Mark Bristow, President and CEO,


"West Africa has been the most prolific contributor to new gold in the last two decades."

What have been the main highlights from Barrick’s West African operations?

West Africa has been the most prolific contributor to new gold in the last two decades. In Mali, Loulo-Gounkoto is a fantastic story. When I first looked at the project, it was part owned by Normandy Mining, but couldn’t pass our filter of 20% at US$1,000/oz. In 2003, I said to our geologists that we have to be brave and drill deep, which helped us extend the deposit considerably. The 75 km of strike kept producing, and now we are moving into the ramp-up phase of a new underground mine at Gounkoto. The complex already produces around 650,000 oz/y Au and has over 13 years of life yet, with tremendous opportunity for further discoveries.

Another important aspect of Loulo-Gounkoto is that it is Malian run and has become a mining school for our African business. For example, we just moved our head of underground mining, Cheick Sangare, to help our Bulyanhulu mine in Tanzania. Mali is also the first place where we have worked in Africa where refuse and waste disposal is commercially viable, run by village NGOs.

In Côte d'Ivoire, we built Tongon during the civil war, but no one ever interfered with the operation. It is a very well built mine with low sustaining costs, and has played an amazing role in the country’s northern economy. Through exploration success we have been able to extend mine life to 2024. The marginal costs of finding new deposits and adding them are very real, and Côte d'Ivoire can be a frustratingly bureaucratic place to operate, but we firmly believe in the prospectivity of the region.

How have innovations at Barrick’s Kibali mine in the DRC improved operational performance?

Kibali is a project with a lot of character. I actually bought Kibali from the back of my motorbike riding from Cape Town to Cairo with my children. It is a proper tier-one asset, producing over 800,000 oz/y Au, which puts it up there with Pueblo Viejo and the big Nevada mines. We recognized early on that to get the best out of Kibali we had to get low-cost power, so we built three hydropower stations. The mine has a very low carbon footprint, and the local community gets hydropower as well.

Kibali is Barrick’s flagship mine when it comes to innovation, integration and automation. Because the age of the average miner in the DRC is lower, you don’t get the same resistance to new technologies as you do in jurisdictions with older workforces. Kibali was our first African operation to introduce battery power; an energy storage facility with a baseload from which you can maximize hydro-power generation. We built special roadways to be able to introduce high-speed, automated hauling underground, and the crushing and material handling at the bottom of the mine are now fully automated. A new integrated data system was rolled out across all Barrick operations, and now we are starting to see the benefits of real-time data.

On the topic of ESG, what benefits have you seen when empowering local workforces?

I grew up in South Africa under apartheid, and know that you cannot put a value on the liberation of people. When you build a mine you do not really own it, you are renting a national asset. If you can create value, that value should be part of a pie that is shared with local communities and the people of the host country. As a public company, your responsibility to society is enormous.

When you build a business, of course you should reward the people that take the risk in the initial investment, and you should pay tax, because that’s how you reward the population of your host country. You also need to benefit all the stakeholders. The mining industry used to arrive, put up a fence, employ foreign contractors, pay tax and one day disappear – no wonder the sector has a bad name. We built the first hydropower station in Kibali with South African engineering firms but Congolese sub-contractors. The second power station had more Congolese sub-contractors. For the third one, the principal engineer was one of our local contractors from the DRC, who built the whole thing. Today, our Congolese contractors have their own social programs, likewise in the Dominican Republic and Argentina.