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Critical minerals in Africa: Recommendations for sustainable development and economic growth

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Africa is home to substantial resources of critical minerals, which are essential for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. The International Energy Agency’s 2023 Critical Minerals Market Review highlights a sharp increase in demand for these minerals, such as lithium, which saw a threefold increase in demand from 2017 to 2022. With the market expected to more than double by 2030 and quadruple by 2050, African countries have a significant opportunity to benefit economically from their mineral wealth. However, without robust strategies and governance, they risk missing out on these benefits.

Recommendations for an African Critical Minerals Strategy

1. Develop an African Critical Minerals Strategy:

  • Role of the African Union (AU): The AU should take the lead in formulating a comprehensive strategy for critical minerals. This strategy should guide member countries in negotiating mining contracts and agreements, ensuring that they are fair and beneficial to the host countries.
  • Learning from Global Practices: The strategy should incorporate best practices from leading mining countries to ensure sustainable and responsible mining.

2. Revise Mining Policies and Regulations:

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  • Reflecting Global Demand: African countries need to update their mining policies to address the opportunities and challenges posed by the increasing global demand for critical minerals.
  • Regulatory Frameworks: Strong regulatory frameworks are essential to ensure accountability, transparency, and environmental sustainability in the mining sector.

Understanding Critical Minerals

Critical minerals are those essential for economic and national security, particularly for a low-carbon economy. Definitions and lists of critical minerals vary by country and region, reflecting their specific economic and strategic needs. For example:

  • Australia: 47 critical minerals.
  • European Union: 34 critical raw materials.
  • United States: 50 critical elements.

Lithium Projects in Africa

Our research focused on 18 lithium projects in Namibia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Ghana. Key findings include:

  • Geostrategic Interests: Discussions around Africa’s critical minerals are driven by the demand from Western countries and China, rather than the needs of African economies.
  • Economic Contributions: These countries, despite having significant mineral deposits, contribute little to global carbon emissions and have economies not driven by industrialization.
  • Infrastructure and Policy Gaps: Current infrastructure and policies are inadequate to manage the impacts of lithium mining on communities, biodiversity, water sources, and energy usage.
  • Potential for Corruption: Emerging lithium mining activities in Zimbabwe, the DRC, and Namibia are breeding new forms of corruption and illegality in the resource sector.

Strategic Steps Forward

1. Strengthen Resources Governance:

  • Regulations and Accountability: African countries need stronger governance frameworks to regulate mining activities, ensuring companies adhere to best practices and minimize environmental and social impacts.
  • Transparency: Transparency in mining operations and contracts is crucial to combat corruption and ensure that the benefits of mining are equitably shared.

2. Promote Local Processing and Value Addition:

  • Incentives for Local Companies: Encourage local companies to mine and process lithium domestically, increasing local economic returns and job creation.
  • Industrial Development: Develop industries to support global decarbonization, such as manufacturing electric vehicle batteries, to transform Africa from a raw material supplier to a competitive producer of low-carbon products.

3. Build Local Capacity:

  • Capacity Building: Invest in local capacity along the mining value chain, from exploration to market, to ensure that African countries can effectively manage and benefit from their mineral resources.


To harness the economic opportunities presented by the global demand for critical minerals, African countries must adopt comprehensive strategies and robust governance frameworks. By focusing on local value addition, strengthening regulatory frameworks, and ensuring transparency and accountability, African countries can secure sustainable development and significant economic growth from their mineral resources. The African Union’s leadership in developing a continent-wide strategy will be crucial in achieving these goals.

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