Today, the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Senior Study Group (SSG) on Critical Minerals in Africa released its report: Critical Minerals in Africa: Strengthening Security, Supporting Development, and Reducing Conflict amid Geopolitical Competition. Africa is home to 30 percent of the world’s critical minerals. These minerals are used in everyday items like batteries, defense systems, medical devices and cell phones. Over the last 20 years, China has secured advantageous supply chains for cobalt, magnesium, graphite and other critical minerals in Africa that threaten the United States’ national and economic security. Russia and the Middle East are also increasingly involved in African critical mineral exploitation.

Currently, the U.S. is nearly 100 percent reliant on “foreign entities of concern” (mainly China) for critical minerals – many of which are vital for U.S. national security and the economy. Shortages of these minerals could severely impact U.S. military capabilities and jeopardize national security. That risk became apparent in October 2023, when China announced export controls of graphite for which the United States is 100 percent reliant on imports. Graphite is an important component for batteries, fuel cells, nuclear reactors and industrial applications. The SSG pointed out that similar geopolitically inspired sales restrictions on critical minerals could be repeated, since China is the major U.S. import source for 31 of 50 critical minerals and the primary source for 13 of 50 minerals.

The SSG specifically examined the important role that Africa plays in critical mineral supply chains. It identified important ways for the United States to gain a strategic advantage on the competition by entering into equitable partnerships with African nations. These U.S.-Africa partnerships, according to the report, could pay additional dividends through increased development and community stability while also strengthening peace and prosperity on the African continent. The 13 broad policy recommendations contained in the final report include a renewed focus on diplomatic, financial and private sector engagement to make the United States a preferred African partner while shoring up U.S. interests.

The report also highlights how some African countries have become disenchanted with their Chinese engagement because the expected jobs, training and technology transfer failed to materialize with China processing the raw minerals overseas rather than in African countries. Human rights abuses, child labor exploitation, corruption and negative impacts on the environment are other acute concerns under Russian and Chinese deals.

The SSG report identifies the opportunity for the United States to become a preferred partner in Africa through transparent, private sector investment. The SSG’s recommendations also address needed U.S. diplomatic and development efforts to encourage everything from rule of law reforms to addressing inadequate infrastructure, which deter U.S. private sector investment.

The United States' $250 million investment in the Lobito Corridor rail project – the biggest U.S. infrastructure investment in 40 years – running from the Lobito port in Angola to the rich critical mineral resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia is the kind of project with potential to spur economic development and secure supply chains, creating a win-win for U.S. and African partners, according to the report.

The report acknowledges many challenges in seeking to gain advantage for the U.S. and potential African partners in critical minerals development, but concludes the cause is well worth the effort. See the complete final report for a detailed discussion of the recommendations and what it will take to implement them.

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