Windhoek - The Namibian government recently announced a ban on the export of raw lithium ore and other critical minerals, saying it wants to derive more value from the minerals before exporting them. The ban comes just months after Zimbabwe, another African lithium producer, banned the export of lithium ore to encourage more local processing.
The deputy minister of information and communications technology, Emma Theofelus, said the Cabinet approved prohibiting the export of unprocessed lithium ore, cobalt, manganese, graphite and rare earth minerals. “Smaller quantities of the above-mentioned minerals may be allowed for export at the discretion of the minister of mines and energy, subject to Cabinet endorsement,” she said.
Namibia has significant deposits of lithium and rare earths, which are essential for renewable energy and electric vehicles. The country aims to become a major renewable energy producer and sees the minerals sector as key to economic growth. Banning raw ore exports is meant to encourage more investment in processing and manufacturing in Namibia, creating more jobs and enabling the country to sell more valuable mineral products.
However, Gerald Macheka an analyst from Equity Axis fears that the ban could deter foreign investment in Namibia’s mining industry if not implemented carefully. “There is a risk that an outright ban on exports of unprocessed minerals could signal that Namibia is not open for business,” said Macheka, an Africa economist. “A more gradual approach, like export tariffs that encourage more local processing over time, may have been preferable.”
The ban highlights the dilemma facing resource-rich African countries seeking to gain greater economic benefit from their minerals. Whileprocessed commodities generate more value than raw materials, African countries often lack the infrastructure, skills and technology to do high-level processing themselves. Namibia produces lithium concentrate but currently has little capacity for advanced processing into lithium chemicals and battery components.
For the global clean energy transition, the ban also points to the risk of supply chain disruptions for critical minerals. As the world moves to renewable energy and electric mobility, demand for lithium, cobalt and rare earths is soaring. Bans and policies in mineral-producing nations aimed at increasing domestic benefit could impact the security of mineral supply chains in importing countries like China, the EU and US.
The Namibian ban follows a similar move by Zimbabwe in December to ban raw lithium exports. Zimbabwe hopes its ban will spur development of a domestic lithium-ion battery industry, though analysts note it currently lacks the capability for such high-level manufacturing. The policies of the two lithium-producing African nations signal an intention to no longer just export raw materials but to seize more of the value chain for critical minerals. For major economies relying on those minerals, it underscores the need to diversify supply and support processing in the producing countries.
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