India's bid for mine in Liberia hits Chinese roadblock

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will arrive in India today

India's bid for mine in Liberia hits Chinese roadblock

India is set to roll out the red carpet for Liberia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning President next week, even as its bid to acquire a huge iron-ore reserve in the West African country is facing a tough challenge from China.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is set to commence her five-day visit to India on Monday. She will receive the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development from President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday. New Delhi is playing host to Sirleaf at a time when both India and China are vying to acquire a huge iron-ore mine in the Wologizi Mountains of Liberia. India’s Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) has been engaged in talks with Liberian government for quite some time to acquire the reserve.

Beijing entered the race a few months ago and conveyed to Sirleaf’s government in Monrovia that its companies too were interested in investing in the mine.

Liberia has an estimated iron ore reserve of 3,443 MT, and the Wologizi Mountain mine holds the largest deposit. JSPL is understood to have evinced interest to invest about $2 billion in the mine initially. It also purportedly proposed to build a power plant to supply electricity to the suburbs of Monrovia as part of its deal.

India and China have been jockeying for influence in Africa. Liberia, which emerged from a prolonged civil war in 2005, is one of the latest scenes of the competition to acquire mineral resource reserves in the continent.

JSPL’s bid for the mine contract has also been complicated by the Liberian move to enact a law to make it mandatory for a company to have at least 40 per cent Liberian stake in it if it wanted a deal with the government.

Sirleaf took over as President after winning the 2005 election that ended Liberia's prolonged civil war. Both Beijing and New Delhi have since been supporting her government’s efforts for reconstruction. Chinese and Indian firms are involved in several infrastructure, industrial and mining projects there.

India has of late offered a soft loan of $144 million to Liberia to finance a 373-km transmission and distribution line and two power sub-stations.

India’s engagement with Liberia got a momentum when the then Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor visited in 2009.

New Delhi played host Liberian Vice-President Joseph N Boakai in March this year. Sirleaf, however, is the first President of Liberia to visit India.

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