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How the West is Fighting China’s Dominance in Africa’s Critical Minerals Market

A new scramble for Africa’s mineral wealth

by Motoni Olodun

Africa is home to some of the world’s most abundant and valuable deposits of critical minerals, such as cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, and rare earth elements. These minerals are essential for the production of clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines, as well as military and medical equipment. However, China has been the dominant player in the African critical minerals sector for decades, securing access to mines, processing facilities, and infrastructure projects across the continent.

In recent years, however, the West has been challenging China’s hold on Africa’s mineral wealth, as part of a broader strategy to reduce its dependence on Beijing for key resources and to counter its growing influence in the region. The United States, the European Union, Japan, and other countries have launched various initiatives to support the development of African critical minerals, such as providing financing, technical assistance, infrastructure, and market access. They have also forged partnerships with African governments, mining companies, and civil society groups to promote responsible and sustainable mining practices, as well as to address the social and environmental impacts of the industry.

One of the most prominent examples of this Western push is the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which is planning to nearly double its financial commitments to de-risk mining in the Copperbelt, a region that spans northern Zambia and southern Congo. The DFC’s flagship investment is the Lobito Corridor project, which will upgrade and extend the existing rail line from the Angolan port of Lobito to the Congo and Zambia, linking Copperbelt mines directly with the Atlantic Ocean and reducing both the cost and the carbon footprint of transporting the minerals. The DFC has also backed several critical mineral projects in the region, such as the Kamoa-Kakula copper mine in Congo, which is expected to become the world’s second-largest copper mine when it reaches full production.

Another key actor in the Western effort is the Minerals Security Partnership, a U.S.-led alliance of countries that aims to diversify and secure the supply chains of critical minerals. The partnership has signed memoranda of understanding with several African countries, such as Congo, Botswana, and Namibia, to cooperate on various aspects of the mineral value chain, from exploration and extraction to processing and recycling. The partnership also seeks to support the formalization and empowerment of artisanal and small-scale miners, who produce a significant share of Africa’s cobalt and other minerals, often under hazardous and exploitative conditions.

The Western involvement in Africa’s critical minerals sector is not without challenges and risks, however. Some of the obstacles include political instability, regulatory uncertainty, security threats, corruption, human rights violations, and environmental degradation. Moreover, China is not likely to give up its dominant position easily, as it has invested heavily in building long-term relationships and strategic interests in the continent. China may also respond to Western competition by offering more attractive deals, such as lower interest rates, debt relief, or infrastructure development, to African countries and companies.

The outcome of this new scramble for Africa’s critical minerals will have significant implications for the global energy transition, as well as for the geopolitical and economic balance of power in the region and beyond. The West hopes to gain a foothold in a lucrative and strategic market, while also supporting Africa’s development and governance. However, it will have to overcome many hurdles and navigate a complex and dynamic landscape, where China remains a formidable and resilient rival.

Source: Reuters

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