sector and another 12 Ethiopians participated in mining-related training offerings provided by IM4DC since 2012. In addition to bringing valuable skills that are readily applied on return, these opportunities have also facilitated Australia-Africa links through Alumni’s work on return.
The work being done by Alumnus Girma Woldetinsae Gebremichael is a good example of Australian scientific development collaborations in the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines. In 2014, he benefited from two mining-related offerings from the IM4DC program: a short course on Manual Automated Workflows for Data Integration and Exploration Targeting and a workshop on Improving Mining Tax Administration Frameworks in Africa.
In his role of Director for Research and Development at the Ministry of Mines, Girma is currently engaged with a number of activities aimed at advancing the extractives sector in Ethiopia. He is developing a Structural Geophysics course for graduate students at Addis Ababa University using knowledge and resources he gained in the IM4DC training. The course design is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
Further, Girma is developing a research and teaching program in environmental management and Corporate Social responsibility (CRM) relevant to the Ethiopian extractives sector. This is a collaborative work between the University of Queensland and the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines. The proposal is completed and awaiting funding; if funded, the training is expected to benefit stakeholders involved in the industry. This was part of the work developed through the Australian Volunteers Program Girma is coordinating at the Ministry of Mines.
Girma is grateful for the opportunity to enhance this knowledge and skills through the Australian Government-funded training. “Both the short course and workshop gave me an opportunity to learn new methods that are readily relevant and applicable to my work. Such tailored and practical training opportunities are important for keeping me abreast of new developments in the sector that I can apply locally,” Girma says.
In order to extend the reach of his contributions in the extractives sector, Girma has completed a practical module course on visioning and strategising in the sector delivered to 65 governance graduate students at the Institute of Leadership and Good Governance of the Ethiopian Civil Service University. The course consists of group and individual case studies. If not enough, Girma also currently supervises and collaborates on research with one graduate student (MSc, Geophysics) and one PhD student in both Ethiopia and the University of Adelaide, respectively. Through their research, Girma is furthering the work he is doing at the Ministry of Mines.
Girma’s IM4DC training further catalysed other links he already had with Australia. Since 2012, he is collaborating on a research program on geochronology of western Ethiopia shield with the University of Adelaide in Australia. His collaboration resulted in a published thesis in 2013 (Honours) that has been followed on with a PhD, ongoing, by one of the students Girma supervises. Shield is a large area of exposed basement rocks and in most cases of Precambrian age. The research pinpointed the age and origins of the western Ethiopian Precambrian shied of Ethiopia, which is currently the focus of many exploration activities for gold and base metals.
His vision has also been lent to another critical cause: that of advocating for the development of a new tax administration and collection framework for mining in Ethiopia drawing on the Australian model. This is a work in progress.
Across the aisle in his role of Senior Cadastre and System Admin at the Ministry of Mines, Belete Birhanu Kassaye is transferring knowledge gained to his peers. In early 2014, Belete participated in the Australia Awards Africa Fellowship course on Practical and Effective Integration of Geosciences, Geographical and Cadastral Data in GIS Systems delivered in collaboration with IM4DC and the University of Zambia.
Six years ago, the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines implemented a mining cadastre system for mining licensing. A major challenge has been the shortage of GIS trained staff. Cognizant of this need, since completing his GIS course with Australia Awards Belete has delivered a 10-day GIS training program to 10 junior geoscientists from the Ministry of Mines in order to increase the skilled human resource base within the ministry. The training he delivered is a significant step toward bridging the skill gap. The training is delivery every six months to new employees within the Ministry.
“Thanks to my employer, the Australian Government (through Australia Awards and IM4DC) and the University of Zambia for giving me the opportunity to participate in the training. I have been able to transfer knowledge gained on GIS to young geoscientists in my country,” says Belete.
In delivering the training, Belete utilised the materials from the GIS course he took. He reports maintaining links with his Australian lecturers from the University of Western Australia and the University of Zambia as well as peers he met during the course.
Belete and Girma are good examples of where the application of specialised knowledge and skills gained on the training sponsored by the Australian Government is making a difference in Ethiopia, and where links between Australia and Africa are being harnessed to further the benefits.
 Investing in Ethiopia: Mining, Embassy of Ethiopia, accessed 1 March 2015 at http://www.ethiopianembassy.org/pdf/investingmining.pdf
Image: Belete Birhanu Kassaye presenting a poster at the Welcome Home Function held in Ethiopia on 18 February 2015