By Conor Godfrey
Yesterday Tullow Oil struck black gold off the Kenyan Shore; Canadian and Australian miners seem to announce new gold gold discoveries in Africa all the time.
In fact, it seems like once a month I hear of another “world class” mineral or hydro-carbon discovery in Africa.
I thought it might be fun to dig into just how mineral rich Africa is. Before I get started, let me say a huge thank you to Dr. ABBAS. M. SHARAKY at Cairo University, his research on African geology was immeasurably helpful in terms of understanding why Africa is so mineral rich.
Fun fact– modern day Swaziland hosts the oldest known mining site in the world – scientists believe this mine was operational about 45,000 years ago!
See the picture of Lion’s Cave on the left. Mineral resources have also shaped African history and culture, especially the rise and fall of the great empires in modern day Mali, Ghana, and Egypt. Gold, iron, and other metals have had cultural, commercial, and even cosmetic uses for much of human history on the continent.
Today the African sub-soil is unbelievably, but not inexplicably, rich.
Before writing this, I have sifted through more geological research then I really have the vocabulary to understand, and pulled out some gems that helped me imagine the scope of both known and unknown mineral resources in Africa.
Africa is still undergoing what the field calls “Primary Exploration.”
E.g. preliminary surveys and shallow drilling.
With the very limited knowledge we have of Africa’s subsoil, the continent already holds 30% of the world’s known mineral reserves.
This includes 80% of all platinum, chromium, and tantalum, and almost 50% of the world’s gold, diamond, cobalt, manganese and phosphates, and the plurality of many others, including bauxite and uranium.
Geologists estimate that Africa likely holds more than 50% of the world mineral reserves.
Wow. 20.4% of the world’s land (actual land, not water), with upwards of 50% of the world’s mineral resources.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that catalytic converters, computer chips, cell phones, engagement rings, fertilizer, tin foil, and nuclear submarines would all be a heck of a lot more expensive without African resources.
Why? (spoiler alert, pure creationists will not be happy with this section.) Well, according to Dr. Abbas, Africa has some of the oldest rocks in the world—otherwise known as Precambrian rocks.
These rocks come from the period that covers the formation of the Earth through bacterial life….a mere 4.5 billion years.
Precambrian rocks account for 80% of the world’s industrial metals.
The Kalahari craton geologic formation covers much of Southern Africa, and contains a number of the world’s oldest (therefore Precambrian) rocks.
This formation is what makes South Africa the most mineral rich country in the world; with an estimated 2.5 trillion USD worth of resources under its soil.
To put this in perspective, remember that while Saudi Arabia has just shy of 20% of the world’s proven oil reserves, South Africa has approximately 85% of the world’s platinum, 80% of its manganese, 75% of its chrome, and over 50% of a half dozen more key resources.
Other parts of Africa have mind boggling concentrations of strategic minerals; the best examples are diamonds in Botswana, copper and cobalt in Zambia and the DRC, tantalum in the DRC, uranium in Namibia and Niger, bauxite in Guinea, and phosphates in Morocco.
Africa is loaded with hydrocarbons.
Nineteen African countries produce significant quantities of oil, and ‘proven’ reserves have been skyrocketing as exploration really gets underway.
Chew on the following statistic: throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, the mining community spent about 10% of their budgets on exploration, but only 1% in Africa.
While this has improved drastically in the 90s and post 2000, African exploration is still grossly underfunded; it currently accounts for 13% of the mining community’s exploration budget but accounts for 30% of the world’s proven reserves.
Currently, Africa has proven reserves of about 210,000 billion barrels – this number is being revised upward on a quarterly basis.
These reserves constitute about 13% of global reserves- the proportion will obviously rise as commercially viable oil continues to be discovered from Mozambique to Ghana to Uganda to Liberia, and relative peace and calm allows the major producers to double down on investment and R&D.
Get ready for some 20,000 ft. assumptions.
The developing world’s standard of living is rising- sometimes in fits and starts, and sometimes in long 30-year runs (China).
To be rather blunt, these people, and their governments, want the tin foil, nuclear submarines, green tech, phones, and other IT products that we spoke about earlier.
New discoveries will slow in the rest of the world while they accelerate in Africa over the next 50 years; I for one am very curious to see how this ramifies through world politics.