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Resource imperialism vs national development: A case of lithium mining

Opinion & Analysis
Moses Nyakatangure

UPON examining the nature of the contemporary Zimbabwe-Chinese (Zim-Sino) trade relations with a view of unpacking the extent to which such have had a bearing on Zimbabwe’s national development, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Zim-Sino relations have largely been skewed in favour of China, thus necessitating labelling of such relations in everyday public discourse as Chinese resource imperialism.

Ever since Zimbabwe promulgated its land reform programme which triggered frosty relations with her erstwhile coloniser, the United Kingdom, her ally, the United States and the entire global north States, the southern African country turned to the east for friendship and diplomatic ties with such relations largely expressed in the Zim-Sino relations.

This, therefore, warrants research as relations are to all intents and purposes supposed to be a win-win scenario.

States enter into bilateral and multilateral relations to fulfil their national interest aspirations.

When that happens at the expense of its national resources, that kind of relationship should be scrutinised and revised.

It is for this reason that this article focuses on the Zim-Sino relations with regards to China’s traits of resource imperialism.

Under the spotlight is the interface of the two States in the on-going exploitation of lithium in Goromonzi.

Imperialists’ appetite for Africa’s resources have increased in the 21st century.

The world needs Africa to survive in reality because Africa is mother to all the resources that imperialists so desperately and with great envy, are eager to exploit.

The current phase of globalisation in the contemporary world is centralised on the African resources.

The world needs Africa’s cobalt and lithium to drive its globalisation phase and usher in the 5th industrial revolution.

This article is necessary in theorising lithium geopolitics, particularly regarding the internal factors shaping State lithium strategies and their implications on the national development policy.

A critical question here relates to how lithium is influencing Zimbabwe’s national development and its implications on changing the global order.

Zimbabwe, after attaining its independence in 1980 has undergone different phases of development that include the 1991-92 economic recessions which were catalysed by the International Monetary Fund Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes; the 2000 land reform programme which gave birth to the hegemonic US sanctions against key individuals who held influential leadership positions and other key State institutions; and the 2006-09 Chiadzwa diamond El Dorado, which resulted in the State loosing over US$15 billion to corrupt ministers and the First Family of that time.

Now over two and a half decades since the world entered a hyper development known as “globalisation”, Zimbabwe is in the middle of all the global hunting as it miraculously recently discovered lithium deposits.

These deposits have put Zimbabwe on the spotlight globally as it holds some of the biggest lithium deposits in the world.

The Global North, being the biggest competitors of China, desperately need this lithium.

The Zim-Sino trade relations in lithium mining, however, strengthens China over the North and the latter does not seem to be at peace with the decision of the Zimbabwean government to trade with China such a key global development resource.

In 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from the late former President Robert Mugabe, promised to turn the country’s mining sector into a US$12 billion economy by 2023.

In making sure the vision was realised, Mnangagwa funded artisanal and small-scale miners. However, these were all in gold mining.

The completion of the Arcadia lithium mining and processing plant in May 2023 is believed to be an enabler to the President’s promise of a US$12 billion mining economy as the country is now exporting processed lithium which has higher value than raw lithium.

Mining has been key to Zimbabwe’s development since the country was put under heavy sanctions, thus the manner in which the State extracts and trade mining output internationally must be scrutinised to ensure that national development is abreast with the political realities on the ground.

The world has seen three previous phases of globalisation, and the fourth phase is currently in full swing.

Zimbabwe is somehow still using 3G network, yet China is the leader in the globotics industry, it already has 5G network and developments for 6G are in place.

Yet Zimbabwe one of China’s trading and most trusted partner still lags far behind.

Inasmuch as the community of Goromonzi appreciates the project being run in their midst, it is unfortunate that the impact of the Chinese activities remain subjective and debatable as many are crying foul due to poor corporate social responsibility.

The project is one of the biggest in the world. However, the realities on the ground depict neocolonial tendencies as poor Zimbabweans are being asked to pay those responsible for recruitment so as to increase their chances of getting employed.

Upon engaging inhabitants in the community, some of them complained that they were asked to pay US$70 so that they could be employed as general hands, others, who are truck drivers, said they were asked to pay the ones responsible for recruitment US$100 to be employed.

These are not the only anomalies going on in Goromonzi, where inhabitants are dissatisfied with the company’s failure to employ youths in the community.

Children are still walking distances of up to 8km to nearest schools.

Others still have no working clinic in their community and yet near them is one of the world’s biggest lithium mines earning millions.

It is the responsibility of the Chinese companies mining in the country to change the perceptions of the majority of Zimbabweans who are currently viewing the Asian giant as one of the many imperialists who are only concerned with taking Africa’s resources with no concern for the people and the environment they are operating in.

  • Moses Nyakatangure is a final year students at Africa University in Mutare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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