The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP)


Exploration activity overview

Ethiopian mining has seen a flurry of exploration activity in recent years. With reforms implemented to the exploration licensing application and approval processes, a more streamlined and rigorous approach is available to investors looking to explore Ethiopia’s potential. The 2018-2019 period in particular saw a dramatic increase in the number of licenses issued, with 66% of these new mining licenses held by international investors.

The map below shows all mining licences (indicated in dark blue) held in the country, as of February 2020. It can be seen that the majority of licences are held in the north and west.

Gold exploration

Modern, commercial gold exploration in Ethiopia was begun tentatively in 1979 by the USSR, with further work done in the 1980s by the Government’s own Geological Survey Department. But it was a substantial Norwegian-Ethiopian collaboration that took place from 1996 to 2001 which delivered a meaningful step forward. This project undertook geological mapping on both a large and small scale, as well as geophysical and geochemical surveys. It revealed numerous gold showings in western Ethiopia and a follow-up project with detailed mapping. Stream sediment sampling and diamond drilling was also undertaken.

Ethiopia’s gold deposits are clustered in a Proterozoic basement, which covers about 18% of the country. A considerable part of this area has already been surveyed by aerial geophysical surveys and geochemical mapping. Good news for investors is that significant gold mineralization has been found in three regions:

  • The Western greenstone belts
  • The Northern greenstone belts
  • The Southern greenstone belts

There are additional opportunities for investors in epithermal gold. The East African Rift Valley transecting Ethiopia hosts a large number of geothermal fields which are used for power generation, and a low grade epithermal gold deposit was discovered at Tendaho in the Afar region. Geothermal drilling revealed highly silicified zones returning gold grades of 1 gram per tonne. Currently, investors are intensively exploring to better define the pockets of epithermal gold around the northern part of the country. 

The map below illustrates both gold exploration and gold mining in Ethiopia as of February 2020. The host geology for gold deposits is shown too, with metavolcano sedimentary rocks dominating:

Gemstone exploration

Ethiopia’s newly discovered gemstone deposits are ripe for commercial exploitation. Limited geological and geochemical work in the belt to define the mode of occurrence means that the field is wide open for investors to bring these extraordinary gemstones to a global market:

International gem forums were buzzing in 2017 with the news of the high quality and size of Ethiopia’s very recently identified emerald deposits. Discovered in August of 2016 by artisanal miners looking for tantalum, these new finds are comparable to those mined in Colombia in terms of hue and quality. The emerald deposits are located in the Sebo Boru district, in the beautiful coffee-producing Oromia Region in southern Ethiopia, where the rural villages of Kenticha and Dermi host particularly high quality deposits.
Ethiopia is also well on course to become the first challenger to Australian opals. In 2008, the discovery of spectacular Wollo opals in northern Ethiopia changed the game – there are now four types of opals being mined in Ethiopia, with the majority only discovered in the last decade.
High quality deposits of new and unique sapphires were found in Tigray in November 2016. Early samples taken confirm the sapphires are of an impressive quality, good size and with a wide variety – easily comparable to the sapphires of Madagascar. These deposits fall within the western greenstone belts that run from the northeast to the south-west of Tigray, which is primarily an agricultural and cattle farming region. These sapphires are dominated by a blue-yellow-green series but they also include exciting varieties such as red, purple, white, orange, yellow and even a deep pink. The map below shows licences currently held for gemstone exploration (emeralds, opals and sapphire), indicated in red: momp

Potash and other industrial minerals exploration

Ethiopia hosts the following known quantities of industrial minerals.

Fertiliser Raw Minerals:

    •  Potash: billion tonnes & Phosphate: more than 200MT

Cement Raw Minerals:

    • Limestone, Gypsum, Clay, Pumice

Ceramics Raw Minerals:  

    • Kaolin: 20Mt, Feldspar: 500000t

Glass Raw Minerals:  

    • Silica Sand: more than 3.4Mt 

Dimension Stones:

    • Marble, Granite, Limestone, Sandstone: in the million tonnes range.
    • Diatomite:120Mt, Bentonite: 172Mt, Soda ash: 460Mt, Salt: 4.3Bt,
    • Graphite: 460000t, Sulphur: 6Mt

Of particular focus for many are Ethiopia’s potash opportunities. Today, potash is primarily used in fertilizers, and rising demand from China and Asia is set to drive the market in the coming years.

The Danakil Depression lies at the junction of three tectonic plates, and was formed as a result of the African and Asian continents moving apart. This caused rifting and volcanic activity, resulting in its complex and alluring geology. The salt formations on the surface cover an area of about 450 square miles, but only a small part of this area has been explored. One can see on Mount Dallol colourful layers of salt about 20 or 30 centimetres thick, with thin clay and gypsum layers in between, lying exposed to the air.

Not only is the Danakil Depression the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures, but it is also one of the lowest – sitting 100 metres below current sea level. Past exploration undertaken by various companies has confirmed the presence of two ore bodies at Dallol.

Lying just one kilometer south-west of Mount Dallol, the irregularly shaped ore body is about 1000m long and 100m wide. This surface deposit surrounds the bubbling spring of magnesium chloride referred to as ‘Black Mountain’.
Named for the Musley Canon nearby, this ore body lies about 4.5 km west of Mount Dallol. It is about 4 km long and 1.5 km. wide and was extensively explored during the 1960s. Drilling has indicated the presence of a potash-bearing horizon at 500 meters depth, similar to that explored by underground work and shallower drilling.

In southern Ethiopia, right on the Kenyan border, sits the Moyale deposit with an estimated reserve of 460,000 tons of well crystalised and flaky graphite. Most likely of sedimentary origin, the graphite in the Moyale area is hosted by quartz-feldspar-mica schist and quartzite which form continuous bodies extending for hundreds of meters. Studies have shown Moyale’s graphite content to be moderate, but generally fine-grained. 

The gold and base metal bearing belts in the Adola region in eastern Ethiopia, and others in the west and the north of the country are also all known to contain graphite. Several long belts of graphitic schist extend for many kilometers through the Adola region, specifically in the Bekeka, Kenticha, Kibre

Mengist-Chembi and Chembi areas. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP), together with a university-industry linkage, is currently undertaking a study to better qualify parts of these graphite resources.

The map below illustrates mining license holders for other industrial minerals such as graphite, feldspar, bromine, bentonite and kaolin, as of February 2020:

Solid geodata to support exploration

Exploration is so much easier with solid geodata, a top priority for the Geological Survey of Ethiopia (GSE).Several reforms in the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum are focussed on strengthening the generation and dissemination of geoscience data, which is so critical for mineral exploration and investment promotion. As part of the MomP’s “one-door” policy, efforts to consolidate, simplify and improve the accessibility of information for public and private sector stakeholders with regards to key information and geospatial information are a priority. This has also been identified as a priority area in the Government’s Home Grown Reform Agenda. 

There are two easily accessible online mining data repositories for investors.

The first is the MoMP’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) portal. This is where the MoMP houses:

  • Surveys
  • Completed reports
  • Progress reports, and
  • High resolution maps

In total there are over 5000 items in the GIS portal, all of them searchable.

The second is the Mining Cadastre Portal. An efficient, functioning, transparent and user-friendly cadastre system is vital to supporting mining investment. Once you have navigated to the Cadastre portal, you can click on a licenses on the map to view detailed information. You can also use the search functionality to search by license code, owner or license type.