Energy & Mining

Top 4: Untapped Mining Potential in Africa

From the Horn of Africa to Madagascar, political instability has left enormous mining potential untapped.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Matej Hudovernik

Africa is home to the largest reserves of known mineral resources, hosting considerable proven reserves of gold and other precious metals, rare earth elements, and phosphate, among much else.

The continent is a leading provider of all things earthbound from shiny diamonds which excite the auction houses to the uranium that powers the nuclear reactors across the world.

Although certain African mineral resources have been exported for ages, such as gold from South Africa, phosphates from Morocco, and cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are still large resources which remain untapped.

This, on the whole, may not have been a complete loss given the exploitative nature of mining practices in the bygone decades.

With the gradual rise of responsible and sustainable mining, however, Africa’s wealth of minerals may now be extracted in a way that benefits both the local population and the various supply chains which depend on such minerals.


Home to potentially large reserves of gold, copper, and zinc, Eritrea has an underdeveloped mining sector. Political instability and absence of mining infrastructure have stalled the development of Eritrea’s mining industry despite its significant potential.

Foreign investment and technology transfer are essential to kickstart the sector. In 2019, a Chinese mining giant, Zijin Mining Group, acquired a 55% interest in the Bisha mine near Asmara, Eritrea, which is believed to hold large pockets of base and precious metals.

The Chinese investor is currently building the required infrastructure. However, given the environmental hazards associated with the open-pit mining of zinc, environmental safeguards are necessary to secure in order to avoid ecological consequences.


Just south of Eritrea, Ethiopia also posesses notable reserves of gold, as well as the much-sought-after elements tantalum and potassium (in the form of potash). The latter two have wide applications in electronics and agriculture, respectively, and there is a ready-made international market for both.

Nevertheless, much like in the neighboring Eritrea, an absence of infrastructure, logistics, and investment has slowed down the mining sector in Ethiopia. The sector currently makes up less than 1% of the GDP.

On the plus side, the process of licensing for foreign mining companies is relatively streamlined thanks to the country’s revised mining code. Some 250 licenses for exploration and extraction have been issued so far, but the holders are largely small and medium-sized international mining companies exclusively interested in gold.

With adequate investment, tantalum, phosphorus, and potash mining are also economically viable, though potash mining can be particularly messy, causing salinization of land and water. Given the environmental hazards Ethiopia has already suffered from irresponsible gold mining, according to Human Rights Watch, the country’s regulatory system for the sector must keep an eye on risky practices.


Sudan is also said to have sizable gold reserves. Although the history of gold mining in Sudan dates back to the ancient kingdoms of Nubia and Meroë, war and political turmoil have prevented the sector’s modernization in more recent times.

With the 2023 Sudan conflict still raging, hopes are not high for the arrival of international investors anytime soon. Even the local company, Ariab Mining, that currently operates the Hassai open-pit gold mine near the Red Sea Hills has frequently faced disruptions in its operations due to unrest and tribal tension.

All that said, the production of Sudanese gold reached the all-time high figure of 50,000 metric tons in December, 2022, before the ongoing civil war broke out. Although there are no clear prospects for the end of hostilities, the sector can quickly attract investors after the return of peace and stability, as Sudan has the potential to become the third largest producer of gold in the continent after South Africa and Ghana—a distinction that Sudan actually held not long ago.


The island of Madagascar has large reserves of graphite as well as nickel and ilmenite—an ore which includes mixed iron and titanium.

Despite the country’s shortages in terms of industrial infrastructure and absence of large mining enterprises, the demand for graphite and nickel has been on the rise due to their applications in sustainable energy systems, which will incentivize international mining giants to come to Madagascar.

The arrival of such companies could transform the sector, which is currently mostly comprised of small and spread out mining projects without much synergy in the sector.

The Australian mining corporation, Evion Group NL, has recently started graphite mining operations in Ambohitsy Haut, southern Madagascar, as the high quality of Malagasy graphite has come to light. The Australian company is in talks with the regional authorities to determine the scale of the operations, as well as the ecological considerations.

This is not surprising as graphite mining is a hazardous activity from an environmental point of view. Graphite mining leaves behind acidic rock waste, which necessitates thorough precautionary measures.