Home » Africa’s Lithium Boom: How Corruption and Rights Abuses Threaten Green Transition

Africa’s Lithium Boom: How Corruption and Rights Abuses Threaten Green Transition

A new report by Global Witness reveals the dark side of the lithium boom in Africa and its implications for the global green energy transition.

by Motoni Olodun

Lithium is a key element for the production of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies that are essential for the global shift to clean energy. However, a new report by Global Witness, an international organisation that exposes corruption and environmental abuses, reveals how the exploitation of lithium in Africa is linked to serious allegations of corruption, human rights violations and environmental damage.

The report, titled “Lithium Rush: Fuelling Corruption and Harming Communities in Africa”, focuses on three lithium mines in Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which are linked to major corruption red flags and some face accusations of harming local communities and wildlife.

In Zimbabwe, the Sandawana mine was reportedly taken over by companies with close ties to the ruling ZANU-PF party and the military, including entities facing US or EU sanctions. The takeover followed the eviction of thousands of local miners who were working in unsafe conditions and faced reports of child labour, sanitation issues and mine collapses.

In Namibia, the Chinese-owned Xinfeng Investments has been accused of acquiring its Uis lithium mine through bribery and housing workers in ‘apartheid conditions’. The company has also been criticised for shipping raw lithium ore to China, failing to deliver on promises to build processing facilities within Namibia and scaring away the wildlife that brings tourism to the area.

In DRC, the state-owned mining company that signed the deal for the Manono mine development was accused by DRC’s anti-corruption agency of selling lithium rights at a cut price and squandering the profits. The acquisition of the project by an Australian company appears to have generated millions of dollars for shell companies held by middlemen implicated in previous corruption scandals involving ex-President Joseph Kabila. Moreover, an aide of President Felix Tshisekedi’s party reportedly received $1.6 million in ‘commission’ from Zijin Mining when it acquired shares in the project.

The report warns that Africa is at the centre of a geopolitical powerplay for the raw earth minerals used in clean energy technologies that will fuel a global green energy transition. It calls on the EU, which is hosting its Raw Materials Week in Brussels this week, to ensure that its supply chains of critical raw materials are in line with the highest international human rights, environmental and governance standards and to support producer countries to process and manufacture battery materials locally.

The report also urges the African governments to ensure transparency and accountability in the mining sector, to protect the rights and livelihoods of local communities and to promote environmental sustainability and circularity.

Global Witness contacted several companies and individuals named in the report and the replies received are included in the full report, available at Global Witness (or on request prior to the embargo date).

The report concludes that Africa has the potential to benefit from its wealth of natural resources such as lithium, but only if it adopts a model that involves local processing of minerals and the production of battery precursors to boost its economies. It also stresses the need for effective measures against corruption, as well as better labour conditions, contributions to community development and environmental protection.

Source: Global Witness

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