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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 11th April 2024

US trailing China badly in critical minerals race in Africa

Blue Lines

A report just published by the United States Institute of Peace has given President Joe Biden's government a jolt. 'U.S. economic and national security depend on securing a reliable supply of critical minerals, including from Africa,' it argues. The United States is 'simply not on, or even near, par in competing with China for critical minerals investment and diplomacy in Africa,' the think-tank says.

That the Biden administration has largely failed to address the decline in influence in Africa under Donald Trump is not a revelation. Yet it is puzzling that the US has been so slow to move on such an important economic power struggle. The US, like Europe, needs to find major suppliers of lithium and rare earth elements to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles and reduce its reliance on Chinese supply of raw minerals.

Unlike Washington, the EU has recognised its predicament. Last year, it finalised its own Critical Raw Materials Act and has since brokered agreements with a several African states including Congo-Kinshasa, Zambia, Namibia and, most recently, Rwanda, to help it meet its 2030 carbon reduction targets. The EU sees procurement arrangements with Africa as realpolitik. In exchange, it is offers investments in the green transition and industrialisation. The US still enjoys some diplomatic heft in Zambia and Congo-K, but risks missing the boat elsewhere.