Beneficiation the way to go

“AFRICA is the richest place, but it’s got the poorest race.  To me that is a disgrace!”

These words were said by none other than the inimitable reggae great Peter Macintosh, otherwise known as Peter Tosh, in his song “Fighting” in which he vowed not to give up the fight until Africa and Africans were free. The lyrics sum up the prevailing situation in Africa, a continent endowed with vast mineral wealth but still remains the poorest continent.

In his popular book, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, Walter Rodney argues that Africa has lost its wealth to European powers, who plundered its wealth and raped the continent during colonialism, leaving its peoples scrounging for crumbs.

While colonialism was defeated through armed struggles on the continent, the plunder of Africa’s resources still continues, with billions of dollars’ worth of minerals and other resources such as oil, timber and gas shipped out every year.

The exploitation has continued covertly and overtly, with countries getting less for exporting their minerals in their raw forms.  In most cases, it is the buyers of the minerals who set the price!

Over the past few years, the call for beneficiation of the continent’s resources for the benefit of its people have been getting louder.

During his tenure as chairperson of the African Union as well as the Southern African Development Community, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has led from the front, calling for the local processing of the continent’s gold, diamonds, copper, platinum, chrome, cobalt, rare earths, uranium, you name them, in order to get more value out of them.

Beneficiation of the minerals in Africa will not only add value to them, but would also create jobs on the continent and probably help in stemming the tide of migrants to Europe and elsewhere in search of better opportunities.

That is why we commend Tanzania’s recent banning of the export of gold, copper, nickel and silver ore.  We reported last week that President John Magufuli has directed the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy and Minerals to issue a ban on mineral ore export.

In a statement posted on the Tanzanian government website, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals said value addition activities would stimulate employment opportunities, revenue and technology transfer.

“All companies and individuals who were exporting concentrates and mineral ores to foreign countries for beneficiation, including processing, smelting or refining, will immediately stop, and start doing such activities within the country,” read part of the statement.

The ministry said government would provide necessary support to stakeholders in mineral beneficiation within the country, particularly the smelting and refining of minerals.

We hope other African countries will follow Tanzania’s example and also start beneficiating minerals locally to increase their value and create employment.

We have said it before and we repeat it here for the umpteenth time: Africa cannot afford to continue exporting jobs through exporting its minerals in their raw forms.  It is high time leaders on the continent guard jealously their God-given resources for the benefit of their peoples.

Africa must dictate the price of its mineral products.  Why, we ask, should diamonds be exported in their raw form and end up enriching Western capitals?   Why can’t African producers of diamonds like Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe fully polish the diamonds and get more out their minerals?

Why can’t South Africa and Zimbabwe, who are major producers of platinum in the SADC region, set up major refineries and determine the price of platinum?  Is it too much to ask for the DRC and Zambia to form their own copper cartel and the set the price for the mineral?

We believe now is the time for leaders on the continent to chart the way forward towards economic development and kicking poverty out of Africa.  It is our hope that as SADC leaders continue engaging, they will come up with concrete ways of taking the region’s beneficiation strategy to another level.

The time for talk shops is over, people need jobs and economic emancipation.

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March 2017
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