In what many regard as a large milestone for southern Africa, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore synergies related to the manufacture of electric vehicles and batteries.
It is hoped that this will bring economic and employment opportunities for both countries. Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema reportedly said such cooperation agreements were key to poverty alleviation and would “remove the stigma” of Africa not benefiting from material and being viewed merely as a source of raw materials. The DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi said the agreement would create a value chain for the production of batteries for electric cars and that Africa’s economic power would be advanced though such initiatives, which would create jobs for many young people.
Both countries are diversifying from producing copper and cobalt, respectively, into motor vehicle batteries and are hoping to capitalise on growing international demand for the products. For this to happen, the countries must collaborate closely and share emerging research about market trends and electric vehicle technologies. This knowledge can be harnessed to open up job and training opportunities. Ultimately, Zambia and the DRC aspire to become hubs of electric vehicle battery manufacturing – both for the continent and the world. They could also become central to developing alternative energy solutions as climate change and environmental degradation continue to batter the region.
The global production of electric vehicles rose by 43% in 2020 to 10 million amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated that by 2025, electric vehicles will comprise 16% of all new passenger vehicle sales and that 54 million electric cars will be moving on the world's roads. These predictions bode well for Zambia and the DRC’s economies as they diversify.
Robert Sichinga, an international trade expert based in Zambia, is confident that, given the country already produces good grades of copper and cobalt, it is well-placed to produce electric vehicle batteries. But, he warns, both it and the DRC must “do their homework properly so that they have quality machinery that is able produce quality products”.
The electric car and battery revolution is not without its issues. It’s been claimed that making batteries could emit 74% more carbon dioxide. Zambia and the DRC must ensure that any work in this area is done in an environmentally sustainable matter.
Green Blue Foundation Africa’s Zambia Chief Executive Officer, Dr Richard Kakuwa, also believes that while electric cars reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the environment, any local projects, once operational, should be considerate of the global environmental impacts that may come as a result of the manufacturing of electric car batteries in the region.
Dr Kakuwa, an environmental and conservation advocate, warns that the DRC and Zambia’s efforts to cash in on the electric vehicle market may compromise regional efforts to manage the environment sustainably – and anything that adversely affects southern Africa will negatively affect other parts of the world, too.
But mining expert Edward Simukonda says Zambia has produced batteries before and is confident that the country, in collaboration with the DRC, will manage the environmental aspect of electric car battery manufacturing. “So whatever emissions will be produced will be managed and I don’t see any disadvantages in any way. No matter how the undertaking, it is an advantage for the DRC and Zambia as everyone will be demanding for those batteries, leading to an enhanced economy,” he said, adding, “This is changing the world and Zambia and the DRC will be contributing to the economic fortunes of the region as they will be raking in serious income.”
And Professor Blessing Chitsenga, Group Chief Executive Officer of 12K Energy, a renewable energy company, believes that with countries such as South Africa already assembling vehicles in the region, the manufacturing of batteries will assist in sourcing of complete components from the region without resorting to any imports.
About the author
Juliet Makwama is a research fellow at Afrasid. She is a trained journalist with experience in print and electronic journalism. She writes and reports on the convergence of electrification, transportation and e-mobility.