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Why Uganda’s critical minerals industry is important

Recently, the world met in South Africa's Cape Town for the Mining and Alternative Mining Indaba. The Mining Indaba Conference is the largest of its kind in the world.

Every year, it brings together mining corporate executives, the captains of the industry, in search of the next deal, government leaders of resource-rich countries in Africa and the global north, China and civil society actors working in mineral-rich communities on the continent.

The corporate theme for the conference was the “Evolution of African Mining: Investing in the Energy Transition, ESG, and the Economies”, while the one for the coalition of continental civil society actors in the extractive industries contesting the corporate greed among other injustices was, “A just energy transition for sustainable mining communities in a climate crisis era.”

This modern-era scramble for Africa’s mineral resources has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has destabilised global equilibrium of raw materials supply chains. Russia contributes seven per cent of global nickel, 10 per cent of the world’s platinum and 25 to 30 per cent of the world’s palladium. With these resources off the market, Africa becomes the new frontline for sustainable access and supply of the world’s most sought-after energy minerals.

It is, therefore, not surprising that this year’s mining Indaba has, among others, attracted the highest-ranking USA and Chinese government officials as well as representatives from the EU, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals Corporation (JOGMEC).

Uganda is one of the many countries in the Great Lakes region that have committed to the Paris Agreement and the need to address the mineral intensive clean energy technologies for a transition to a 1.5oC - 2oC by 2050.

At a global level, achieving this climate stabilisation to pre-industrial levels of 1.5oC will require investment to a tune of $5.7 trillion per year until 2030. By 2030, the 1.5oC will create 85 million additional energy transition jobs. These jobs will require skilling up the youth for which Ugandan policymakers and East African Community member states must be prepared to incubate or be left out of this resource boom cycle.

The technology driving demand for critical minerals is concentrated in solar photovoltaic, energy storage for all forms of modern gadgets such as laptops and smartphones and eco- smart electric vehicles currently on the increase, geothermal technologies, hydroelectricity, and wind technologies.

Uganda has a renewable energy resource potential for an estimated 2,000MW of hydroelectric power, 450MW of geothermal energy, among others. Uganda is also one of the bottom 20 access deficit countries with 26 million citizens without access to electricity.

Recent developments in the mineral sector place Uganda at the centre of the energy revolution, both for its energy security needs, but also as a key player in shaping regional initiatives and the control of the international supply chains of critical minerals.

These developments call for a regional collaborative solution as opposed to a one-state solution such as the presidential ban on the export of unprocessed raw materials imposed in 2011 by the Ugandan government. The critical minerals industry requires a special Afro-centric policy, fiscal and regulatory framework modelled on the East African Community vision, African Union Agenda 2063 and the Africa Mining Vision.

Expediting the review and passing of the East African Community Mining Bill should, therefore, be a priority for the new East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Some of the Ugandan critical minerals in the spotlight include iron ore in the western region, copper and cobalt at Kilembe, nickel and natural graphite potential in northern Uganda, the 3Ts (tin, tungsten and tantalum) in western Uganda and Rare Earth Elements in the eastern part of the country.

Domestic regulation and development of these resources must be data-driven to establish their commerciality, mine life, access to finance to establish the desired technology in Uganda and specific commodity feasibility studies to establish availability of regional sustainable supply of raw materials to sustain value addition initiatives within the East African Community and the Great Lakes region.

A recent study by Bloomberg demonstrates that enhancement of mineral beneficiation and value addition on the African continent is viable and has the potential to reverse the continent’s race to the bottom, reduce export of raw materials and jobs to the capital cities of the global north and Chinese economies, build local content through skills and technology transfer and guarantee foreign investors good returns on their investments.

The report reveals that a unified inward-looking African lithium-ion and cobalt battery industry-value and supply chain system is economically feasible. It would cost $39 million to build a 10,000 tonne cathode precursor plant in DRC.

This is three times cheaper than a similar plant in the USA This competitiveness is driven by sustainable access to raw materials, access to affordable land, low costs of engineering, procurement and construction that should attract mineral refiners and processors in the global north to consider shifting their operations to the Great Lakes region.

These developments call for a harmonised stable and predictable Great Lakes regional policy, regulatory and fiscal regime focusing on collaboration as opposed to competition for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), creating governance, political and security systems that eliminate illicit mineral trade, cross-border mineral smuggling, putting an end to human rights abuses, and promoting regional mineral trade and supply chains. With the DRC joining the East African Community, the ball is now all in the hands of the East African heads of states and policymakers.

donbb@acemp.org/acepolicy@gmail. com

The author is the mineral and energy policy analyst at Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy.


0 #1 Moody S 2022-05-20 19:16
Well researched and stated. Collaboration in "mineral beneficiation," value addition, fiscal regime policy, regulation, etc especially in the great lakes region/East African Community indeed will go a long way in reversing/slowing down our great continent's race to the bottom!

So, let's hope to see an East African Mining Bill soon.
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