Helen Lubamba, Stanbic Bank Zambia, Head of Corporate and Investment Banking

Copper-rich Zambia has a rare opportunity to harness its critical minerals resources, kick-start the national economy and drive the global just energy transition.

Zambia has an abundant endowment of mineral wealth. Our world-class Copperbelt region is rich in copper and cobalt, and we also have lithium, nickel and bauxite. Zambia is the second-largest producer of copper on the continent and the sixth largest globally. Africa produces 77% of the world’s cobalt, of which Zambia is the second-largest producer on the continent, after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Copper and cobalt are both key ingredients in the electronic mechanisation that the world is going through.

These critical minerals will drive Africa’s just energy transition. Copper has always been a resilient mineral in terms of demand, which is why copper prices have generally held up well on global commodities markets over the years. Due to the heightened focus on energy transition and the urgent shift to electric vehicles, prices have been increasing to around $10 000 per metric ton. Some market analysts estimate that it could go as high as $40 000 per metric ton in the next 4 to 5 years because of the significant global demand combined with supply-side disruptions. Zambia is well placed to take advantage of this, being a producer of copper and cobalt, which is generally seen as a byproduct of copper.

From an extractive point of view, DRC is Zambia’s primary cross-border partner. About a year and a half ago, the governments of DRC and Zambia signed an MoU to build facilities in the Copperbelt area, with a view to extending the critical minerals value chain beyond extraction and into local processing and beneficiation.

The copper strip between the two countries creates a great opportunity to build the value addition industry around that area. We may not be manufacturing electric vehicles ourselves in the immediate future, but we can certainly start building the components. Private investors, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), are now coming closer to the mineral production areas and investing in growing the value chain closer to the source. The Zambian government is incentivising value addition on the ground, so more and more of these value addition requirements are becoming conditions for allowing investment in the local mining sector.

The government has a vital role to play here. Mining needs a stable investment environment to thrive. The sector needs a stable tax regime, for example, as mining remains a long-term business.

In the past, the national economy’s heavy reliance on mining – and particularly copper mining – meant that the government tended to push its tax demands onto the mining sector in order to raise more revenue. However, there is greater optimism now that Zambia’s current government has pledged more investment in mining and is moving towards a more stable environment by revising some of the tax practices of the past.


Amid this optimism, we are also seeing more exploration going into Zambia’s western border with Angola. In terms of logistics, we see Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and even South Africa as crucial partners, even though we don’t necessarily share a common border with the latter. 

Mining and minerals are a core part of the Standard Bank Group’s heritage. In fact, the Group itself is a product of the gold mining sector, having been established in the goldfields of South Africa’s old Transvaal. So, it’s part of our origin and it continues to be a big part of our sustainability plans.

In Zambia, Standard Bank financed the brownfields of what is now known as Barrick Gold Lumwana Mine. With the drive for more demand for critical minerals, we’re now funding a lot of existing operations, with clients including the likes of First Quantum, Vedanta Resources, Mopani (recent majority acquisition by IRH), and so on. But even when we work with multinationals or through our global offices, the focus is always on activities that impact Africa.

Mining is not just about the mines and the mining activity, it’s about the communities they impact. If you visit Zambia’s ‘old’ Copperbelt today, you’ll see how the region has regressed over the last 5 years. Several auxiliary and mining related companies no longer operate there because the two biggest mines in the region have not been operating at their optimum. As a result, Zambia’s copper production levels started receding. In 2015 the DRC surpassed us by producing 1 million metric tons of copper, while we were sitting at around 800 000 metric tons. We need to get those numbers up, and that can only be done through investment. Our current government has a target of 3 million tons of production by 2031.

To reach these ambitious production targets, you need power. So there’s a huge focus on energy right now – especially renewable energy. The energy sector is very exciting. It’s bringing various stakeholders together, from government to independent power producers to regional and cross-border partners, to provide that much-needed energy that will grow our continent.

When you look at energy supporting the extractive industry, there is talk of an interconnector coming in from East Africa. East Africa has a surplus of energy, whereas southern Africa has a deficit. Once that interconnector is completed, hopefully within the next two years, we’ll have energy from East Africa supplementing our energy supplies in the south. 


But one thing we also to need be cognisant of is that as the demand for critical minerals grows, we’re going to see other suppliers stepping in. Therefore, Zambia must act NOW to take advantage of this windfall, and to get production out to generate economic and social impact for the country. As a country and bank that supports her growth, we are poised for it. We just need to make sure that we’re courageous enough to follow through on the opportunities.