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Africa’s Top 10 Stories  |  March 2024

In the first quarter of 2024, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) emerged as a pivotal hub for critical mineral development, witnessing the dual growth of both foreign and domestic interests. In January, China re-negotiated a US$7 billion ‘minerals-for-infrastructure’ deal, highlighting the country’s significance in global cobalt procurement strategies. Simultaneously, Swedish battery maker Northvolt’s exploration of cobalt sourcing from the DRC further solidified the country’s future role in the global supply chain for critical minerals. In early February, the government introduced initiatives to reform the local mining sector by attracting ‘modern investors’ to tap into its mineral wealth. At the same time, it started developing mining infrastructure in the market. The nation’s state-owned mining company, Gecamines, also proposed to purchase cobalt and copper assets from Kazakh miner ERG in addition to its planned reform of critical mineral joint ventures. The moves signal a strategic push towards enhancing local control over mineral resources.

Data courtesy: Cobalt Institute, Statista, OEC; 2023

In addition to the DRC, the opening quarter of 2024 saw other African nations make strides in the development of battery minerals. January heralded Ghana’s landmark venture into lithium mining, promising to cater to the burgeoning global electric vehicle market. In East Africa, Kenya’s confirmation of coltan discoveries ignited optimism for the region’s mineral sector, while in early February, Tanzania unveiled a new mineral mining strategy. Further south, South Africa launched a mineral exploration fund, to encourage the exploration of critical minerals. In parallel, Anglo-America’s collaboration with GEM, a Chinese recycler, underscored efforts to bolster research and development and recovery of raw materials for batteries in the country. Concurrently, South Korea’s Posco Future, a manufacturer of battery materials, announced plans to import graphite from Africa to reduce dependence on supplies from China. In addition to these developments, the continent made progress in establishing its inaugural cobalt refinery in Zambia, which is set for completion by 2025.

South Africa’s Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, speaking at the second South African Green Hydrogen Summit in Cape Town in October 2023. Africa continues to attract major European investment in its green hydrogen potential, with South Africa leading the way. Image courtesy: GovernmentZA/Flickr

Europe’s interest in African green resources intensified from strategic developments from Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic this quarter. In January, Italy strengthened its cooperation with Morocco in planning a significant pipeline project to facilitate the transmission of green hydrogen. Morocco has also attracted similar green investments from Germany and the Netherlands. This initiative is part of Italy’s broader energy and migration plan with Africa, amounting to US$5 billion. In parallel, in late January, Germany offered grant funding opportunities to South African green hydrogen developers, fostering collaboration to close project bankability gaps – part of the US$292 million Power-to-X Development Fund. In mid-February, Germany also expanded its hydrogen endeavours into Algeria. The partnership will result in a bilateral hydrogen working group, which will support private sector investment in Algeria while driving energy security in Europe. Egypt for its part has similarly aimed to attract Czech investments in green hydrogen projects.

In the initial months of 2024, southern Africa witnessed a dynamic landscape in satellite broadband services, with Starlink, a SpaceX satellite company, encountering competition and intellectual property (IP) breaches. In late January, OneWeb, a rival to Starlink, launched its low-Earth orbit service in South Africa, intensifying the competition in the region’s broadband market – the deployment was done for an unspecified leading digital bank. Concurrently, Starlink faced challenges as it cut off hundreds of customers in South Africa due to suspected IP breaches. Reports have emerged in parallel concerning Starlink-related scams, highlighting the vulnerability of customers to fraudulent activities associated with satellite broadband services – third-party businesses handle imports on a customer’s behalf as Starlink is not licensed in the country. In February, Botswana and Zimbabwe issued warnings and penalties to individuals and businesses using the satellite service. Starlink has not received regulatory approval in both countries – it is currently only available in Nigeria, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, and Malawi.

In January, the UAE accepted membership to the BRICS alliance, joining Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia and Egypt, effectively doubling the group’s size. The move underscores the country’s strategic repositioning of fostering closer ties with emerging economies and reaffirming its commitment to Africa’s development. In late February, the UAE deepened its economic engagement with Africa through a comprehensive economic partnership deal with Kenya – an MoU was also signed for the country’s first geothermal data centre. Egypt too has announced Emirati investments amounting to US$35 billion, which is aimed at bolstering development projects along the Mediterranean coast – Saudi and Qatari investors have shown similar interest. In parallel, one of the UAE’s biggest international logistics companies, DP World, continued to invest in African port infrastructure, with Mozambique’s Port of Maputo benefitting from a US$2 billion injection for expansion and an upgraded railway link.

Data courtesy: White & Case, Institute for International Political Studies, FDI Intelligence; 2022-2023

In the latter months of the first quarter, anticipation mounted for the launch of the African Energy Bank (AEB), promising significant opportunities for the continent’s energy sector. In late February, it was revealed that the country to house its headquarters was expected to be announced by late March, with operations starting in June. Spearheaded by the African Petroleum Producers Organization and Africa Export-Import Bank, the AEB aims to fund oil and gas projects, with a capitalisation of US$5 billion, and will feature three classes of shareholders: African oil-producing nations, national oil companies, and both African and international investors. Interest is growing with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation announcing in early March its intention to invest in the bank and support the drive to streamline the bankability of energy projects. The imminent launch of the AEB signifies a critical step forward in addressing Africa’s energy needs and positioning the continent for enhanced energy access, investment, and growth in the coming years.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777-F60. Africa’s largest airliner has continued to increase its market share on the continent through strategic partnerships, operational expansion and new aircraft purchases. Image courtesy: Nabil Molinari/Flickr

The East African air giant advanced its market strategy through the first months of the year through strategic partnerships and operational expansions. In late January, Ethiopian Cargo and Logistics Services added Casablanca, Morocco, as its 35th freighter destination in Africa, to enhance its cargo network and bolster trade connectivity. Concurrently, in February, Ethiopian Airlines secured a substantial US$450 million loan agreement through Citi’s Corporate Banking and Export Agency and Finance teams, to acquire five new aircraft, signalling a commitment to fleet expansion and modernisation. In early March, the airline became the first African customer of the Boeing 777X. Further solidifying its regional presence, the airline announced passenger services to Sierra Leone’s Freetown via Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou, aiming to capture emerging travel demand corridors. Additionally, the inauguration of an e-commerce logistics facility at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, in Ethiopia’s capital, further enhances the airline’s logistics capabilities, catering to the evolving needs of the digital economy.

Jwaneng diamond mine in Botswana, operated by De Beers. The global diamond giant has continued to increase its exploration and development strategy in southern Africa during the last quarter. Source: GRID-Arendal/Flickr

Despite various demand and supply troughs, global diamond giant De Beers demonstrated commitment to exploration and development in southern Africa this past quarter. In early January, the company approved a US$1 billion plan to refurbish its largest Botswana asset, the Jwaneng diamond mine. The investment is set to extend mine life and convert the site to an underground operation. Additionally, De Beers signed an MoU with three Angolan state-owned companies for diamond exploration and production, further solidifying its presence in the region’s diamond industry. The moves are also made with global dynamics in mind, given commentary in early February from both De Beers and Botswana about continued G7 sanctions on Russian diamond exports, citing concerns about potential price inflation in Africa and questioning the effectiveness of the bloc’s new diamond origin tracing system. Despite the challenges, De Beers reinforced its stance on ethical sourcing and collaboration for sustained growth in the region.

South Africa’s burgeoning e-mobility sector made significant strides in spearheading Africa’s Just Energy Transition. In late January, the local municipalities of Pretoria and Durban, representing two of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, announced that electric commuter buses will be on the roads by 2025 as part of a US$4.7 million pilot project. Additionally, in February, Zero Carbon Charge, a local electric vehicle (EV) charging company, secured a US$52 million deal with Chinese energy storage systems manufacturer Shanghai Magic Power Tech, to deploy EV superchargers across the nation. Government initiatives continue to pave the way for local EV production, including the recently announced New Energy Vehicle policy, with some US$50 million being allocated alongside tax breaks (150% deductions on investments) for EV production. Consumer uptake also continues to grow, with China’s BYD set to introduce the world’s cheapest electric car to South Africa later in the year.

The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement has shown promising signs of bolstering intra-African trade over the first quarter of 2024, fostering economic growth and enhancing regional integration. In late January, South Africa marked a significant milestone as President Cyril Ramaphosa presided over the country’s first AfCFTA shipment from the Port of Durban, providing local exporters with new market access opportunities to key markets on the continent. In parallel, the president emphasised the potential of the AfCFTA to promote agricultural development and food security and underscored the broader socio-economic benefits – agriculture has been identified as a key sector, along with automotive, logistics and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, Nigeria’s export doors have opened to several African nations, including South Africa, Rwanda, Cameroon, and Kenya, indicating tangible progress in leveraging the AfCFTA to expand trade relations within the continent. These developments signify the impact of the AfCFTA on facilitating cross-border commerce and fostering economic prosperity across Africa.

Data courtesy: African Union, WEF, Afreximbank; 2023-2024

BRICS poised to launch payment system based on digital currencies and blockchain
In March, the BRICS group signalled its intent to develop a payment system based on digital currencies and blockchain technology, highlighting its commitment to innovation in financial services within the bloc. This initiative positions BRICS as a significant role player in shaping the future of global finance and pushing a de-dollarisation strategy. Notably, BRICS member South Africa is also actively exploring the implementation of a digital currency, aligning with broader efforts to modernise financial infrastructure. 

Egypt becomes first African country to achieve plasma self-sufficiency 
Egypt reached a significant milestone in February, becoming the first African country to achieve plasma self-sufficiency – marking a notable advancement in healthcare and medical innovation on the continent. By attaining plasma self-sufficiency, Egypt is able to meet its own demand for blood and plasma products, ensuring a stable supply of vital medical resources and promoting medical independence. This accomplishment underscores Egypt’s commitment to enhancing healthcare infrastructure and meeting the needs of its population, positioning the country as a leader in healthcare in Africa.

 Africa welcomes first-of-its-kind Concorde Cell flotation technology 

Global process and optimisation company Metso launched its Concorde Cell high-intensity pneumatic flotation units in Africa in March. This innovation revolutionises mineral refining processes on the continent, promising more efficient and environmentally sustainable operations. The Concorde Cell’s advanced design enhances particle collection and bubble dispersion, optimising mineral recovery rates. Its introduction marks a significant step towards modernising Africa’s mining sector and improving its global competitiveness.

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