African Critical Minerals Summit Mixes Energy Transition With Geopolitical Considerations

The Critical Minerals Africa (CMA) Conference 2023 took place at the Cape Town International Convention Center (CTICC) from 17 to 19 October 2023. Given the current high interest in #CriticalMinerals, this event follows right behind the African Critical Minerals Summit (ACMS) which took place at the Sandton Convention Center less than two months ago.

Josh Volz, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa at the US Department of Energy (DoE) and Jude Kearney, Chair of Sub-Saharan Committee at US EXIM Bank, were among the top guests. High government officials from the mining ministries of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania were also in attendance.

Actually, one of the key topics of discussion at the Summit was how to accelerate the #EnergyTransition by securing the supply chain of #CriticalMinerals while creating more Local Value Addition (#LVA). On the second day of the Summit, a panel discussion delved deeper into mitigating geopolitical risks during “Investing in African Critical Minerals and Rare Earth Projects Today.”

Panel Discussion at African Critical Minerals Summit 2023

Currently, China controls nearly 80% of the global processed Cobalt supply. After getting control on the Cobalt reserves in DR Congo, China is working hard to have a rerun of its Cobalt playbook with Lithium. Over the past few years, China has been on a buying spree for Lithium mines around the world and most notably in Zimbabwe.

Similarly, China processes and controls nearly 70% of the world Rare Earth Elements (REE). Needless to say, in view of the intensifying rivalry, many western nations are scrambling to diversify their procurement of #CriticalMinerals away from one dominant source.

One of the latest initiatives involves the UK which has earmarked ZAR 20 million to conduct a study to identify the most bankable #CriticalMinerals mining opportunities. Boston Consulting Group has been tasked to conduct the study which is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

There is no single authoritative list of #CriticalMinerals because each country defines them based on their economic development needs and national security situation however, in general they include:

  1. Lithium
  2. Cobalt
  3. Rare Earth Elements
Children chipping away at a cobalt mine-pit in Tulwezembe, DR Congo

A lot of the Cobalt mining around Kolwezi town in DRC is undertaken artisanally and not under the best of conditions. Many children are also involved in the extraction. In addition, the operations barely take into account its impact on the environment.

Currently, the bulk of the cobalt ore is then sold to Chinese intermediaries which export them to China for refining with little local beneficiation. Therefore, African rich in #CriticalMinerals aim to structure their mining industry in order to provide better conditions for workers and to extract more economic benefit.