Consider the humble battery; the power source behind your laptop, mobile phone, electric toothbrush, TV remote and now, the electric car. Just like us humans, all the world’s technology depends on nutriment to power up at the crack of dawn to check on our email, update our profiles, connect with colleagues and get on with the day’s digital labours.
And that nutriment comes in the form of Lithium, a mineral the African continent happens to have in abundant supply. Lithium’s importance as a rechargeable energy source makes it an essential character in the story line of how the world is transforming through digital.
Technology’s growing ubiquity and people’s increasing need for mobility make countries with access to Lithium important characters in the push toward digital everything. For example, mobile devices wouldn’t be, well, mobile without Lithium powered batteries, nor would the world dare to dream of a future without carbon emitting cars if it weren’t for this all-important mineral.
Bracing for a Veritable Second Gold Rush
Lithium’s versatility means demands for it will only intensify. Its high energy-density and low self-discharge properties make it the ideal power source for next-generation electric vehicles, military equipment, ambitious aerospace applications and even humble golf carts. What this means for Africa’s Lithium-rich countries is one thing; opportunity.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) boasts the world’s largest repositories of Cobalt and Lithium, making it a key area of interest for many players in the digital continuum. The mining, technology and automotive industries are just a few who are queuing up to claim their stake in the country’s estimated 800 million tonnes of cobalt.
“There is no two ways about it, the DRC is a geological freak in that sense, with the highest cobalt resources in the world by far. And in our opinion, all of the new growth of cobalt demand will be in the DRC.”Eurasian Resources Group
African countries such as the DRC, Zimbabwe and Namibia have the potential to become huge influencers in the world’s drive towards digitalisation. With smart device ownership in the billions – and counting – and a plethora of next-generation Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets arriving on the scene, demands for battery-powered technology is set to soar over coming decades.
Further, predictions that nearly 90% of the world’s cars will be powered electronically by 2040 set the stage for some interesting plot turns ahead. While there will undoubtedly be resistance by incumbent power brokers who want to proliferate reliance on fossil fuels, larger issues such as global warming, peak oil and instability that plague oil-rich regions will continue to make a strong case for alternative energy sources.
Also, Chinese investment in African mines has more than twenty-folded in the last decade as east and west compete for domination on the innovation front. With half of the planet’s electric vehicles (EV) running on Chinese roads, the world’s second largest economy is looking to court Africa’s Lithium and Cobalt proprietors to fuel its ambitions to be the leader in the EV market.
Not only does China enjoy the lead in EV production and sales, it also produces the majority of technology devices that make up the global digital landscape. This also means stronger trade relations with China could evolve into innovation partnerships that sees Africans benefit from Chinese expertise and experience in the digital realm.
Africa Must Get Its House in Order
Regional stability and compliance to international humanitarian law will play a huge factor in Africa’s potential to become the de facto provider of the globe’s digital fuel. The DRC, for example, has grappled with political and social unrest for decades, which may act as a deterrent for potential investors. In fact, many electric vehicle manufacturers have indicated an unwillingness to source Lithium and Cobalt from countries that engage in unfair labour practices, which is a prevalent issue across Africa.
Zimbabwe is another African state with major potential in Cobalt and Lithium output. With a new leadership at the helm, the country is opening its economy and natural resources to local and foreign investors. Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has implemented far-reaching reforms to Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule, which is a positive indicator that Africa’s once richest nation is truly open for business again.
The Zimbabwean government recently announced the scrapping of certain Mugabe-era legislations, such as the controversial land redistribution and indigenisation laws. The latter prohibits ownership of Zimbabwean property by foreign individuals or entities. Removal of counterproductive legislation of this nature will surely give many potential investors confidence to look to the country as a source for Lithium and its many other natural resources.
Can Africa Turn Its Picture of Potential Into a Reality?
Its vast mineral resources places Africa in a unique position to negotiate better deals for itself than it did in the past. Innovation partnerships and technological expertise, for example, will deliver far greater and longer term ROI than the monetary gains derived from simply exporting our precious raw materials to the rest of the world.
By insisting on greater knowledge transfer and closer working relationships with the world’s most innovative – and resource starved countries – Africa can seize its unique advantage to vitalise its very own digital transformation efforts, nurture local talent and ultimately acquire the skills to turn its commodities into the products the world’s markets so covet.
An approach of this nature could mean that Africa becomes more than just a good place for a great deal. Instead, it could become a central character in the story of the world’s digital transformation. History has many lessons for the continent in this respect. If it’s willing to pay heed, a truly empowered Africa that’s a real contender to lead the way into the digital future might just be a very real possibility.
From server rooms housing Windows NT4 systems of yesteryear, to hybrid cloud environments we find today, Yaseen has worked with leading technology brands for over a decade, which gives him an acute understanding of where technology has come from and the new and interesting places it is taking the business world. As a Digital Copywriter, he uses this unique vantage point to share his insights on the evolving digital realm.