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Can Zambia, DRC leverage electric vehicles tech?

ZAMBIA once again made another attempt at realising her ambition of developing electric vehicles – Lithium-Ion Battery (LIB) technologies on April 29 this year.
This was when Republican President Hakainde Hichilema and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, signed the “Zambia – DRC Battery Council”
This agreement is essentially an understanding between the two neighbouring countries to collaborate towards the establishment of a value chain in electric battery and clean energy.
“Our focus is job creation for the people of our two countries through economic diversification, job and wealth creation for the economic and social transformation of our citizens,” the Zambian Head of State said.
Indeed, this is not the first time that Zambia has made such an attempt at developing electric motor vehicle technology from existing abundant endowments of copper, Cobalt and other rare earth materials like manganese, for its LIB manufacturing processes that power electric vehicles (EV’s).
On February 6, 2018, then Mines Minister Christopher Yaluma, hosted a Japanese delegation that was led by Japanese Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Masaki Ogushi.
Mr. Ougushi asked the Zambian Government to put up a proposal with particular focus on the development of infrastructure to benefit from its US$2 billion investment that was destined for selected African countries that year.
The Japanese Delegation leader further noted that a consortium of investors from Japan was keen to set up industries in Zambia for mining of rare-earth, copper, Cobalt and manganese which are key component in manufacturing of electronic components in mobile telephony, cameras, computers and television.
“Zambia is in need of more advanced technology and setting up of Industries that could trigger creation of more jobs across the country” Mr. Yaluma said.
At that time, the narrative was Japan was to support African countries including Zambia with funds for infrastructure development while Zambia would supply unprocessed raw earth minerals to Japan.
What’s the difference between the Zambian Government’s pronouncement four years ago and now?
What has changed in Zambia now, for Mr. Hichilema’s New Dawn Government’s plan to succeed?
This is essentially, same objectives, same everything, except that this time around two-Heads of State have signed an agreement.
Thankfully, there’s always a starting point, this time a signed agreement.
However, it should be noted that the LIB technologies know-how is currently “a heavily guarded secret” that is vested almost entirely in Asian countries; China, Japan, and Korea.
This has made it increasingly difficult for other countries to penetrate the LIB manufacturing market.
It should be noted that as the saying goes, you can never re-invent the wheel.
Zambia and the DRC are once again working in collaboration with the Germans and the Japanese to acquire this LIB technology.
The one trillion Kwacha question in this discourse is, will the Chinese, Koreans and indeed the Japanese let off-the-hook, their closely guarded secret – the LIB technology?
Is the east –Japan, China and Korea and German ready to lose or share their long-held competitive supremacy or advantage in technological know-how with their key raw material suppliers Zambia and the DRC?
Are they ready to lose a prospective market for EV batteries?
That’s an interesting scenario, isn’t it?
It’s an open secret that foreign nationals have been secretly mining rare-earth minerals like manganese particularly in Central Province and ferrying it overseas without processing it within Zambia.
Will they let their raw material supplier now turn into a competitor without giving it a fight?
Hardly four years ago, I personally watched a video footage where sixth Republican President Edgar Lungu was castigating former Mines Minister Richard Musukwa in the company of his Permanent Secretary for being aware of a foreign national’s firm that was mining a rare mineral from an open pit without being issued a mining license.
This has made it increasingly difficult for other countries to penetrate the lithium-ion batteries manufacturing market.
Think of it, four years ago, in this meeting between the Japanese delegation and Mr. Yaluma, Mitsubishi Corporation, expressed interest to source copper, Cobalt and other rare earth materials like manganese, for its LIB manufacturing processes that power EV’s.
In order to find out the unfolding scenario, in the recent past, I had the privilege to interact with Copperbelt University (CBU) senior lecturer, Combustion and Energy Engineering, Gershom Mwandila.
Essentially, Dr. Mwandila is an academician, lecturer and researcher with research interests in bio-gas production and application and energy utilisation in water treatment.
Additionally, he is the proposed Liaison person in the “Zambia – DRC Battery Council” and cooperation project between the CBU and Lubumbashi University.
The LIB battery is expected to be developed by the cooperation between CBU and Lubumbashi University.
Thankfully, Dr. Mwandila was courteous and generous to accept an exclusive interview for this platform.
Therefore, in this and next week’s article, this platform will feature the outcome of an exclusive interview with Dr. Mwandila.
Remarkably, Zambia and the DRC are both endowed with abundant mineral ore production of high grade copper, cobalt, manganese, nickel, phosphorus and iron- all critical components of the LIB battery technology.
The complement of the resource endowments of our two great nations is well able to support the emergence of robust value chains across a host of manufacturing sectors such as batteries, electric cars and the renewable energy sector.
Once again, it’s important to remember that globally, the development of EV’s in the automotive industry is a strategic initiative of ensuring energy security and a means of transforming to a low carbon global economy.
When all is said and done, it’s important once again to stress a hard fact and truth that Zambia and the DRC decades long drive to gain international competitive advantage by leveraging raw export of basic factors or raw natural resources – minerals-copper, cobalt, manganese, andiron among others is an unsustainable source of a nation’s competitive advantage
Conversely. For Zambia, a well-developed scientific and technological infrastructure- highly educated work-force, university research infrastructure and proprietary know-how are a prerequisite to attain a nation’s competitive advantage, unique products and services and sustained national economic growth.
Hopefully, President Hichilema’s New Dawn Government’s “Zambia – DRC Battery Council” initiative will culminate into realising and sustaining Zambia’s international competitive advantage and ultimate economic growth.
Look out for an exciting edition of next week’s article which will delve into the current state, Zambia’s strategic capabilities and the way forward in her quest of developing LIB technology.
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The author is the Managing Consultant at G. N Grant Business Consultant, a Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA), a Master of Business Administration (MBA) holder, with a Specialism in Strategic Planning, and a candidate for the Herriot Watt University (Scotland) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)