Zimbabwe’s Lithium Industry Boom and Its Global and Local Impacts

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Zimbabwe’s Lithium Industry Boom and Its Global and Local Impacts

Lithium is the chemical element that is used to make energy-dense rechargeable batteries for electronics, such as laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles, and grid storage.

The global demand for clean energy that has been accelerating in recent years has driven the global exploration and processing of this key mineral. Batteries accounted for a majority of the total demand in 2022.

Where is this highly reactive metal found? According to Natural Resources Canada, China is the world leader in lithium processing, where most processed products are used in battery production.

As to where the biggest lithium mines are found, Australia comes at the top, producing 61,000 tonnes of the critical mineral, accounting for 47.2% of the lithium production in the world. Australia is followed by Chile, producing 39,000 tonnes at 30.2% of total global production, China at 14.7%, Argentina at 4.8%, Brazil at 1.7%, and Zimbabwe at 0.6%.

The global reserve of lithium is estimated at 98 million tonnes. More than half of the resources are in the salt flats of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, much of that in Bolivia. It is estimated that there are 98 million tonnes of lithium resources globally. Australia ranks second, China at 4th, US (5th), Canada (6th), Zimbabwe (7th), Brazil (1.0%), and Portugal at (0.2%).

Most recently, Zimbabwe has been the focus of all attention, particularly its lithium industry. Zimbabwe is expected to become one of the world’s biggest exporters of the element. They hope to supply 20% of the world’s demands. Lithium is found in African countries like Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Ghana, but Zimbabwe contains the highest reserves.

Africa, the world’s second-largest continent, is home to 30% of the world’s mineral reserves – 40% of gold, 90% of chromium and platinum. It also has the largest reserves of cobalt, uranium, and diamonds.

This has attracted investors worldwide, like Canada, the UK, and Australia, but China is the biggest so far.

The BBC reports that China has invested over a billion US dollars in acquiring and developing lithium projects in Zimbabwe in the past two years.

The high demand for the element and China’s dominance in the country will have adverse effects. According to The Economist, the West hesitates to invest heavily in Zimbabwe, like China, because they worry that new mines could lead to oversupply and depress prices. Also, they “fret about the political risks of African projects, especially in countries with histories of graft and human rights abuses, like Zimbabwe and Congo.”

But the West reluctance to invest is a boon for China and could cede the African market, especially its critical minerals, to China.

The article cites a report published in March by the Zimbabwe Environment Law Association (zela), a local NGO, that pointed out the negative impacts of China’s dominance in Zimbabwe’s lithium industry.

The report’s conclusion says, “The Chinese are heavily involved in the illicit lithium trade.” It also adds that “domination by one country may lead to undesirable results such as under-valuation of mineral resources, tax avoidance and human rights abuses in the sector.”

At Goromonzi, Zimbabwe, where truckloads of lithium are mined and shipped to China to be made into batteries, Tadiwanashe Gwena, a community leader, says residents are “agitated” by the mine. “People know that the real value of lithium is not being ploughed back into the community” (China is winning, 2023).

The article notes, “The West says it wants Africans to benefit more from the value of their mineral endowment. Yet while it is talking, China is digging”.

CNBC reports that Zimbabwe has been mining lithium for 60 years. According to the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, the Chinese-owned Bikita mine in the country has about 11 million metric tons of lithium resources.

While the country passed a law in December 2022 banning raw lithium exports, existing processing plants, including Chinese-owned ones, which have invested $678 million into lithium projects, are exempt from this ban.

The CNBC video explores Zimbabwe’s mining sector, China’s stronghold on the country, and why it matters to the US and the world.


Lithium facts. (2023). Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://natural-resources.canada.ca/our-natural-resources/minerals-mining/mining-data-statistics-and-analysis/minerals-metals-facts/lithium-facts/24009

China is winning Africa’s “white-gold” rush for lithium. (2023 November 9). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2023/11/09/china-is-winning-africas-white-gold-rush-for-lithium  

Has Zimbabwe become the world’s ‘lithium valley’? (2023, August 29) BBC Africa. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpli_jMQ5lI

Why All Eyes Are On Zimbabwe’s Lithium Industry. (2023, March 9). CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnybkwT2c_w

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