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The scramble for Africa’s critical minerals

Publish date: 12 February 2024
Issue Number: 1063
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: Mining

Last week's Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town has heard that the interests of African countries have to be factored into the rush for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements which are crucial ingredients of green technologies such as batteries for electric vehicles and wind turbines. ‘Critical for whom?’ World Bank mining expert Sven Renner asked during a panel discussion at the indaba. The Daily Maverick reports that he stressed that there were two parties in mining partnerships. Industrialised countries had a legitimate interest in securing supplies of minerals, including critical minerals. ‘While African mining countries – as they tell us again and again – have an interest that goes beyond supplying industrialised countries with their minerals,’ Renner said, ‘the question is, how do we find that common ground … that would really allow for a partnership?’ To ensure the African side also benefitted, mining investors needed to align with the mining countries’ policies and priorities, including creating jobs, leveraging the mining sector for broader development, particularly infrastructure development such as energy and transportation, and adding value to raw minerals.

Renner noted that about $5trn a year would have to be invested in the energy transition if the world hoped to meet the target of limiting the global temperature to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. That created a gigantic market, about 80% of it concentrated in transitional technologies which originated in mining. It was vital to ensure all these benefits did not accrue only to industrialised countries. For African countries to benefit from the boom, they would need to think regionally – for instance, in developing batteries for electric vehicles. He said that not only critical minerals but also base metals such as iron and copper would be critical for the economic development of African countries. The DM notes that the UK’s High Commissioner to SA, Antony Phillipson, said that given the historical legacy of his country in Africa, ‘We don’t want to come across as patronising and paternalistic.’ He noted that in a development white paper last year, the UK had decided that helping developing countries with their economic development was the best way of getting development aid on the ground. That meant building meaningful partnerships with governments, private sectors and communities. He cited the example of the $8.5bn Just Energy Transition Partnership which the UK and other Western countries had concluded with SA. ‘Getting the right supply of these minerals is going to be absolutely critical. But we want to do that in a way that goes completely with the grain of the SA Government’s own ambitions for a just energy transition,’ Phillipson said.

Full Daily Maverick analysis

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