The Future Minerals Forum, scheduled by the Saudi Arabian government in Riyadh in January 2024, is expected to draw the participation of over 25 African governments. With the growing imperative of the clean energy transition, nations facing significant deficits in mineral reserves are increasingly turning their focus to the African continent.
Despite its vast potential in rare minerals, encompassing more than 75% of global manganese, platinum, and chromium, nearly half of the world’s cobalt, and 20% of the world’s graphite, much of these resources remain untapped due to limited exploitation. Leveraging its financial resources and experience in developing countries, Saudi Arabia is actively engaging with African nations to meet and secure its demand for rare earth minerals. Projections indicate that by 2030 the demand for rare earth materials will surge to 315.000 tons. These rare materials encompass 17 metals crucial for electronics, renewable energy technology, and national defence.
The African continent is projected to experience the highest demographic growth rate globally, estimated to reach 2,4 billion inhabitants by 2050. Thus, Africa must capitalize on its resources to forge commercial partnerships, addressing the dual challenges of constrained public finances and demographic explosion. This approach would enable the African Continental Free Trade Area to optimize value addition and control the prohibitive costs of extraction within a single country.
Since a growing number of African countries are in debt distress, the Saudi Fund for Development signed $553 million in agreements with African countries with a focus on providing support. Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih announced the country’s intention to utilize its sovereign wealth fund for transformative investments in Africa, such as the establishment of new commodity trading platforms for battery material. Countries like South Africa, Madagascar, Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Burundi, are key partners.
Meanwhile, Minister Saito of the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) held discussions with Minister Khoreifu of the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources in Riyadh on December 24, 2023. The focus of their meeting was to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning rare earths, encompassing collaborative investments in resource development, particularly in Africa and Central Asia, among other regions. The Japan Energy, Metals and Minerals Corporation (JOGMEC) and state-owned Saudi investment company Manara Minerals also signed an MoU committing to initiate projects within the next two years. Additionally, parallel discussions between Riyadh and Washington advanced in September 2023.
Margherita Rigoli is completing the MSc in International Relations and Diplomacy at Leiden University in collaboration with the Clingendael Institute. She focuses primarily on EU development policies in the Global South, and EU defence policy.