China Looks to Africa in Race for Lithium

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — It is the new gold rush, and China is leading the hunt as prices surge. Only it’s not gold everyone’s looking for, it’s lithium. Many say the future of electric vehicle production and, more broadly, combatting climate change, depend on the rare metal.

Prices for the “green metal” have seen an almost 500% increase in the past year, according to Bloomberg.

Sung Choi, a metals analyst at BloombergNEF, told VOA, “The cost of lithium has risen because virtually all automakers have jumped onto producing electric vehicles.”

Electric car tsar and Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the “insane” costs meant “Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale.”

That is exactly what China has been doing, and its companies are looking to make sure they don’t run out of the metal needed to make lithium-ion batteries – which China, which has the largest EV market in the world, produces 80% of globally.

While more than half of global lithium resources are in South America and Australia, China is scouring the world for new sources of the metal, including in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and elsewhere, but increasingly in Africa.

“Africa has recently been in the spotlight with its ample resources in metals,” Choi said.

Shenzen-headquartered Chinese conglomerate BYD is in talks to buy six new lithium mines in unspecified African countries, Reuters reported, citing Shanghai government supported publication The Paper. Repeated emails to the company from VOA requesting details of the deals went unanswered.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chinese mining giant Zijin is in a legal battle with Australia’s AVZ minerals over control of the Manono mine – possibly the world’s biggest lithium deposit — in the resource-rich country’s east.

In Zimbabwe, too, home to large untapped deposits of the resource, China is buying up mines. In a major deal, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt is investing $300 million in its recently purchased Arcadia Lithium mine outside Harare, according to Reuters. The money will be used to construct a plant with a processing capacity of 400,000 metric tons of lithium concentrate a year.

Shenzhen Chengxin Lithium Group and Sinomine Resource Group are just two of the other companies that have invested in lithium in Zimbabwe in the past year.

The Zimbabwean government has welcomed the investment. Spokeswoman Monica Mutsvangwa told VOA via WhatsApp that the economically unstable country, which is under Western sanctions, plans to rebrand itself as a major player in “the blooming lithium sector.”

“We aim to fill the vacuum being created by the displacement of fossil fuel engines by electric batteries,” she said.

In an apparent reference to the West, she added in an email to VOA, “The battery storage industry of the ushering New Electric Vehicle Era has shunted you by the wayside … Triple digit figures in the mergers and acquisition of Arcadia Lithium, Buhera Lithium deposits and Bikita Minerals have shunted you aside.”

Joe Lowry, founder of advisory firm Global Lithium, told VOA that Western lithium producers had been taken by surprise regarding the growth of the EV industry and therefore the rush for lithium.

“Lithium has been a tiny niche market for 7 decades. The global market for lithium chemicals didn’t reach a billion dollars until 2015. The industry was not prepared for electrification of transportation,” he said by email.

“You can build a huge battery factory like Tesla does in a couple years. It takes up to ten years to bring a fully integrated lithium chemicals project online,” he said.

Meanwhile, “Chinese producers invested ahead of the curve in resources outside China … (and) are looking at Africa,” Lowry said.

The U.S., too, knows the importance of Africa. General Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM commander, told the House Appropriations Committee in April, “Africa possesses vast untapped energy deposits … (needed to) transition to clean energy, including mobile phones, jet engines, electric hybrid vehicles and missile guidance systems.”

“The winners and losers of the 21st century global economy may be determined by whether these resources are available in an open and transparent marketplace or are inaccessible due to predatory practices of competitors,” he added.

And while some of the key components for EVs come from Africa, the market for the finished product – made overseas – is still minuscule on the continent. The mines provide jobs, but critics say locals don’t see enough trickle-down from the multimillion-dollar projects.

Last year, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi said that people living in areas with mines were “still languishing in misery,” while foreign multinationals prospered. He has launched a review of his predecessor’s “minerals-for-infrastructure” contracts with Chinese mining companies.

Source: Voice of America

Cameroon, CAR Join Forces to Fight Rebels on Border

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — A commission of senior security and state officials from the troubled Central African Republic and Cameroon has agreed to jointly fight armed C.A.R. rebels they say are fleeing intensive fighting and infiltrating refugee camps in Cameroon. After concluding a meeting in the border town of Ngaoundere, the delegations said they will jointly deploy their militaries to battle the proliferation of weapons, abductions for ransom, attacks for supplies and the illegal exploitation of minerals by rebels along their border.

Senior government and military officials from Cameroon and the Central African Republic (C.A.R) say rebels and armed groups are infiltrating border towns and villages.

The officials ended a security commission meeting Friday in Ngaoundere, a city in Cameroon on the border with the C.A.R. They say scores of civilians abducted for ransom are still being held by C.A.R. rebels and armed groups. They also note that C.A.R. rebels and armed groups are attacking border towns and villages for supplies.

Kildadi Taguieke Boukar is the governor of Cameroon’s Adamawa region, where Ngaoundere is located.

Boukar says Presidents Paul Biya of Cameroon and Faustin-Archange Touadera of the C.A.R say they are deeply concerned their plans to ease the circulation of people and goods across the border are being shattered by C.A.R. armed groups and rebels. Boukar spoke through the messaging app WhatsApp from Ngaoundere.

He says the two presidents want to immediately stop cattle theft, abductions for ransom, the proliferation of weapons and many other forms of transborder insecurity caused by C.A.R. rebels and armed groups. Boukar says Cameroon and the C.A.R want total peace to return to border localities so that civilians and goods can move freely across the border. Boukar says rebel attacks and theft slow economic development and growth in border towns and villages.

General Freddy Johnson Sakama, C.A.R.’s defense chief in charge of military operations, led his country’s delegation to the Cameroon – C.A.R security commission meeting.

Sakama says the rebels and armed groups are escaping heavy fighting with forces of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA.

Sakama says the proliferation of armed groups in the C.A.R. is posing serious security threats to both the C.A.R. and its neighbors — Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Brazzaville. He says the C.A.R. military is commending efforts made by MINUSCA to bring peace to the C.A.R., but that his country is worried because rebels and armed groups fleeing MINUSCA forces are escaping to neighboring countries.

Speaking on Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV, Sakama said the C.A.R. has agreed to collaborate with militaries of all neighboring states to put an end to mounting transborder insecurity caused by C.A.R. rebels and armed groups.

In March, the U.N. peacekeeping mission to the C.A.R., MINUSCA, said rebels left several towns where they were hiding on the border with Cameroon. MINUSCA said the C.A.R. rebels were fighting to control border towns, and villages and crossing the border to escape fighting with the C.A.R’s military.

Cameroon says some of the rebels are disguised as refugees. Paul Atanga Nji, Cameroon’s minister of territorial administration, visited Gado Baadzere, a refugee camp on the border with the C.A.R. this week.

Nji says many C.A.R. rebels and armed group members infiltrate refugee camps in Cameroon with weapons and carry out illegal activities like selling ammunition and hard drugs to armed groups in Cameroon. Nji says refugees should not be surprised if joint troops from Cameroon and the C.A.R. visit their camps to search and arrest C.A.R. rebels or former rebels hiding in refugee camps and committing crimes.

Violence was pervasive in the C.A.R. in 2013 when then President Francois Bozize was ousted by the Séléka, a coalition from the Muslim minority groups that accused him of breaking peace deals.

The C.A.R. says there are 14 rebel groups fighting against the government of the Central African Republic. It says several armed gangs also operate in the country, making peace efforts difficult.

Cameroon and the C.A.R. say they are committed to their militaries working together in border towns and villages to dismantle rebels and armed groups responsible for increasing insecurity.

The ongoing fighting in the C.A.R. has forced close to a million Central Africans to flee neighboring countries, including Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria, according to the U.N.

Source: Voice of America

West African Leaders Put Off Sanctions on 3 Juntas

ACCRA, GHANA — West African leaders Saturday failed to agree what action to take against military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, postponing a decision for a month, insiders at the meeting said.

They decided to wait until the next ECOWAS summit July 3, a senior source in the Ghanian presidency told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

Another source said the leaders had not been able to agree, “particularly over Mali.”

The summit in Ghana’s capital Accra had been billed as the forum to agree whether to ease or ramp up sanctions against the three junta-ruled nations facing jihadi insurgencies.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had met in a bid to rule whether to keep, lighten or lift retaliatory measures on Mali, imposed in January after its military regime announced plans to stay in power for another five years.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo opened the summit, attended by the heads of state of most of the 15-member countries but without any representative from Mali, Burkina Faso or Guinea visible in the audience.

“This present summit will reexamine and assess the situations in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in light of recent developments within the region and global context,” he said.

“Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order.”

Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali are currently suspended from ECOWAS bodies.

While Mali has already been slapped with sanctions, the other two countries risk further punitive measures from the bloc after ruling juntas in their respective capitals vowed to hold on to power for another three years.

West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in less than two years — two in Bamako, followed by Conakry in September 2021 and Ouagadougou in January.

Insurgency

ECOWAS, keen to limit political instability spreading further, has held summits and tried to pile on pressure to shorten the juntas’ so-called transition periods before a return to civilian rule.

But strongmen Colonel Assimi Goita in Mali, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya in Guinea and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in Burkina Faso, have all resisted that pressure and since been sworn in as presidents.

They invoke the severity of domestic crises — that span jihadi insurgencies to social problems — and claim they need time to rebuild their states and organize elections.

A U.N. report published last week said the West African sanctions had contributed to worsening living conditions, particularly for the poor.

One of the most volatile and impoverished countries in the world, Mali is battling a decade-old jihadi revolt, which began with a regional insurrection and then spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.

ECOWAS closed borders and suspended trade and financial exchanges, except for necessities.

In Guinea, the military overthrew President Alpha Conde in September and has vowed a return to civilian rule in three years.

Burkina Faso’s government was overthrown in January, when disgruntled colonels ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

Source: Voice of America