Africa’s lithium and cobalt shall not be thrown away like trash!

Saturday June 17 2023

Independent miners filter dirt and soil as they search for minerals following the legalisation of mining in limited areas in Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa on June 5, 2018. PHOTO | MUJAHID SAFODIEN | AFP


A teenager who dreams being with a beautiful girl feels disappointed when he wakes up at the critical moment only to realise it was a dream. He can do the easy thing and continue sleeping in the hope of the dream coming back, or wake up and work hard to make the dream become reality.

That is the trouble with sleep; you either wake up or you sleep forever. There is no third option. You cannot remain asleep and do real things.

Even Africa has started waking up.

We slept through the Industrial Revolution, and the outsiders came took away our people as slaves.

When slavery was outlawed, they came and took away our energy as we worked in the plantations or the mines. In the process, they took away our precious wealth, calling it raw materials.

In the early sixties, we slept through the flag independence while our Arabic brothers woke up woke up in time to demand a fair price for their oil.


They formed the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, to get the right price for their wealth. Now oil is on the way out, but smart Arab states that invested the petrodollars to diversify their economies won’t cry over the coming death of fossil fuels.

Some Africa countries that struck oil around the same time are not as prepared as their Middle Eastern counterparts for the post-oil era. They only have debts and confusion to show from their oil boom. We continued sleeping.

Read: BUWEMBO: Behold, the 4IR is passing us by as we sell off minerals that fuel it

In the seventies, we slept through the age of environmental awareness and scientific innovations.

So, at the close of the 20th century, when proper health care became a right in other lands, we slept on.

With colonial hospital systems broken down, correcting birth and injury effects remains a preserve of the rich and mighty on the continent — actually, off the continent — as precious foreign currency is taken away to rich countries, where African elite are flown for treatment.

3D printing has largely remained a myth in African hospitals, so affordable body repairs are missed and coming next, organ bio-printing will also bypass us.

This process, being developed to enable patients grow healthy organs, will replace organ transplant out there, while elite Africans will continue fundraising so a relative, for example, can lose a healthy kidney to donate it to another whose two kidneys are failing.

To fathom the depth of our slumber, just ask your elected legislator what they think stem cell research is.

Chances are they will say those are doctors’ things, not leaders.

As environmental awareness spread in other lands where cutting a tree without permission became a sin, charcoal burning increased here as did lumbering for export. We slept on. Dumping of chemical (and some suspect even nuclear) waste also found Africa an open pit as we slept.

In a perverted way, Africans pay expensively to have condemned, end-of-life cars dumped on their continent, when we should have instead been paid to accept the carbon-spewing contraptions.

Read: BUWEMBO: Polluters owe Africa as much as Africa owes them; let’s debt-swap

But, finally, the centuries, decades, years and days of sleeping might be coming to an end, for you cannot keep sleeping or you may end up sleeping forever.

So, one by one, African countries are waking up.

Those that have deposits of the much-sought-after rare earth minerals for powering the clean energy era are jumping out of bed and shouting that they will not throw their lithium and cobalt away like rubbish.

Last week it was Namibia. The Cabinet in Windhoek resolved that not a single gramme of unprocessed lithium or any other rare mineral will be exported from the country.

Before that, it was Zimbabwe that took a similar position.

There is even no need to raise voices and crease faces over this.

Let the African Union rally the members to take a stand over these rare minerals. For not only are they set replace petroleum in driving the transport industry, but they too will also ultimately take the count, as poor oil now is.

The lithium and cobalt of this soil are not forever.

Without even insisting that they be processed here, Africa can do what the Arabs did six decades ago and get a fair price for the materials needed to power two billion cars this decade, and more later.

Let the teenage boy drag himself out of bed to pursue the real girl.