Europe eyes Namibia’s rare earth minerals

…government cautioned not to enter into deals without equal participation for locals

• By Vitalio Angula

THE European Union (EU) has shown keen interest in the exploration and possible mining of rare earth metals in Namibia, EU Head of Delegation to Namibia, Ambassador Sinikka Antil said.

Namibia is one of many countries that have drawn interest from countries such as Australia, Japan, the USA and the EU as having potential for ‘critical raw materials’ that are strategic components in the green energy transition.

According to Antila, the President of the European Commission and the President of Namibia, Hage Geingob agreed earlier this year that they will start on building a partnership on sustainable raw materials and green hydrogen.

“Though the MOU has not been signed yet; the agreement is an outcome of the African-EU Summit that took place last February in Brussels. At that summit the presidents of the EU Commission and the President Geingob, agreed that we will start on building a partnership on sustainable raw materials and the green hydrogen,” Antila said.

“Our teams have been working hard on both sides and I think we are ready to sign later this year possibly at COP27,” the Ambassador said.

“About sustainable raw material, Namibia is a mining country, and what should happen is that you can add value to your minerals here and not only export them in raw form. We want to build partnership with you, to support you to add value, by creating industries, creating jobs, so that you benefit more from your minerals and it’s a win-win because we need it in the green transition as inputs in the manufacturing of batteries and other things,” the Ambassador added.

Ministry of Mines and Energy, Mines Commissioner, Erasmus Shivolo, informed Confidente in an interview that the EU and Namibia had been discussing a possible partnership on sustainable raw material value chain and renewable hydrogen.

“The EU wants to enter into an agreement with Namibia where they can partake all the way from exploration to mining,” Shivolo said.

“The value chain on what they are calling ‘critical minerals’ are basically minerals that are used in the components of the energy transition. They range from lithium, cobalt and graphite,” the commissioner said.

Shivolo said there are some minerals already being mined but not on a large scale, whilst others are still being explored for.

“It is not only the European market, the Japanese, the Americans, the Australians, all over the world, everyone that has made a commitment to clean energy is interested in these minerals because they are a replacement for fossil-fuels. Everyone who has signed up to COP27 has made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in their respective countries by a certain percentage so it is not a surprise that countries who are actually the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are showing interest because they need to clean up the environment,” Shivolo noted.

Black Business Leadership Network of Namibia (BBLNN), Community Liaison, Abraham !Noabeb informed Confidente that he was not privy to the details of the deal.

He nonetheless cautioned government not to enter an agreement without guaranteeing equity participation for locals, namely the indigenous, native people of Namibia.

“All we know is that we read it in the papers, we saw it on social media, we saw it on various platforms, and for those of us that are staying in the Erongo region, we have seen and we have heard it on radio stations, we have seen these people that are coming with trucks and they are taking what they are taking from a certain mine,” !Naobeb said.

“We saw trucks moving around, upon enquiry we heard that they are busy mining lithium. So, for us we have never been engaged on that matter, on that topic as far as we are concerned,” Naobeb added.

Chairperson of the BBLNN, Simon Eliphas said mining was one of the largest contributors to the country’s Gross domestic product (GDP) but multinationals hardly invest in the communities from which they extract raw materials.

“Namibia is part of the commonwealth, and the rules that govern business relationships in the country are foreign. I do not see the benefits that Namibians will derive for the exploration of rare earth metals unless the policy framework within which these activities take place are addressed to the benefits of Namibians,” Eliphas deduced when approached for comment.