Lukashenko joins Zimbabwe lithium rush

Aleksandr Lukashenko and Emmerson Mnangagwa
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BELARUSIAN President Alexander Lukashenko this week travelled 7 982 kilometres, the distance by air from his capital Minsk to Harare, in his first sub-Saharan visit to meet President Emmerson Mnangagwa for critical talks on bilateral issues and contracts involving his cronies, but the big deal was the country’s natural resources particularly “white gold” – lithium.

Diplomatic sources who closely followed the visit of a ruler dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” told The NewsHawks that while a lot of issues were discussed during Lukashenko’s visit, the lithium rush was the pull factor for a leader who had no strong ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa until now.

Before opening the new Zimbabwean frontier, Belarus’ sphere of influence was in the Nubian region covering Egypt and Sudan.

“Lukashenko was in Zimbabwe for the first time – and indeed it was his first visit in sub-Saharan Africa – for bilateral relations, business deals and geopolitical reasons. The two countries signed eight agreements in various sectors, bringing them to 20, but the real deal was lithium. It was agreed between Mnangagwa and Lukashenko in private talks,” a source said.

“Besides bilateral relations and business deals, the two leaders also discussed geopolitics, including the Russia-Ukraine war.”

Speaking like the late former president Robert Mugabe and calling his Western critics “vagabonds” and “frauds”, Lukashenko struck a chord of newfound friendship with Mnangagwa, a Mugabe protégé.

This enabled him to quickly have a foothold on Zimbabwe to access its resources.

Once Zimbabwe emerged as the country with the largest lithium deposits in Africa beyond the El Dorado story, it started attracting a rush for the “white gold” from around the world, including China, the largest importer of lithium.

China has been the single largest consumer of lithium-ion batteries in recent years. It is also the world’s undisputed king of battery production, with China’s largest battery manufacturer, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co.

Lukashenko is the first foreign leader to come to Zimbabwe to cut deals on lithium beyond the El Dorado legend.

The legend of El Dorado tells the story of a place that reportedly harboured vast gold deposits somewhere in South America.

For almost two centuries, expeditions were launched to find the mythical kingdom where anointed princesses were covered in gold powder and boats filled with gold pieces and emeralds were sunk as an offering to the gods.

As the Werner Herzog movie brilliantly portrays, expeditions ended in tragic, expensive failures. In the 18th century, cartographic studies reduced the myth to a much less profitable and fantastic reality, an area 70 kilometres away from Bogotá, where, indeed, some gold was found, but nothing close to what the legend suggested.

Lithium, a soft and silvery mineral, is at the centre of the energy transition. As countries around the world make efforts to shift towards greener economies, they need rechargeable batteries. These are used to power electrical vehicles and to store energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. Lithium, an essential component of these batteries as well as those in mobile portable devices, acts as a medium for energy storage.

According to the most recent data, Latin America holds 60% of all identified lithium resources around the world.

These are located mainly in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, sometimes referred to as the “lithium triangle”.

Lukashenko arrived in Zimbabwe on a threeday state visit on 30 January. The Belarusian leader was received by Mnangagwa at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

The two left the airport in the same car and continued engagement at an informal dinner that evening.

At the end of visit, which included a trip to Zimbabwe’s tourism mecca, Victoria Falls, Mnangagwa saw off Lukashenko at the airport – further demonstrating their special relationship. Mnangagwa gifted Lukashenko an album of photographs taken in Victoria Falls.

The official part of the talks between Mnangagwa and Lukashenko took place on 31 January. The two met one-on-one and later were joined by senior members of their delegations later.

After that, they signed a number of bilateral agreements and agreed to implement investment projects in various fields, which will become the basis for the further cooperation.

Zimbabwe and Belarus now have 20 agreements between them. Mnangagwa played a key role in cultivating the relations since his first visit to Belarus in 2015 when he was deputy to Mugabe. He also visited Minsk as president in January 2019. That was when Lukashenko’s trip to Harare was first mooted.

Mnangagwa and Lukashenko’s crony Alexander Zingman – who has played a big role in cementing their relationship – emerged the big individual winner in the deals signed in Harare. Mnangagwa’s son, Emmerson Jr, who is connected to Zingman, was involved in the activities.

“(We have signed deals) in manufacturing, trade, agriculture, energy, transport and mining. We have also agreed that these contracts and the arrangements that we have reached today will become the basis for continuing our cooperation,” Lukashenko said.

Following the talks with Mnangagwa, Lukashenko tackled geopolitical issues, highlighting the special place and role of Africa in the modern world.

“Africa woke up a long time ago. The world has no future without Africa. It has the resources, increasing competencies, and the latest technologies. The world cannot move forward without Africa,” Lukashenko said.

“Without Africa, there can be no development. Therefore, all the powers-that-be are here: the United States, China, Russia, the UK, the entire European Union and so on. The future belongs to Africa.

“This is why we are here. You are our friends. We sign agreements for the sake of our peoples.

We are a peaceful nation. We are not coming here the way the colonialists once did. We are bringing technology and we are training specialists.”

While we heard a lot about what Belarus was going to supply – tractors, buses, timber machines and modernised grain storage complexes – there was between little and nothing said about what the eastern European nation was going to get from Zimbabwe.

Lukashenko promised to build lithium processing plants if granted lithium concessions.

Zimbabwe banned the export of raw lithium last year to curb foreign companies and smugglers from looting.

The ban was later combined with a blanket prohibition of exports of base metals under Statutory Instrument 213 of 2022 (Referend to as Base Minerals Export Control for unbeneficiated Lithium Bearing Ores).

“No lithium-bearing ores, or unbeneficiated lithium whatsoever, shall be exported from Zimbabwe to another country,” read the regulation published in a government notice issued by Mines minister Winston Chitando.

Belarus has joined the new scramble of Africa, alongside big global powers, with its own forum for engagement. Zimbabwe has now become its landing pad in southern Africa, especially after the two countries signed a joint permanent commission this week.

There is a new scramble for Africa, demonstrated by arrangements like the United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit, China-Africa Summit, Japan-Africa Summit, European Union-Africa Summit, Russian-Africa Summit, and France-Africa Summit, among others.

Britain, Germany and Belarus have their own fora and separate arrangements.

Amid stinging rhetoric against his rivals to legitimise himself, Lukashenko said Zimbabwe must not allow “vagabonds and frauds use your mineral resources”.

As part of his new push to isolate big powers from Zimbabwe to corner its resources for Belarus and his cronies, Lukashenko signed eight agreements of cooperation and promised more support to Mnangagwa.

Zingman, Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus, struck money-spinning deals through his company, Aftrade DMCC.

In the first contract signed by Zimbabwe’s Lands and Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka and Aftrade DMCC director Olga Shevko, Zingman will supply tractors and grain harvesting equipment from Belarus.

The second deal for Zingman is a contract between Zimbabwe and Aftrade DMCC on cooperation in the supply of equipment manufactured in Belarus for the construction and modernisation of grain storage complexes.

In the third deal, there was a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between executive director of Allied Timbers, Remigio Nenzou, and Aftrade DMCC for Zingman to supply Belarusian machines and equipment for Zimbabwe’s timber industry.

The other five agreements between the two countries included one by Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Frederick Shava and his counterpart Sergei Aleinik on the establishment of a joint permanent commission and another on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments.

There was also an MoU between Shava and Belarusian Education minister Andrei Ivanets on mutual recognition of educational qualifications between Zimbabwe and Belarus.

Shava and Belarusian taxation minister Sergei Nalivaiko also signed another deal for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on incomes and on property.

Harare mayor Jacob Mafume signed a twinning agreement with head of the Minsk city executive committee Vladimir Kukharev.

Lukashenko said because of its vast mineral resources, global powers will never allow Zimbabwe to be peaceful. His Mugabeist remarks, which included scorching rhetoric on sanctions, fitted the Zimbabwean narrative and legitimised him as an authentic friend to Zanu PF.

“Americans introduced sanctions against you not because you are not democratic. But because you’ve decided to take your country and mineral resources under control. You do not let various vagabonds and frauds use your mineral resources. It is the reason behind the sanctions. Like in the past centuries they are once again trying to bring you to your knees. But the President and the government of Zimbabwe do not want that, hence the sanctions,” he said.

“You will be subjected to stronger efforts to sow discord in your society, to bring you to your knees. But you have to endure. And you will endure if you are united, if you do not allow clashes between your own people inside the country due to some geopolitical ambitions or illusory promises of the West and America.

“We have to get past this complicated period in the life of our planet no matter what. Preserve peace! If you cannot do it, you will be subjected to colonial oppression once again.

“Be vigilant and careful. Don’t trust those who shout and those who jump. You can secure your prosperity only through your labour. Africa woke up a long time ago. The world has no future without Africa. Without Africa, the world cannot develop. The future belongs to Africa.”

Source – thenewshawks