By Gracelin Baskaran
Rare earth elements—a group of 17 metals—are critical for both human and national security. They are used in electronics (computers, televisions and smart phones), in renewable energy technology (wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries), and in national defense (jet engines, missile guidance and defense systems, satellites, GPS equipment, and more). In 2021, global demand for rare earths reached 125,000 metric tons. By 2030, it is forecast to reach 315,000 tons.
Concerningly, production of these rare earth minerals has remained concentrated. China has a dominant hold on the market—with 60% of global production and 85% of processing capacity. In light of growing geopolitical tensions around China and Taiwan, the U.S, Australia, Canada, and other countries are seeking to reduce their reliance on China as a source of rare earths production and processing.
This opens up a window of opportunity for African countries. With their rich endowment of key commodities, African countries can leverage this search for new sources of rare earth elements to bring in much-needed revenue to finance core socioeconomic objectives and reduce poverty, utilize the African Continental Free Trade…