Mnangagwa dangles minerals to US in sanctions fight




Joe Biden and Emmerson Mnangagwa

THE Zimbabwe government is dangling rare earth elements (REE) to the United States (US) in a desperate move to influence the lifting of sanctions, as the country’s economy goes on a tailspin, documents show.

By Tatira Zvinoira

On September 1, 2019, the government of Zimbabwe hired British consultancy firm Mercury International UK Limited, now Actum International UK Limited, to lobby the United States government to remove sanctions targeting government officials, Zanu PF members and state-owned companies.

The lobbying was to be carried out by the US-based public relations firm, Mercury Public Affairs LLC, an affiliate, whom Actum International entered an agreement with as a subcontractor.

As part of Mercury Public Affairs LLC lobbying, the public relations firm filed a document, in our possession, on Zimbabwe’s REE potential dated February 4, 2020 with the US Department of Justice.

REE are a group of 17 metals with unique properties that make them critical in the manufacturing of high technology gadgets that people use every day.

“There are 17 REE, of which 11 have been found in Zimbabwe. Recently, workers in Zimbabwe discovered vast deposits of REE in Gungwa, Mutondongwe and Nanuta in Mashonaland Central province.

When combined to form minerals, these elements are used in the creation of cell phones, missile systems, energy directed weapons, electric vehicles, computer screens, fibre optics, medical images and other essential technological devices,” reads part of the document.

“According to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe could hold the world’s second-largest deposits of such minerals, trailing only China.

“President Mnangagwa emphasised that although Zimbabwe has significant deposits of the elements and minerals, it needs the requisite technology, skills, and manpower from abroad to determine the vastness of its resources.

“While currently most of the minerals excavated from Zimbabwe leave the country unprocessed, the Zimbabwean government is attempting to increase its beneficiation capabilities to increase export value and demonstrate the country is conducive for investment.

“Thus, there are significant opportunities for the US government and US businesses to provide heavy machinery and transportation infrastructure necessary to successfully extract these minerals from the mines,” the document adds.

The defence applications of REE, therefore, are an essential part of the US military that gives them an enormous advantage over other super powers.

According to the US-based website, Geology, one of the internet’s leading websites for earth science articles, news, and geographic information, rare earth minerals are essential in America’s national defence.

The military uses include night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, GPS equipment, batteries, and other defence electronics.

The government of Zimbabwe encouraged the US to seize the opportunity since it imports 80% of its REE needs from China.

China is the world’s top producer of REE and has capacity to produce five times the combined capacity of the rest of the world, according to Mercury Public Affairs.

Therefore, the Zimbabwe government is offering REE to the United States as an opportunity for the global super power to reduce its dependency on China for the same resources and strengthen its military arsenal.

“Additionally, it (China) accounts for 95% of the world’s production of gallium, 82% of the world’s production of tungsten and 71% of the world’s production of antimony.

In June 2019, the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission signalled it would curb exports of rare earth metals during the trade war with the United States,” reads part of the document.

“The previous month, China’s rare earth exports decreased 16% from April and 18% from the year before.

Additionally, according to reports, China is actively investigating importing chromium from Zimbabwe, among other minerals.

“While the Commerce Department has recommended that the United States take immediate action to increase domestic rare earth production, currently there is only one operational rare earths facility in the United States — the Mountain Pass mine in California,” the document states.

The filing of the document comes after Mercury Public Affairs filed a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Geological Survey Department dated January 21, 2020 on REE potential in the country and its uses.

“The 17 REE are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Od), holmium (Ho) lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr) promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y),” reads the document.

The filing of these documents with the US Department of Justice is required by the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

he filings came at a time when the economy continues to bleed owing to a plethora of problems, including policy inconsistency, extended power outages and foreign currency shortages, with experts warning that the country needs urgent fresh capital to fully resuscitate.

The Zimbabwe government has always cast the blame on US targeted sanctions being the reason behind the current economic implosion.

Mercury Public Affairs is the third consultancy firm hired by the Zimbabwe government to lobby against targeted sanctions, after fellow American firms Avenue Strategies Global LLC, which was hired for US$1 080 000 and Ballard Partners for US$500 000, annually.

However, Ballard Partners, which was hired in February 2019, has since discontinued its services as of February 2021 over the non-payment of US$150 000 as of May 2021.

  • Avenue Strategies Global LLC, hired in April 2019 also terminated its consultancy and had been paid US$270 000 for services rendered. This was first published by the Zimbabwe Independent