The Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy – Chris Uwaje

The Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy  – Chris Uwaje



Once again as we go through the evolutionary cycle of human development, Africa is in the eye of a global storm, personified by the cobalt war, to power the future! More than ever before, the war to power the future resides in rare metals and mineral!

Electric Cars: here we come.

Welcome to the new dawn of digital commerce of e-mobility. Meanwhile, as the pendulum and gravity of future digital economy continue to magically transform; there is one central characteristic that replicates a common denominator to previous economic developments in human history. That is, the role and supply chains of metals and mineral commodities as driving force for innovation and commerce.

Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy currently constitute major aspects of the moving parts of digital transformation. To overcome our digital deficiencies, we must build specialised capacities to avoid the dangers of digital domination by outsiders! With the emerging multi-layered Cobalt war fuelled by the dreams and gains of digital adventure, climate change, 5G-enabled eCommerce, IoT, Smart Regions/Cities; AI and the digital economy, Africa may find herself in a devastating economic disruption valley.

Therefore, we need to interrogate how the impact of the emerging digital-economy-enabled Cobalt war will produce adverse effects on the corporate mission of Africa’s e-Commerce giants such as Konga. To prevail over the inevitable development storm, Africa must set new economic agenda. It must act decisively to protect her digital entrepreneurship ecosystems and critical platforms to avert the unforeseen digital trauma awaiting to visit her people commerce and environment.





The Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy - Chris Uwaje



For a long time, civilisation has strongly relied on the discovery of metals and arrogance of greed to develop. And over-time, that dependency and addiction have led to many bloody wars. Humans in prehistoric civilization applied metals to develop tools and weapons. That process accelerated global knowledge of metallurgy development. Hence, metals played crucial role in the evolution of agriculture, transport, arts and craft and many microscopic aspects of engineering-of-things.



Between 400,000 BC and the tail-end of the 20th Century; the discovery of metals ranging from Silver, Gold, Iron, Copper, Lead, Bronze, Tin, Mercury, Nikel, Uranium, Titanium, Chromium, Silicon, Aluminium, Polonium; to Radium, became the pre-occupation of man. Today, the world has trapped her future into the discovery, possession, application, ownership and use of metals for economic development and survivability.




But the effect is at a great cost to the future of our collective humanity.


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From time immemorial, great emperies known today as Superpowers have fought (and are still fighting) over the possession, control and ownership of rare metals and minerals as a critical commodity for development and survivability. Indeed, many nations have fought, died, perished and/or survived because of values attached to metals and minerals of the Earth! Lest we forget, the wars on Crude Oil and Gas to power global IR 2.0 and 3.0 and delivered IR 4.0 to kickstart and accelerate the digital revolution – should remind us of the challenges ahead. To attain the dreams of clean energy and green economy, deploying new metal and mineral resources are crucial.



Available records show that Semiconductors are the fourth most traded products in the world – after crude oil, motor vehicle parts and refined oil. And as we dive deeper into the digital commerce world, without those highly specialized devices (Integrated Chips); it will be almost impossible for any electronic product to operate and function appropriately!



Meanwhile, the global quest to fast-track the push against climate change has been caught in an international opportunistic cycle of exploitation, greed and capitalist intrigues. The world has once more become addicted to possession of rare metals and minerals. Fast forward, the bottom-line suggests that wars for Moon Rocks and unknown precious minerals in space awaits future generations!



Cobalt is at the centre of the global war to power electric cars, computers, smart phones, IoT devices and many more. The Cobalt war is real. And will consequently affect almost works of lives as was previously experienced by the Crude Oil and Gas economy. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed to produce electric car batteries. Also, it is critical to retiring the combustion engine and weaning the world off climate-changing fossil fuels.



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Therefore, will there be a global Cobalt war?




The Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy - Chris Uwaje





 Search no further – It is already happening in full speed. Already, tensions over minerals and metals are rattling the electric vehicle marketRecently, the deadly rioting near a port in South Africa, where much of Congo’s cobalt is exported to China and elsewhere, caused a global jump in the metal’s prices, a surge that only worsened through the rest of the year.



According to a recent New York Times investigation; which used formerly classified diplomatic cables and interviews with more than 100 people spread across three continents to paint a picture of the fight for cobalt; the investigation was specifically focused on the southwest region of the Democratic Republic of Congo called Kisanfu; home to one of the world’s largest cobalt reserves.



Congo as a whole is responsible for producing over 70% of the world’s cobalt supply, according to Reuters. Describing the state of a Cobalt mine in the Walikale region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Axel Mutia Mburano in his assessment submits that in a central African country gripped by the conflicts; more that 5.4 million people were killed since 1998. To put the complex nature of the importance of Cobalt in perspective, for example; a Tesla longer-range vehicle requires about 10 pounds of Cobalt, more than 400 times the amount in a mobile phone.




It would be recalled that US Presidents starting with D. Eisenhower sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid; including transport planes and other military equipment to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. But Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own money— before it sold the mine to a Chinese company.



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Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration; but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive Cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company –  China Molybdenum.



The record further revealed that, ‘in the month of June, just six months after the sale, the Biden administration warned that China might use its growing dominance of cobalt to disrupt the American push toward electric vehicles by squeezing out U.S. manufacturers. In response, the United States is pressing for access to cobalt supplies from allies, including Australia and Canada, according to a national security official with knowledge of the matter. American automakers like Ford, General Motors and Tesla buy Cobalt battery components from suppliers that depend in part on Chinese-owned mines in Congo’.



Recently, a mining industry’s leading forecaster warned that the rising cost of raw materials was likely to drive up battery costs for the first time in years; threatening to disrupt automakers’ plans to attract customers with competitively priced electric cars. Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive, said the mineral supply crunch needed to be confronted. As the Cobalt war of digital economy intensifies, competitors are developing lithium iron phosphate substitutes or turning to recycling. Nevertheless, the increased mining and refining of Cobalt by Chinese companies has helped meet the growing demand and advanced the fight against climate change.



The Cobalt War, e-Commerce and Digital Economy - Chris Uwaje



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It would also be recalled that the US President Biden pledged to decarbonize the grid by 2035; and targets to making 50% of all new U.S. car sales electric by 2030. However, as more electric vehicles are produced by more automakers worldwide; the International Energy Agency expects a Cobalt shortage by 2030, based on an analysis of existing mines and those under construction. Other forecasters predict that the shortage could hit the global economy as early as 2025. This will have great consequence for global commerce and digital economy.



Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, renowned analysts and experts are already warning of an unforeseen shortage of the billions of the battery required by Electric Vehicle. This may dramatically increase their Cobalt and Lithium demand in coming years; lead to scarcity and trigger a similar challenge now being experienced in the supply chain disruption of global semiconductor market.



The most worrisome aspect of this narrative is the unpredictable consequence on Africa’s economy; and the human toll that may follow in the bloody stampede in control of the global Cobalt market!  



Africa, beware of the day of the Jackal!



 The digital economy will not only take hostages but somersault the opportunities; and fundamental promise of digital transformation. Apart from defining new and proactive strategies to engage the emerging Cobalt economy conflicts; Africa must urgently build digital mega skill capacities at all levels; to wither the digital transformation storm and earn intrinsic values form foreseeable opportunities.



The Cobalt war is real and haunts our collective future.


About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

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