Africa’s minerals a global conflict igniter
I’VE always believed the next global conflict will be over water, and that it will originate in Africa.
Already Ethiopia and Egypt are having words over the Renaissance Dam which will siphon off water from the Nile, a river Egypt regards as her birthright.
The Nile is the arterial blood of both nations, and any strangling of supply is a matter of life and death.
Ethiopia’s population is scheduled to soar to more than 200 million within 30 years, in a country that is already unsustainable.
Despite that, I now think differently. Water is not the next point of no return. Instead it will be rare earth minerals.
The reason is simple. Cellphones and computers - as much a lifeblood to the First World as the Nile is to Egypt and Ethiopia - are powered by minerals mined in West Africa.
Of course water resources will be crucial, but in the First World water supply is as reliant on computers as the Third World is on rain.
If someone hacked America’s mainframes, the dams will be emptied, pumps incapacitated and taps run dry.
Hydroelectric power would be disabled. We would not all die of thirst, but it doesn’t need fervid fantasy to visualise the ensuing chaos.
That’s why control, proxy or otherwise, of rare earth minerals essential to technology and dug out of the mud by sweatshop labourers in the rain forests is the next flash point.
Ah, but you say, why this talk of war? Aren’t we further down the road to living in harmony than ever before? Aren’t strangers just friends we haven’t hugged?
I wish it was true. But consider the reality. As I write this, Chinese and Russian forces are doing joint manoeuvres on the Siberian border, combining the aims of the world’s most ambitious superpower with the most belligerent one.
In response, America and India are now discussing combined military exercises. To me this is extremely significant.
I have long believed India will be a greater superpower than China because it is a democracy, and possibly also because the many Indian-South Africans I worked with are some of the best people
However, even without my grossly unscientific deductions, the concept of combining
America’s tech wizardry and
India’s demographic might must give Moscow and Beijing sleepless nights.
Minerals are money
But back to Africa, the world’s most resource rich continent.
South Africa’s resources are well documented, but the true untapped giant is the poverty-stricken DRC.
I come across this frequently in research as I am currently writing a book with conservationist extraordinaire Grant Fowlds, who is, among other things, doing gorilla work in the DRC.
Every time I type a Google SEO phrase containing ‘Congo’, the vast mineral wealth of the country comes up.
Not only that, I also completed my fourth ‘fact-fiction’ novel earlier this year, which I plan to publish once I finish Grant’s book.
Most of the action takes place in West Africa, which - again thanks to Google research - is no coincidence.
I chose it deliberately because the area is a growing battleground for international terrorism, through no fault of the indigenous people.
It’s because of the aforementioned resources. Apart from rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds and oil, West Africa is also riddled with uranium, a key nuclear ingredient. The uranium for the Hiroshima bomb came from Katanga.
Nuclear fission is mind-bogglingly complicated, but basic uranium ‘yellowcake’ is not.
Uranium is the most monitored metal in the world — except in the vast jungles of West Africa.
So, while some bomber with a dirty yellowcake device would not cause much loss of life, he would render a city radioactive for decades.
It’s already been tried by Chechen insurgents, but fortunately the bomb didn’t detonate.
However, despite me shamelessly plugging my book, the key conflict rare earth mineral is not uranium, but coltan; a dull-black ore used in most sophisticated devices, including industrial computers and jet engines. In other words, the lifeblood of modern gadgets.
It’s essential to First World economies. It’s also a blood mineral and has already funded one conflict - the Great African War of 1995-2003 which sucked in nine nations and cost five million lives.
Will it fund more?
That’s one of the existential questions of the 21st Century.