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Just energy transition: With the DR Congo experience, will Nigeria continue to slumber?

Just energy transition: With the DR Congo experience, will Nigeria continue to slumber?
May 29
11:26 2024

Transforming extractive resources that are most often not inexhaustible into enduring prosperity is an endeavour that requires a great deal of transparency and accountability on the part of those on whom fate has thrust the responsibility of leadership, especially in the politico-economic milieu. No matter how large the deposit might be, it would either be exhausted, or a cheaper alternative is found in the long run.

In a monocultural economy like Nigeria [who crude-oil-dependent], the vision to diversify the economy, by way of deliberate investment in other business portfolios, requires painstaking and deliberate planning, with meticulous implementation, garnished with a heavy dose of political will. It requires a healthy dose of altruism and at the least, a sense of deferred gratification for them to be able to look beyond the present and project into the future, as far as the consequences of whatever decision taken today are concerned. Countries in the Middle East, whose wealth is derived mainly from humongous deposits of oil and gas (extractive natural resources), are living examples. During periods of the oil boom, they planned on what to invest the excess earnings from the sales of their oil and gas because they knew the largest buyers of the oil and gas, are busy investing heavily in research that sought alternatives to the oil and gas.

Today, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, all oil-rich, are tourists’ destinations of choice, thanks to their investment in travel and tourism over the past two decades. In 2022, according to a report by The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Economy, the contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the UAE’s GDP was nearly $167 billion which is equivalent to 9% of the total GDP. The same goes for Qatar. The travel and tourism sector is set to add $25 billion to the oil-rich country’s economy in 2024, according to a report by The Economy. There is no better way to make mineral resources benefit the people of the host community, the nation and every other stakeholder along the value chain than that.

That was the vision for the adoption of the African Mining Vision (AMV) by African Heads of State, at the February 2009 African Union summit, following the October 2008 meeting of African Ministers responsible for mineral resources development. Pan-African stakeholders in the mining sector across the continent who were present at the meeting must have identified a yawning gap between the value of what is being extracted in terms of mineral resources from the continent, and the level of socio-economic development in the continent — the supposed benefits to the people. In other words, the benefit accruing to the people involved along the value chain is not commensurate with the estimated value of the end products. For this reason, the AVM was aimed at maximising the benefits obtainable from the mining of mineral resources from the continent to the utmost benefit of Africans.

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But currently, the presence of Africans on the value chains of these mineral resources is conspicuously minimal. That is why the original owners of the resources (the host community/country) are much poorer, and benefit less than those who come from far-flung places, across the oceans to extract them. According to an African proverb, “How can one be living inside a river, and still be feeling thirst?” It is very illogical. It is inconceivable that such an amount of wealth could exist side-by-side with the abject poverty that pervades the African continent. Poverty should not be featured in the same sentence as Africa. But that is not the case in reality.

The above illogicality explains the motivation of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, cited in one of my articles, published in Development Dispatch in 2022. In the piece, I wrote that:

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eve Bazaiba, recently at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, told Swiss delegates that her country will no longer accept the export of its raw materials, notably cobalt, by commodities giant, Glencore. She revealed that the raw material would be processed into finished products locally, before being exported so that there can be end-to-end value chain visibility, to the economic benefit of the people of the DRC. The DRC is responsible for more than 60% of the world’s cobalt, a by-product of copper and nickel mining that forms an essential component of rechargeable batteries powering electric cars. The Deputy Minister was also quoted in an interview with The Swiss Info, to have said that, “Cobalt cannot be exported, transformed and manufactured into batteries outside the country (DR Congo, anymore – emphasis, mine), while we are reduced to selling our teeth to afford a green vehicle.

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In a related development, sometime last year, the DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi met with international law firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP, to help contact the US Tech giant, Apple Inc., to register its concerns over what it calls, a supply chain tainted with “conflict minerals.” Amsterdam challenged the tech giant to, within three weeks, respond to the allegation that its supply chain is tainted with “conflict mineral” resources — 3T (Tin, Testung, and Tantalum). 3T is a very key mineral component in the manufacture of electronic gadgets like, iPhones and other devices, according to a report by Reuters. Apple had denied sourcing its raw materials from conflict-tainted sources, maintaining that its supply chains are clean.

Conflict broke out in the Congo region over the control of illicit trade in those materials (tin and gold as well as in coltan and tantalum) widely used in cell phones and computers — all mined in Congo before being smuggled out through neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, according to the report. That is where Rwanda comes in as a foreign influence, allegedly fueling the unending war in DR Congo. The report revealed that “The world’s eyes are wide shut: Rwanda’s production of key 3T minerals is near zero, and yet big tech companies say their minerals are sourced in Rwanda.” And come to think of it, Apple, especially, sources a large chunk of these materials — copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements, which are essential components of clean energy technologies, from Rwanda. Interestingly, Rwanda sits behind the DR Congo, as the country with the second-largest deposit of tantalum, in the world.” Although it has not started extracting the minerals, it is a major exporter,” Kelechi Deca, a renowned Nigerian journalist opined in a conversation on his Facebook page, recently. Where is the source, if not eastern DR Congo?

To eliminate this ugly trend, I hereby recommend that, Africa needs to adopt the Demand Reduction Strategy (DRS), to discourage the illicit trade in these essential minerals. They need to continue to hold these foreign (multinational) companies demanding for these minerals, to account for their sources until they can come clean. That is what the government of the DR Congo is trying to do currently, which appears to be proving efficient, and effective in discouraging the plundering of Africa’s natural resources. This will reduce, if not eliminate, avoidable conflicts, that lead to the loss of millions of lives, on the continent.

Another hard question to ask here is: “How come Apple is sourcing 3T from Rwanda when in fact Rwanda’s production of Tin and Tungsten is zero, even though they have large deposits?” That is a question the whole world needs an answer to. And Apple and others should provide the answers to questions, such as that, and the one asked by Deca in the comment section of the post on his Facebook page, quoted above. Rwanda only produces Tantalum, sitting comfortably as the world’s second country with the largest deposit alongside Burundi, after the DR Congo.

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Therefore, as the race towards Just Energy Transition (JET), (“defunding fossil fuels in a way that reduces inequality, shifting the costs of climate action onto wealthy polluters while prioritising economic, racial, and gender justice,” according to Oxfam) begins, the “new gold” now are those critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements, which are essential components of cleaner and renewable energy technologies.

Considering these revelations about the dynamics of the supply chain in DR Congo, should the Nigerian government slumber over what is happening in the northwestern states of Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto and Katsina, if we hope to achieve a “just energy transition”, (JET), at lower and cleaner cost, as the world shifts toward cleaner energy sources? Looking at the abundance of these mineral deposits in parts of that region, I don’t think so. Several reports have linked banditry, happening there, to influences of both licenced and illegal miners (alleged to be mainly Chinese) with strong links to foreign influences (like the Congo scenario).

Conflict zones remain the cheapest sources of raw materials in the “value chain” of any mineral that has a very hot demand. But that is for a company that is low on corporate social responsibility, and integrity. An upright company would carry out “supply chain due diligence” before buying from any supplier, to ensure that issues like exploitative labour practices, child labour, and cases of environmental pollution without efforts to mitigate, or conflict minerals do not taint its supply chain.

Nigeria needs to wake up to ensure that what is playing out in Kebbi state (over copper, and other minerals’ illegal mining) which has a striking semblance with the Congolese situation, is not replicated in Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti, Kaduna, Osun, and Cross River states, with significant lithium, and copper deposits. If the rein of lack of natural resources governance in the mining of these JET-critical minerals is allowed to fester and degenerate further, it will not only rob the country of derivable benefits in the value chain but also disrupt the country’s food production. This is because those states are majorly agrarian states, which could undermine food security in Nigeria, and the neighbouring countries.

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The need for the Nigerian government to be vigilant is more important, given the emerging global need for the JET-critical minerals which is aimed at ending the era of fossil fuels, and doing so fairly to everybody involved. With mineral deposits valued at about $700 billion, including the JET-critical ones, Nigeria is primed for a big role in meeting global demand, according to Dele Alake, the minister of solid minerals development.

In a nutshell, the transition towards cleaner, and renewable sources of energy must be done in a way that no one bears more than his fair share of the burden, or gets more than his fair share of the benefits, derivable for being on the value chain. If at all, such a benefit must not be to the detriment of any other stakeholder. So, as the race towards JET hots up, the demand for the critical minerals in the manufacture of things like solar panels, and batteries for power generation and storage among others would be in hot demand. This would also lead to more demonstrations of absurd desperation by greedy merchants who would want to buy at the cheapest of rates and would stop at nothing to get what they want, even if it entails sponsoring a conflict for a community to be burnt down as a kind of distraction, just for them to lay their hands on those minerals, they don’t give a hoot.

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At the moment, there is a community in Kwara north called Lade, where lithium is currently being mined illegally and sold like packaged sachet water on the street. According to a report by an award-winning journalist, Dare Akogun. Furthermore, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seized about 12 trucks, loaded with illegally mined and being ferried out of the state, heading towards a destination suspected to be Lagos, where it would be smuggled out of the country. Something must be done to arrest the situation before it degenerates into the scale of what is happening in DR Congo.

Now, we’re talking about Nigeria, reputed for having the highest grade of lithium (13% lithium oxide content), as opposed to the standard worldwide for even exploration and mining which starts from 0.4% lithium oxide. The scramble for Nigeria’s grade by those merchants of blood and violence would ensure that the last scramble for Africa, which took place in the German city of Berlin — in 1885 pales into insignificance. That can arguably be said to be the reason banditry is walking on all four, in some of the major food production belts of the nation, thereby, putting Nigeria’s “national food security” into serious jeopardy.

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The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the State Security Service (SSS), and other members of the intelligence community in the country, therefore, need to intensify efforts in their respective areas of jurisdiction and operate synergistically, to track down and call out the foreign influence fueling banditry in, not only the north-west but also, across the country just to get these minerals for next-to-nothing.

This (need to sit up by our security and intelligence agencies) is, so that the extraction of the essential minerals, especially the ones that are key to achieving a JET, would be mined for the benefit of the people in whose backyards it has pleased nature to deposit them. The merchants of blood in the North West, whether it is an individual, a local, foreign, or multinational company, or a foreign government, must be exposed for the sake of those who were killed, widowed, orphaned or displaced by the activities of bandits. It would also be for the benefit of bringing socio-economic development to the local communities and more revenue for the government.

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Abubakar writes from Ilorin, Kwara state. He can be reached via 08051388285 or [email protected].

 



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