Is the discovery of lithium a watershed moment?
Is the discovery of lithium a watershed moment?

Is the discovery of lithium a watershed moment?

The finding of commercial quantities of lithium is excellent news, but can we as a people definitely declare it is good news for us?

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 There is considerable history and record of our beloved country failing to capitalise on the tremendous natural riches at our disposal. We can begin with gold, then move on to diamonds, manganese and, most recently, oil and gas. 

Lithium is a rare earth mineral that has gained prominence in recent times owing to the critical role it plays in the growing electric vehicle (EV) revolution which relies on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

Lithium is also widely used in the production of several electronic devices such as smartphones and computers. Hence, Li-ion batteries will be more in demand as mobile electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and other wearable devices proliferate with growing access to the Internet.

For a country with a long history of natural resource extraction dating back to precolonial times (gold, bauxite, manganese, diamonds etc) the discovery of lithium came as a welcome surprise. Ghana’s proven 180,000 tonnes of lithium reserves ranks the country fourth place on the African continent behind DR Congo (3,000,000 tons), Mali (840,000 tons) and Zimbabwe (690,000 tons).

Australia is currently the premier producer of lithium worldwide while Bolivia has the largest proven reserves of 21 million metric tonnes, according to experts.

These natural resources have been hailed as a game changer for Ghana, but the number of visits to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tells a different narrative.

Despite our abundance of natural resources, we are in a fairly sad economic condition that has prompted us to return to the IMF.

The Atlantic Lithium Ewoyaa Lithium Project estimates that Ghana will earn nearly $5 billion from extracting the new mineral. 

This is fantastic news for our economy, but can lithium be the catalyst for our economic transformation? 

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, speaking at the two-day Natural Resources Stakeholders Dialogue organised by the Graphic Communication Group Limited in Accra, gave an assurance that the discovery of commercial quantities of lithium, alongside cobalt, nickel, copper, and lead, zinc, and chromium, would not suffer the same fate as other minerals such as gold, diamond, manganese, and oil and gas.

He explained that procedures were being put in place to prevent the exploitation of gold and other resources from occurring again. According to the President, the sector minister was drafting a strategy statement for the exploitation, use and management of these critical minerals, which would be presented to the Cabinet in the coming weeks.

In reference to the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) and Ghana Integrated Iron and Steel Development Corporation (GIISDEC) laws, the president stated that the sector minister was empowered to make regulations to ensure that no bauxite or iron ore was exported in its raw form after five years of these laws coming into effect.

As good as these rules are, their execution is a big difficulty in this country. We must regard the discovery of these new minerals as the beginning of a new chapter.

Lithium is a mineral for the present and the future. Unlike oil and gas, which have an expiration date due to environmental sustainability concerns and climate change, lithium is a mineral for today and tomorrow. 

Apart from leveraging it for economic development, the extraction of this mineral should also be done in an environmentally sustainable manner so as not to ruin the ecosystem we have. 

The subject of illegal mining, sometimes known as galamsey, is dominating the news. Illegal gold extraction, in particular, is becoming increasingly dangerous to our water systems.

Galamsey has nearly completely devastated our water bodies. The very least we can do is prevent what is happening in gold mining from happening in lithium mining. 

While we're about it, we should try to enable local business leaders and specialists to fully engage in the lithium extraction and processing value chain.

Indigenous firms must be empowered to extract or offer key services to the extraction and processing of minerals.

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As the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) continues to expand opportunities for African enterprises, we will be able to enhance the ability of these local businesses, allowing them to expand beyond Ghana's boundaries.

At the end of the day, indigenous enterprises must grow strong and robust in order to help drive the development of Ghana's and Africa's economy. No country has grown as a result of foreign direct investment.

Growing Ghanaian firms to worldwide standards must be a critical component of this new mineral's extraction, processing and development. 

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