Plans to benefit from critical minerals’ potential now set

What you need to know:

  • As an under-explored continent, African countries stand to benefit from the global demand for critical minerals; presenting major opportunities for all

Dodoma. The government has issued its plans to benefit from the lucrative critical minerals potential that include adding it in the national mineral strategy which is in the formulation process.

Not only will the move benefit the country economically and socially, the decision is expected to make critical minerals constitute an important part in the Tanzania economy.

The commissioner of minerals, Dr Abdulrahman Mwanga outlined the plans during the breakfast debate co-organized by Policy Forum (PF), Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI) and Hakirasilimali.

The event took place for the first time at the country’s administrative capital, Dodoma themed: ‘Triple win: How mining can benefit Africa’s citizens, environment and the energy transition’.

Speaking during the event, Dr Mwanga said the inclusion of critical minerals in the national strategy which is being formulated will increase benefits reaped by citizens and the government from the sector.

“Better strategies are therefore required in order to benefit from critical minerals. Emphasis will be put in ensuring citizens are actively participating in the formulation of the strategy,” he said.

Furthermore, Dr Mwanga said the ministry is scaling up its collaboration with other countries in order to ensure that issues of critical minerals are well supervised for the benefit of stakeholders and the country.

According to him, despite the fact that little research has been done on the economic aspects of critical minerals, plans are afoot to promote the natural resources.

“A roadmap has been prepared for successful research on critical minerals in order to get resourceful information that will be made available to investors who will be interested in doing detailed exploration that will enable them to discover these resources,” he said.

Regarding reaping the benefits, Dr Mwanga said refining the minerals domestically gives Tanzanians a promotional role to play especially in attracting important investors including those for battery manufacturing.

He said the chain will be maximised when refined critical minerals reach stages of being locally sourced for manufacturing other products.

“Research has confirmed presence of some minerals such as nickel whose extraction process has commenced. Consideration has been put to ensure the value chain is benefited,” he said.

He named the five criteria that should be put into consideration when thinking of critical minerals including the supply chain covering places where the minerals are supplied as well as technological invention.

Dr Mwanga said technological invention was an area of paramount importance both in the downstream and upstream during exploration as well as refinery respectively.

“Other issues of consideration are security and cooperation that will determine how the minerals will be used safely,” he said.

“Geology is another area that should also be taken into consideration. The main question remains whether availability of critical minerals will be sustainable for the benefit of the country,” he added.

He said critical minerals are highly demanded globally due to the world’s ongoing de-carbonization initiatives and the focus of attaining energy efficiency therefore reducing environmental degradation.

Other factors are the ongoing digitalization, industrialization, increased demand for construction purposes especially the manufacture of raw materials such as cement.

However, he observed that the minerals criticality vary in demand from one country to another.

“For instance, some may be critical in a country depending on agriculture, especially for fertilizer manufacturing, but the same may not necessarily be critical in developed countries,” he said.

“Criticality also depends on time. Increasing global demand for renewable energy increases the value of critical minerals. Their use is extended from the manufacture of batteries to automobiles as well as manufacture of mineral refinery equipment and several others,” he added.

However, he said the minerals will no longer be critical when other minerals are discovered to replace them in the production of clean energy, noting that the concept of critical exists upon increasing demand.

According to him, the minerals will probably lose critical status when the world’s priority on clean energy changes, observing however that demand for clean energy will however continue.

Dr Mwanga said the mineral’s value in terms of the economy, development and social aspects in the lives of people increases including the manufacture of mobile phones, therefore playing an important role in socialization.

“There are times critical minerals will not function in the manufacture of renewable energy. However, they will continue to be instrumental in the development of the country’s economy and social aspect,” he said, insisting that the minerals’ importance will continue.

In his presentation, the NRGI’s advisor, Mr Silas Olang’ said there is a growing potential for Tanzania to broaden the mining sector away from gold and that Africa is an essential source and could supply more critical minerals, but is the least explored continent.

“To attract more investment and benefit, Tanzania and other countries in the continent should avoid past mistakes and that governing these new mistakes requires properly applying the ‘old’ economic and governance principles,” he said.

“Risks of overly high expectations of value from some critical minerals. The Eastern and Southern African coordination is important to get the most from the next energy transition mining boom,” he added.

Revealing the continent shares of global reserves in electric vehicle metals, Mr Olang’ said as an essential source of metals for vehicles and other transition metals, Africa has 56 percent manganese; 48 percent cobalt; 22 percent graphite; seven percent copper; five percent nickel, two percent lithium etc.

Furthermore, he said investors are attracted to well governed countries with Botswana leading in investment attraction, followed by Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the bottom.

He unveiled the list of metals and minerals recently included in either the US Geology Survey or the EU critical mineral lists as aluminium, antimony, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, gallium, germanium, hafnium, indium and lithium.

Others are magnesium, manganese, nickel, niobium, phosphate, platinum, rare earths, silicon, tantalum, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, zinc and zirconium.

For his part, the former mineral commissioner said in order for Tanzania to benefit from the extractive industry that is non-renewable and negatively impacts the environment, then Tanzania should ensure the people are benefited.

“We should attract Foreign Domestic Investment (FDI) because oil and gas extraction requires modern and expensive technology. We are unable to harvest these resources in the absence of investors,” he said.

“We should therefore have policies and laws that stand in between without favouring investors or citizens. Policies shouldn’t leave room for foreigners to steal Tanzanian natural resources or discourage investment,” he added.

He said the laws that were formulated in 2017 during which one was amended aimed at increasing the extent at which the country is benefiting, but forgot investors.

According to him, sections that discourage investment should be amended to create harmony and benefit both citizens, the government and investors.