The Geopolitics of Critical Minerals In Africa: A 12-Month Outlook


    Through the acquisition of mining contracts in Africa, China has maintained a hold over the global supply of critical minerals for decades. Undeniably, Africa – specifically in the south and east of the continent – has the world’s largest reserves of many critical minerals. These minerals, including REEs (Rare Earth Elements), are essential to the production of advanced weapons applications, technological equipment, and green energy solutions. Moreover, the western world, and the US in particular, is now more aware of their reliance on China for REE acquisition. Because of the demand and geopolitical effects, REEs have started and funded conflict for decades. This trend is clear in the eastern DRC.

    KJ-1: it is likely that the United States and its western partners will actively engage in Africa to gain direct access to critical minerals over the next 12 months.

    • Over the last decade, the US, EU, and Australia have significantly increased the production of REEs. (source)
    • The US Department of Energy announced it would spend $140 Million on a critical minerals refinery. The UK is likewise investing $170 Million in their own. (source)(source)
    • The 2022 Indaba Mining in Africa Conference was attended by its highest ever ranking US official; Jose Fernandez, the Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. At the conference, Mr. Fernandez said that the US was interested in making mutually beneficial mining investments in Africa. (source)
    • Of the 50 minerals that the US Department of the Interior identifies as key to the nation’s security and economic growth, most are ubiquitous on the African continent. (source)(source)
    • Many African ministers are emphasizing the need for projects that are mutually beneficial, echoing the sentiment of the US Undersecretary and the G7’s Build Back Better world financing initiative. (source)(source)(source)
    • In June, the US Senate Armed Services Committee introduced the Hard Rock Act to Congress, a bill that would shore up American stockpiles of critical minerals. (source)
    • The DRC Government is reviewing its infrastructure for mining concessions deal with China over fears that the DRC has not benefited. In March, a court ruled that operations in China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume mine were to be suspended. (source)(source)  
    • The EU & Namibia arrived at a deal for the development and export of critical minerals to the EU. (source)

    KJ-2: it is almost certain that China will continue to play an immense role in the procurement of critical minerals from Africa over the next 12 months.

    • Only two non-Chinese companies have operational REE refineries. (source)
    • Several African countries, including Ghana and the DRC, have signed infrastructure for mining concessions agreements with China worth tens of billions. The extent of Chinese loans and subsequent mining concessions is not known, given the opaque nature of Chinese activity in Africa. (source)(source)(source)
    • As of 2021, China still produced over 60% of the world’s REEs. (source)
    • China owns or partially owns 15 of the 19 cobalt mines in the DRC; the DRC currently supplies 70% of the world’s cobalt. (source)(source)
    • 3 Chinese REE production giants recently merged into one company, strengthening China’s grip on global REE prices. (source)
    • Tsingshan, a Chinese mining giant, remains the world’s largest supplier of nickel, and has interests across the African continent. (source)

    KJ-3: it is highly likely that the mining of tantalum, gold, and tungsten will continue to fuel conflict in the eastern DRC over the next 12 months.

    • Of the 100+ active armed groups in eastern DRC, many finance themselves by exerting influence and direct control over artisanal mining sites; this includes rogue elements of the DRC’s security forces (FARDC). (source)
    • According to MONUSCO, 70% of the gold exported from the DRC passes through the hands of armed groups or the FARDC. (source)
    • Fighting has recently intensified between the M23, currently the largest armed group in the region, and the FARDC in North Kivu. (source)
    • The provinces of North Kivu and Ituri remain in a government imposed a state of siege due to increased violence. Since imposing the siege, civilian deaths have doubled. (source).

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 27th of November 2022

    Ethan Sanderson
    Ethan Sanderson
    Ethan is a recent MA graduate of Conflict, Security, and Development from King's College London that specialises in armed groups, terrorism, and the security/development nexus. He also holds a degree in International Affairs and Doing Business in Emerging Markets from Northeastern University, and has lived and worked in the USA, United Kingdom, and Chile.

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