Maximizing Africa’s Potential in Critical Minerals Development and Value Addition Crucial

Global demand for critical minerals essential for clean energy technologies is expected to grow more than three-fold by 2030 considering the enormous natural resources within the continent.

For Africa, a continent rich in a variety of minerals, this presents a strategic opportunity to bolster economic growth through mineral development. It’s anticipated that the upcoming Critical Minerals Africa (CMA) summit, scheduled for November 6-7 in Cape Town, will play a key role in exploring how Africa can increase mineral exploration and extraction while maximizing value addition through local refining and manufacturing.

Africa holds approximately two-thirds of global cobalt reserves, around 30% of lithium, and significant shares of other critical minerals, including manganese, copper, and iron ore. Leading mineral markets on the continent include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which contributes over 70% of global cobalt production; Gabon, ranking second in global manganese production; and Zambia, recognized as the largest exporter of unrefined copper globally. Additionally, Zimbabwe ranks as the world’s third-largest exporter of chromium ore and holds the largest lithium reserves in Africa.

Despite this substantial resource base, challenges persist in value addition and processing whereby extraction has been prioritized over developing value addition mechanisms. Currently, China dominates the global mineral processing market, particularly in the production of lithium and cobalt.

In 2019, China imported approximately $10 billion worth of minerals from sub-Saharan Africa alone, underscoring the region’s reliance on foreign processing capabilities. While the DRC dominates cobalt mining globally, 60% of cobalt processing occurs in China also followed up by reports that in 2022, Zambia exported $6.6 billion in raw copper, most of which was sent to China.

critical minerals

Recent developments are aimed at reversing this trend, with an influx of infrastructure investments and the introduction of policies that support domestic processing capabilities. In October 2023, South African mining and minerals advisory firm Q Global Commodities partnered with investment firm F9 Capital Management to invest $1 billion in critical mineral production across southern and eastern Africa. The venture, targeting lithium, copper, and nickel production, aims to develop new processing plants and logistics infrastructure.

From a policy standpoint, several African countries are implementing reforms to encourage local mineral processing and value addition. Notably, in 2023 Namibia and Zimbabwe banned the export of unprocessed lithium and other critical minerals, leveraging rising global demand for transition metals and minerals.

Both countries aim to regulate these exports, with Namibia only allowing small quantities of the specified minerals with the approval of its Ministry of Mines and Energy, and Zimbabwe emphasizing local battery-grade lithium production from concentrates.

Against this backdrop, a dedicated panel at CMA 2024 – “Advanced Manufacturing, End Use, and Supporting Infrastructure for Critical Minerals Consumption Across Africa” – will explore strategies for enhancing value addition within the continent’s critical minerals sector.

The session will also address the crucial role of supporting infrastructure in facilitating extraction, processing, and distribution, as well as the impact of policy reforms in incentivizing new refining capabilities.

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