The UAE Has Set Its Sights on Africa’s Critical Minerals

The UAE Has Set Its Sights on Africa’s Critical Minerals
UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan addresses the opening ceremony of the U.N. COP28 Climate Change Conference, in Dubai, UAE, Dec. 1, 2023 (Press Association photo by Chris Jackson via AP Images).

The United Arab Emirates is rapidly emerging as a major player in the mining sector in Africa. The country is already a hub for the licit and illicit trade in gold and gemstones from across the continent. Its new targets are mines producing metals that are key to the green transition to low-carbon energy sources. With its oil-dependent economy vulnerable to the global shift away from fossil fuels, Abu Dhabi is trying to secure a central place in the new energy economy. It has started with the acquisition of a large copper mine in Zambia, with another currently in its sights.

The UAE has long been a major investor on the African continent, but until now its focus has been on infrastructure and logistics. Over the past two decades, state-owned Dubai Ports World, or DP World, and AD Ports—formerly known as Abu Dhabi Ports Company—have taken control of a network of ports across the continent. Now the UAE is expanding and diversifying its investments.

The turn to mining investments has been swift and caught many observers by surprise. Debates about Africa’s mining sector over the past decade have focused almost exclusively on fears of Chinese dominance over the production of critical minerals and, more recently, Russia’s interests in gold in West Africa. However, deep-pocketed companies from the UAE and other Gulf states are in a position to simply outbid more established players in the industry, as happened in Zambia.

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