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Minerals targeted in the new scramble for Africa

The commonly sought-after minerals for mobile phone manufacturers include indium, tin, silicon, lithium, aluminium, gallium, copper, gold, silver, magnesium, nickel, tantalum, platinum, tungsten, cobalt and neodymium.

AT least 48 African leaders were in Seoul, South Korea, for the Korea-Africa Summit, one among many other such gatherings between the continent and big powers.

AT least 48 African leaders were in Seoul, South Korea, for the Korea-Africa Summit, one among many other such gatherings between the continent and big powers.

When it comes to rushing overseas whenever they are summoned, African leaders do not disappoint.

African leaders pose for a photo during the Korea Africa Summit of 2024
This comes amid a new growing scramble for Africa reminiscent of the 19th century jostle for the continent’s geographical territories and their natural resources historicised through the 1884 Berlin Conference.

Africa, which has about 1.2 billion people, is natural resource-rich, yet poor. As a result, some say it is the next phenomenal growth frontier if it seizes the moment.

From Cape to Cairo — to use the vision of British imperial mogul Cecil John Rhodes — Africa is replete with all sorts of natural endowments, including oil, gas and minerals, some of which are rare earth and strategic in global economic production and development.

Zimbabwe, for instance, has platinum, chrome, diamonds, gold, lithium, among many other minerals.

The country has 40 different minerals, although some of them are not necessarily economically viable to mine.

It has Africa’s largest lithium reserves and is the biggest tobacco producer on the continent.

The country is a major producer of black granite and other varieties of the stone.

That is why Zimbabwe, just like many other African countries, is a target in the new scramble for Africa. Its minerals are a magnet for Western, Chinese and Russian companies.

Most African countries have resources. Gabon has the second-largest deposit of manganese in the world and is currently the third-largest producer globally.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) contains untapped gold, diamonds, cobalt and high-grade copper reserves, among many other minerals.

The DRC produces 70% of the world’s cobalt, making it the global leader. It is also Africa’s biggest copper producer, followed by Zambia. Alongside gold, Ghana is also endowed with deposits of iron ore, limestone, columbite-tantalite, feldspar, quartz and salt, and there are also minor deposits of ilmenite, magnetite and rutile.

Still in West Africa, Guinea has the world’s largest bauxite reserves. Up north, Egypt is home to a wealth of mineral resources including gold, copper, silver, zinc, platinum and a number of other precious and base metals.

Besides oil, Libya has industrial minerals such as clay, cement, salt, limestone, potash, sulfur, magnetite and phosphate rock.

Although Botswana is the world’s biggest diamond producer by value, the DRC, South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe are also major diamond-producing states. Angola also produces gold and oil.

Next door, Namibia also produces diamonds. Mozambique has new gas and possibly oil discoveries.

There are at least 10 oil-producing countries in Africa. More are discovering oil. Zimbabwe is also on the verge of an economically viable oil and gas discovery in the northern Zambezi basin.

Alongside its vast oil reserves, Nigeria boasts gold, columbite, wolframite, tantalite, bitumen, iron ore and uranium.

Talking of gold, Mali is the fourth-largest gold producer in Africa after Ghana, South Africa and Sudan, which also has oil. Sitting comfortably at the top of the continent’s minerals riches is South Africa.

Alongside its 35 gold mines, it also produces abundant coal, diamonds, iron and chromium.

What’s more, it also contains the world’s largest reserves of manganese and platinum group metals.

South Africa accounts for more than 80% of global platinum production, followed by Russia and Zimbabwe.

The commonly sought-after minerals for mobile phone manufacturers include indium, tin, silicon, lithium, aluminium, gallium, copper, gold, silver, magnesium, nickel, tantalum, platinum, tungsten, cobalt and neodymium.

Mobile phone batteries are usually made from minerals such as lithium and cobalt. Cobalt is a key mineral in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries.

Copper is widely used for wiring applications in electronics due to its good heat and electricity conduction properties.

Cameroon is endowed notably with large deposits of iron ore, gold, bauxite, diamonds, limestone and nickel.

Ivory Coast is the largest cocoa producer in the world. Kenya is by far the biggest African tea producer, while Ethiopia is the largest exporter of coffee from Africa.

Many other African countries have natural resources in abundance. That is why world economic powers, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, Britain, India, Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and the European Union, among others, have bilateral summits with Africa.

They want access to resources and markets. African leaders attend meetings with big economies aware of the new scramble for Africa trying to see how they could leverage their resources and ensure value-addition for development.

There is fierce debate across the continent on whether this approach works for Africa or only for the big powers; that is if it is mutually beneficial or not.

The situation for Africa looks favourable on the whole at first glance.

The continent is not only being showered with diplomatic attention, but also with proposals and promises.

Governments can now bargain, playing the opponents against each other, demanding better conditions.

Certainly, Africa is now getting better deals compared to the past. However, economic giants are also developing sophisticated ways of securing resources as governments and multinational corporations.

They even sponsor conflicts to create conditions for looting. African countries are also forced to mortgage their minerals for loans and critical imports.

Foreign military presence is also growing on the continent under the guise of counterterrorism efforts and security.

This, in turn, has created fierce geopolitical competition and rivalries among the big powers across the continent, leading to some subtle divide-and-rule tactics of the 19th century and conflicts, which are hotbeds for looting.

This further underdevelops Africa as colonialism did on an industrial scale. Yet with all its natural resources and minerals, Africa remains the poorest continent in the world.

Vast swathes of it are plagued by conflicts, some of them sponsored or supported by global powers.

Africa suffers from the paradox of plenty; the resource curse, for instance the DRC, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Despite its massive resources, Africa is reeling under extreme poverty, which leads to hunger in Africa: More than a quarter of the hungry in the world live on the African continent.

one fifth of people in Africa are considered malnourished, this gives tthe continent the highest rate of malnourished people workdwide.

The very poorest of the world’s poorest countries, South Sudan, wracked by violence, is rich in oil reserves. It is a textbook example of the “resource curse”; a situation in which abundance fosters political and social divisions, inequality, corruption and conflict.

That situation obtained in Zimbabwe in Chiadzwa in Marange, Manicaland, when alluvial diamonds were discovered and mined over a decade ago.

Apart from the devastating legacy of colonialism and its depredations, and continued foreign interference, Africa is also being destroyed by leadership, governance and policy failures, as well as corruption and incompetence.

While the situation remains uncertain as to whether this time around Africa will get value for its resources and build its economies — rising like Asia and the Middle East, one thing is certain:

There is a new scramble for Africa underway, which is somewhat benign and nuanced, yet suspicious in its intentions and sometimes ruinous on impact.

The question is: Is history repeating itself, first as a tragedy, and ultimately as a farce? Only time, will tell, but Africa needs to seize the opportunity and determine its destiny. – (NewsHawks)

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