Africa’s critical mineral reserves – found in abundance in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, the DRC and Mali, among other hotspots – hold the potential to transform both the energy and economic landscape of the continent. Yet in order for African countries to harness the full potential of these essential resources, local and sustainable value chains must be established. This entails implementing policies aimed at stimulating investment, building capacity in skills and infrastructure, and securing financial and technical support from international partners.
Driving Development through Progressive Policies
Africa’s rich mineral resources require specific, mining-focused regulatory frameworks to attract investment and ensure responsible resource utilization. To aid in this regard, the African Union and other regional bodies are collaborating to develop an African Green Minerals Strategy (AGMS), aimed at strengthening mining regulations and respective regulatory institutions. The AGMS sets specific objectives, with a view to positioning Africa’s critical minerals as a catalyst for green technology, large-scale agriculture and industrial sectors, aligning with development goals per Agenda 2063.
Despite this progress, the strategy has not yet culminated in finalized, actionable policies. To realize their shared objectives, African countries and regional bodies must implement integrated, resource-based development and industrialization policies that prioritize local beneficiation and successful collaboration with global mining companies. A key challenge within the sector has been the lack of local processing and refining capacity. As a result, countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia have implemented bans on the export of unrefined lithium and rare earth minerals, respectively, in a bid to establish a domestic mineral value chain.
Building Human Resource and Infrastructural Capacity
Africa’s mining infrastructure faces critical gaps in both its workforce and physical infrastructure. In terms of training and capacity building, African governments are collaborating with educational institutions and industry leaders to invest in programs addressing skill gaps, fostering a more capable and equipped local workforce in the mining sector. In South Africa, the Mining Qualifications Authority serves as the industry’s education and training authority, overseeing learning programs and promoting work-based skills development. The country’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has also collaborated with the Industrial Development Corporation and Council for Geosciences to introduce a R500-million fund designed to support local and artisanal miners in exploration and extraction activities. The initiative aims to augment mineral output from small-scale mining operations, ensuring a more sustainable and diversified landscape.
Simultaneously, investing in essential infrastructure, including transport and logistics, remains key to unlocking additional growth of the sector. While the African Continental Free Trade Area has helped to address infrastructure gaps, its resultant increase in trade demand requires substantial new investments, including the acquisition of two million trucks, 100,000 rail wagons, 250 aircraft and over 100 vessels by 2030. Accordingly, several African mining producers are currently undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects. Tanzania’s Standard Gauge Railway Project aims to provide a safe and efficient means of transporting goods to and from the Dar es Salaam Port, enhancing cross-border trade and connectivity in the region. In Guinea-Conakry, the development of a bauxite mine and port terminal is being accompanied by the upgrade of existing railway infrastructure, harbor and channel works. Initiatives like these serve to expand mining sector capacity, while also putting in place critical infrastructure that will catalyze broader economic development.
Foreign Partners Providing Vital Support
Foreign allies, notably the EU, the US, and China, continue to play a pivotal role in Africa’s critical minerals sector. In June 2022, the EU launched the “Creating Sustainable Raw Materials Value Chains Through EU-Africa Collaboration” Project – better known as “AfricaMaVal” – which seeks to promote responsible mineral sourcing in Europe and enhance sustainable development and ESG practices in Africa. The initiative focuses on ten case studies in countries including Morocco, Senegal, Gabon, the DRC, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Madagascar, which assess each country’s mining and refining potential and reinforce their connections with European partners. The project aligns with the Green Deal and digital transition goals for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Similarly, the US has sought to strengthen trade ties with African nations via its African Growth and Opportunity Act, promoting economic development and diversifying export products. Last March, the country announced plans to enhance trade and investment with Tanzania, inking a $500-million deal to facilitate exports in infrastructure, energy security and power generation. Under the deal, US-backed LifeZone Metals will build a green mineral processing plant in Tanzania, enabling the export of eco-friendly battery-grade nickel to the US starting in 2026.
To date, China has dominated the global critical mineral supply chain, holding approximately 60% of global production and 85% of processing capacity. Yet China relies heavily on Africa for supplies of uranium, copper, aluminum, zinc, lead, cobalt and lithium, importing nearly $100 billion worth of minerals from sub-Saharan Africa per year. Over the past two years, Chinese mining and engineering service firms, including Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group and Chengxin Lithium Group, have channeled around one billion dollars to acquire and develop lithium projects in Zimbabwe. As global competition for Africa’s mineral reserves heightens, the continent is well positioned to attract capital, technology and technical expertise from foreign partners to accelerate the development of its critical minerals value chain.