"Round their necks, the dogs wear collars of gold and silver”.
So commented a 10th century Arab visitor to the court of the old empire of Ghana, a gold producer.
For Europeans, who arrived in West Africa in the late 1400s, slave-trading overshadowed gold production for several centuries.
But production stepped up in the late 1800s with the introduction by the British of large-scale mining in modern Ghana (south-east of the old empire).
And in the last decade, West Africa has increasingly drawn the attention of mining companies from around the world, particularly in gold and iron ore.
Countries of particular interest include Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mauritania.
In gold, Australian, South African and Canadian mining companies are active in the region, while US company, Newmont, has two significant developments in Ghana.
In iron ore, West Africa may within five years account for over 15 per cent of global iron ore exports.
Construction has commenced at Rio Tinto’s $7 billion Simandou project in Guinea, BHP Billiton’s nearby Nimba project, which is at an earlier stage, will be as large.
Both entail substantial port and rail developments.
Other minerals of significance include bauxite, phosphate, mineral sands, diamonds and manganese.
The region has a mixed record for political stability. The climate is wearing. And the industrial base in most countries is weak.
Nevertheless, with its mineral wealth, the call of the West African frontier is likely to remain strong.
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