India steps up critical mineral acquisition plans in Africa, challenging China’s dominance

Abhishek Law Updated - May 23, 2024 at 09:07 PM.
A pit head is seen at the Tumela platinum mine located in Thabazimbi, Limpopo Province, South Africa | Photo Credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO

India is looking to ramp-up its critical mineral play in Africa as it keys resource securitisation and an upsetting of the Chinese apple-cart in the region. There are MoUs in place with at least eight African nations for mining collaborations including access to resources.

Nations include South Africa, Mozambique, Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi , Republic of Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe. While the key focus continues to be on critical minerals such as copper, cobalt, niobium, graphite, titanium, lithium, among others.

Some of the lobby groups in the USA have pointed out that China currently controls an estimated 8 per cent of Africa’s resources. Numbers have gone up from 2018 estimates, they say.

Key Countries

In fact, the race for critical minerals primarily focuses on cobalt and copper – key EV battery making metals, apart from lithium. Congo – Zambia seem to be the key area of interest for countries – Western or Asian ones.

Few Western mining companies have until now ventured into the renascent Copperbelt region (northern Zambia and the southern part of the Congo) braving political risk, poor infrastructure and, in certain cases, the questions around artisanal mining. Few have lasted.

U.S. producer Freeport McMoRan brought the Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt mine into production in 2009. It sold its holding to CMOC in 2016, giving the Chinese company its first foothold in the Congo.

India ups ante

India, meanwhile, is pushing for increased presence in the region primarily through a mix of G2G negotiations - that allow it mines on a nominated basis - and private entity interests, that allow direct investment there by companies.

Discussions have covered facets like exploration of resources or mines in select nations, looking at possibilities of acquisition and subsequent commercial off-take, including processing of some of these minerals.

As recently as February, India signed an MoU with the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire for collaboration in the field of geology and mineral resources.

“We are tapping into some of the African nations for mineral deposits. MoUs are being looked into in the field of mining, primarily critical minerals,” an official aware of the discussions told businessline.

For instance, in Tanzania, India is pitching for access to resources such as niobium and graphite; while in Zimbabwe it could be lithium. Similarly in Congo and Zambia its copper and cobalt.

Chinese presence

In Congo, China is said to control over 5 per cent of the cobalt processing facilities.

Chinese companies are estimated to own 80 per cent in Tenke Fungurume mines - which produce nearly 12 per cent of the world’s resource there; while in a recent announcement, around 95 per cent of stake in a yet to be developed cobalt and copper project Kinsafu was picked up by the Chinese.

In Zimbabwe substantial Chinese investments are being made towards securing of lithium.

Published on May 23, 2024 15:18

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