Lecturer, Institute of Geography and Development Studies, School of Environmental Sciences, Njala University
Introduction: an overview
Africa’s known mineral wealth places it among the world’s richest continents. Its very large share of the world’s mineral resources includes diamonds, gold, silver, the platinum group metals, emeralds, rubies, and other precious minerals, bauxite, manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper, cadmium, chrome, chromium, lithium, tantalum, germanium, lead, zinc, and other non-ferrous metals, iron-ores (hematite and magnetite), antimony, germanium, uranium, radium, tin, low cost thorium, cassiterite, rutile, ilmenite, zircon, monazite, mica, vermiculite, limestone, gypsum, barites, potash, phosphates, kaolin, “granite” for dimensional stones, and other industrial minerals. Africa is also known for proven reserves of high quality petroleum, natural gas, peat, lignite, and coal with low sulphur content (i.e. Gondwana coal) (see figure 1).
Some of the largest, and richest, mineral deposits in the world have been found in Africa. For much of the last half of the 20th century little mineral exploration and development work was done in Africa, except for Southern Africa, even though there is significant potential for the discovery of new deposits. By the mid 1990’s modern exploration started to spread across much of Africa and many new deposits have been discovered and developed and some of the old major deposits are being renovated.
South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and the DRC dominate the African mining industry. Whilst countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana rely heavily on the mining industry as a major foreign currency earner. Unfortunately several African civil wars are funded by (and often caused by) some of these commodities, in particular diamonds.
The potential of Africa for the discovery and development of mineral resources is immense. Major new mines opening in Africa or under development are distributed between South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, and Gabon producing gold, diamonds, niobium products, PGEs, Chrome and base metals. Major discoveries over the last year include the discovery of several diamondiferous kimberlites in Mauritania and Sierra Leone, and still in the diamond scene, the potential marine deposits in offshore of southern Namibia. Mineral occurrences are present throughout the continent in all countries. Most of these countries will never be anything but isolated areas that contain small amount of a mineral resource and will never be developed as a modern mine. The reason for that is because most of these occurrences do not contain enough volume of the mineral to make mining economic. However, the use of modern exploration methods in the region where these occurrences are known could result in the discovery of new, and previously unknown, deposits, which could be of sufficient quantity and quality to allow for economic mining.
Countries rich in minerals such as cobalt, copper and gold are marred by corruption, authoritarian repression, militarization and civil war. Rebel groups, governments and mining companies exploit mineral resources, fueling civil and interstate conflict as players vie for control over riches. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have fallen victim of rebels who use revenue from mineral such as diamonds, coltan and cassiterite to purchase arms and fuel conflicts.
Mineral resources and conflict
Available statistics indicate that a total of 26-armed conflict erupted in Africa between 1963 and 1998, affecting 474 million people, or 61% of the population. Environmental resource capture, in particular mineral resources, has been a fundamental cause of these conflicts and insecurity in many parts of the continent. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Angola are...