Critical Minerals in Africa: Gearing up for Strategic Growth
Demand for critical minerals has turned the spotlight onto Africa’s vast resources, not least bauxite and cobalt,
which is used to produce aluminum and in lithium-ion batteries and semiconductors. Now the goal is mutually
beneficial partnerships and a long-term view
African mining’s day has arrived. The world’s desperate need of critical minerals is providing momentum for the continent to capitalize on its vast resources. The main battery minerals, essential for global green and digital transitions, plus defence and space technologies are at the heart of its ambitions. But key to strengthening value chains and winning financing for critical raw material (CRM) production will be its success in striking partnerships and collaborations with industry in the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Though the CRMs are enjoying the limelight due to their importance, the exploration and extraction of Africa’s battery minerals have remained significantly underfunded. China has a head start, but competition is now hotting up with governments in the US and Europe entering the fray.
How Africa responds to the insatiable demand emerging for its critical minerals will determine its growth trajectory. New negotiating possibilities have been opened up as African countries move into stronger bargaining positions, now being able even, it is suggested in a briefing paper from geopolitical analysts Oxford Analytica, to seek financing for oil, gas, hydro and logistics projects in exchange for more CRM access.
CRMs comprise metals such as copper, lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and platinum, in addition to the 17 rare earth metals, lists the Society for the Advancement of Science in Africa. “Overall, the continent has at least a fifth of the world’s reserves in a dozen minerals that are critical for the energy transition,” according to the National Resource Governance Institute (NGRI). It adds that this “makes Africa essential in the just energy transitions”, yet, while it finds itself at the centre of a resource scramble of global significance, the continent remains relatively unexplored.
Several African countries are endowed with large amounts of strategic critical minerals resources. For example, 70% of global cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and over 80% of the world’s known platinum and manganese resources are in South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa is also a major supplier of ruthenium, iridium and rhodium (with the EU being particularly dependent on them). Gabon is also a major producer of manganese. Mozambique and Tanzania have significant reserves of graphite, and the DRC and Zambia are important sources of copper.
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