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Into the heart of Angola

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A make-shift bridge close to Cazombo in the Moxico Province of Angola. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Into the heart of Angola

Angola is central in the race for critical minerals. In July and August this year, WhyAfrica, with the support of its main sponsor Remote Exploration Services (RES), travelled through the Moxico and Lunda Sul provinces in Angola to find out just how strategic this country has become.   

By Leon Louw   

With the Just Energy Transition underway, and the world’s superpowers scrambling to secure a steady supply of rare metals needed for the green revolution, Angola has become a key strategic focus for the USA, China, and the European Union (EU).

Both the USA and the EU are spending a lot of money in Angola to develop the necessary infrastructure which will enable them to move large amounts of, amongst others, copper, cobalt, and nickel from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the north-western parts of Zambia, through Angola to the Lobito port on the west coast.

The growing importance of Angola internationally was emphasised by President Joe Biden when he hosted President João Lourenço of Angola at the White House in late November, saying that Africa is central to America’s plans and that there is “no country in Africa more important than Angola.”

During Lourenço visit the two leaders discussed cooperation on critical issues such as trade, energy, climate, and a USD1-billion U.S.-backed infrastructure project that would aid Angola’s economy.

The Biden administration wants to resuscitate relations with Africa after President Donald Trump severed ties with a large part of the continent.  The USA lags major countries like Russia and China in competing for influence on the continent, which has become an increasingly important sphere of global competition.

Most of America’s USD1-billion will be spent on reviving the historic Benguela railway line and associated Lobito Corridor, which represents an alternative strategic outlet to export markets for Zambia and DRC and offers the shortest route linking these two countries to the sea.

In Angola, the Corridor will connect 40% of the country’s population and several large-scale investments are taking place in agriculture and retail in the provinces of Benguela, Huambo, Bie, and Moxico traversed by the Corridor.

In the DRC, the Corridor connects the mining provinces of Tanganyika, Haut-Lomami, Lualaba and Haut-Katanga. Copper concentrates are currently transported from these DRC provinces to Zambia for smelting and further export.

Into the heart of Angola (Into the heart of Angola)

As part of our 2023 Road Trip in July and August last year, WhyAfrica took a 300km drive alongside the old Benguela railway track in the Moxico Province of Angola to find out more about one of the most important infrastructure developments in the Southern Africa region, and to see the historic route with our own eyes.

Railway and port development in Angola is fundamental not only for the development of Angola’s economy but for the entire Southern Africa region. Despite all the talk about Lobito Corridor not many people have seen the railway track or travelled in the Moxico province. The reason: landmines. The Moxico Province was the last stronghold of opposition leader Jonas Savimbi during the terrifying civil war that ended in the early 2000s. As a result, the province was one of the most extensively mined areas in the world. Although most landmines have been removed, there are still isolated cases of local people being killed or maimed by landmines.

With the backing and assistance of WhyAfrica’s primary sponsor Remote Exploration Services (RES), specialists in operating in the most remote regions of Africa, we decided to drive from the Chavuma border post in Western Zambia through the Moxico Province of Angola to follow part of the historic Benguela railroad line, and to find out more about ongoing projects to upgrade and develop the Lobito Corridor.

Getting there was a great adventure, and driving alongside this famous and iconic railroad was even more exhilarating. It was clear that the railroad is already being used and there are several development projects along the way.

History of destruction (Into the heart of Angola)

During the Angolan Civil War in the late 1990’s the line was damaged beyond repair. There are still ample signs of the destruction. Rusted carriages, old locomotives, and twisted and turned steel carcasses lie scattered alongside an almost brand-new track.

The Angolan Civil War ended in 2002 and the Benguela railway was reconstructed between 2006 and 2014 by the China Railway Construction Corporation at a cost of USD1.83- billion. Trains reached Huambo again in 2011, Kuito in 2012, and Luau near the Congolese border in 2013. The rebuilt railway was formally inaugurated in February 2015.

In April 2023 the Angolan government confirmed funding to build a new 260km railway from Luena on the Benguela Railway to Saurimo, the capital of Lunda Sul province.

A hotspot for exploration (Into the heart of Angola)

Angola has not only become strategic because of the Lobito Corridor though. The country is extremely rich in natural resources and hosts spectacular mineral deposits of all shapes and sizes, especially in the underexplored regions of the Moxico, Lunda Sul, Cuando Cubango, Cunene and Huambo provinces.

The presence of large mining companies like Anglo AmericanDe Beers, Ivanhoe, Rio Tinto and Kumba Iron Ore illustrate the fact that Angola could be one of the top mining spots in Africa within the next few years.

Rio Tinto is prospecting for copper in the Moxico Province and has entered a joint venture with Angolan state-owned diamond company Endiama to explore the Chiri kimberlite for diamonds in the Lunda Sul Province.

Anglo American signed five mining investment contracts with the Angolan Ministry of Mineral Resources and Petroleum in November 2019. Three of these projects are for copper, cobalt, and nickel in the Cunene Province, while the other two license areas are in the Moxico Province where large deposits of copper, cobalt and silver have also been identified.

Anglo has also been looking at a Rare Earth Elements (REE) deposit in the Cunene province, while De Beers is focussing on diamond projects in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul and Kumba is interested in iron ore deposits of which the exact location is unknown.

It is not only the majors that are venturing into Angola though. Several junior mining companies have been awarded exploration licenses for lesser-known minerals. The renewable energy boom and new technology have increased demand for battery metals and other minerals used in high-tech innovations.

UK based Pensana is one of the first movers to develop a mining project from scratch in the country regarded by many pundits as the new mining hotspot in Africa.

Pensana is forging ahead with the development of its Longonjo neodymium-praseodymium oxide (NdPr) project close to the city of Huambo in central Angola.

“Angola and Zambia are critical to Anglo American’s copper/cobalt exploration strategy in Africa and abroad,” James Wyatt-Tilby, Group Head of Corporate Affairs at Anglo American told WhyAfrica at the annual Anglo American media event in Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa towards the end of last year.

Wyatt-Tilby said that the improved business environment in Angola has enabled Anglo American to increase its exploration activities within the country. “In the past, the risks were just too high,” he said.

Duncan Wanblad, CEO of Anglo American, said in his opening remarks that the world will need almost 60 new copper mines in the future to keep up with increasing demand for copper because of the energy transition and climate change measures. “Even if that number is only half at 30 mines, it is a mountain to climb, and I don’t know if the world is ready for it yet,” Wanblad said.

Ivanhoe to commence exploration in Moxico (Into the heart of Angola)

Meanwhile Ivanhoe Mines announced late in November last year that the company has been granted 22,195km2 of greenfield prospecting rights for exploration in the Moxico and Cuando Cubango provinces of Angola.   

A mining investment contract (MIC), officially granting the prospecting rights, was signed with the Angolan National Agency for Mineral Resources during the 2023 Angolan Mining Conference held in Luanda in November 2023.

The extensive package of prospecting rights covers highly prospective, greenfield copper exploration ground. Ivanhoe’s exploration activities are expected to commence following team mobilisation in this year

Also at the Angolan Mining Conference, the Angolan Secretary of State for Mineral Resources, Jânio Victor, on behalf of the Instituto Geologico de Angola (Geological Institute of Angola) and the United States Ambassador for Angola, Tulinabo Salama Mushingi, on behalf of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), signed a memorandum of understanding to work together mapping the country’s critical minerals, such as copper, lithium, cobalt, and manganese.

Extension of Central African Copperbelt (Into the heart of Angola)

According to Robert Friedland, Ivanhoe Founder and Executive Co-Chairman, Ivanhoe Mines has an exceptional track record of discovering tier-one deposits in new frontiers. “We are now commencing exploration activities in the underexplored regions of Angola that we believe could host an extension of the Central African Copperbelt. We are incredibly privileged to own 100% of a massive exploration land package with outstanding geological potential. We will be deploying our in-depth, proprietary geological insights gained from Ivanhoe’s exploration team in the Western Foreland and at Kamoa-Kakula,” says Friedland.

Ivanhoe joins other majors in Angola (Into the heart of Angola)

The greenfield area is covered by Kalahari sand and Karoo volcanics across much of the permitted area, similar to the Kamoa-Kakula licenses in the DRC, making conventional exploration techniques less effective.

Ivanhoe’s exploration team will be deploying their exploration experience and expertise developed from its discoveries of Kamoa-Kakula and the Western Foreland in the DRC.

Ivanhoe’s exploration team will conduct a reconnaissance visit in the first quarter of 2024 (Q1) across the licences to scout out access, logistics and potential locations for a central camp.

In Q2 of 2024, as the rainy season ends, the team will commence airborne magnetics, gravity, and electro-magnetic geophysical surveys, as well as undertake a baseline soil geochemistry survey.

The geochemistry survey will be conducted over a specific area, testing soil geochemistry responses through the cover sequences.

Later in the year, aircore and stratigraphic diamond drilling will be conducted to verify preliminary geological interpretations. Ivanhoe has committed to an initial exploration budget for the region of USD10-million.

The prospecting rights are granted for an initial period of five years and may be extended for a maximum of seven years. At the end of the initial period of five years, 50% of the prospecting rights are required to be relinquished.

If there is one African country to keep a close eye on, it is Angola. There are challenges for sure, but the country’s mining potential is massive, especially in Moxico, Huambo and Lunda Sul.

The Anolan government has done decent geophysical surveys up to now, although there are still many unknowns. Licenses are still on offer, and first movers will be well rewarded.

WhyAfrica’s annual African Road Trip takes place in July and August. We normally visit more than 30 project sites in five or six African countries. Sponsoring the Road Trip, or to be a WhyAfrica member, gives you unparalleled insight into the business environment of the countries that we travel to and the project sites that we visit. It is also a once in a lifetime branding and marketing opportunity. The main aim of our Road Trips is to promote Africa as an investment destination and to showcase Africa’s greatest companies and projects to our large global audience, which includes potential investors, venture capitalists and serial entrepreneurs. WhyAfrica members can now follow our Road Trips in real time with daily updates, video clips, photographs and interviews broadcast live on our in our WhyAfrica Chatroom.

Into the heart of Angola

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Into the heart of Angola

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