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By: Ana Vlasie

Editor: Anon

SP_Feb3: News

February 2024

In the 21st century, securing the supplies of raw materials has become of utmost importance for nations all around the globe. This is because such resources are vital in the progress of areas like technology or energy. In this context, the African market is an especially alluring provider of critical resources for players such as China, India, the United States, and the European Union (EU) (Awuah, 2019). 

The EU is heavily dependent on African resources (71% of its platinum needs come from South Africa alone) (Eguegu, 2022), and its efforts are driven by gaining an industrial edge and staying globally competitive (Awuah, 2019). Because of this reliance, the EU has undertaken such initiatives as the Raw Materials Initiative (RMI) to secure its supply of African raw materials by taking a liberal market-based approach. Nonetheless, some academics have criticised this strategy to different extents (Küblböck, 2013; Money et al., 2020; Tröster et al., 2017). Thus, the article aims to critically assess the current EU strategy in the context of the African Agency and discuss the need for a new approach. The paper will outline the EU approach to securing raw materials from the continent. Thereafter, it will highlight the blocs’s raw material diplomacy’s shortcomings from the African agency perspective.

The European Union, through its free market approach, has been actively pursuing various measures to ensure raw material accessibility, such as the Raw Materials Initiative (Awuah, 2019). The RMI seeks to enhance EU resource efficiency while maximising external access to raw resources by carrying out a "win-win situation" (Küblböck, 2013). For example, the Global Gateway Africa-Europe Investment Package supports the development of transport corridors and territories (Awuah, 2019). Thus, the EU policy projects are trying to position the bloc as Africa’s development collaborator rather than only as an importer of African raw materials.

 Numerous minerals and raw materials suppliers consider the EU single market attractive due to its strategic opening to a large consumer base and strong purchasing power. Yet, there are explicit requirements to follow the game's rules to gain entry, such as export-tax restrictions. Consequently, the EU's strategy has faced criticism for potentially limiting the political options available to resource-rich African nations (Küblböck, 2013). For example, the EU Raw Material Initiatives aim to ensure "undistorted" access to raw materials through trade and investment policies (Küblböck, 2013). However, this objective clashes with the need for greater policy flexibility to achieve structural transformation and more comprehensive development outcomes. An illustration is the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and African partner states, which may create an asymmetrical bilateral partnership and impose inflexible export-tax clauses (Tröster et al., 2017). These clauses can substantially restrict the policy leeway available, for instance, for industrial growth, as export tariffs are a helpful tool for encouraging local suppliers to transition to processing and functional upgrades. Because of the EU's rigid approach to the guidelines within its EPAs, at the end of 2017, only two such agreements have been finalised (Tröster et al., 2017).  

Therefore, securing critical materials from Africa poses challenges for the EU, which hinders the success of agreements. This is further exemplified by the rising influence of new players like China in the continent which may be perceived as a potential threat to the EU (Tröster et al., 2017). Nonetheless, one may question whether the EU's failures to secure these bilateral and regional agreements are increased due to proximate factors to their relationship such as intricate power imbalances between the two partners.

Resource exploitation in Africa has been marked by labyrinthine dynamics and numerous challenges (Money et al., 2020). Though African nations host 30% of the world’s raw material reserves, they frequently encounter difficulties establishing authority and optimising the advantages derived from this industry; this is referred to as the problem of African agency (Awuah, 2019). Attempts to strengthen said agency internationally are reflected in the creation of regional blocs and organisations like the African Union (AU) (Money et al., 2020). However, the capacity of African nations to establish agendas and negotiate advantageous terms in resource extraction treaties is limited by the persistence of power inequalities on the global stage. 

The impossibility of direct engagement has pushed AU and its member states to employ weaker forms of agency, such as the 'agency slack' technique. This tactic consists of two fundamental approaches: shirking (in which one party tries to postpone action) and slippage ("wherein the vulnerable party shifts policy away from an outcome preferred by the other"; Money et al., 2020, p. 589). The phenomenon can be seen in the interaction with the EU when it comes to securing raw materials through bilateral and territorial agreements.  

 Nonetheless, it is vital to note that, in the post-colonial era, African governments have not exhaustively addressed the power inequalities that have kept them at a permanent disadvantage in the global economy, and the employed forms of African action have varied widely (Money et al., 2020). Because of this, the collaboration between the EU and African countries regarding raw materials can be characterised as a zero-sum game. Through initiatives like the RMI, European countries ensure their access to critical raw materials. Nonetheless, their African counterparts often gain little due to their limited bargaining power, leaving them at a disadvantage.

In summary, the EU's strategy has to be reassessed in light of the changing terrain of African raw materials diplomacy. African agency stresses the importance of inclusive and sustainable resource governance due to its historical legacies and current power dynamics. The EU must extend its development strategies beyond administrative capability and governance, coordinate external norms and standards with national settings, and ensure meaningful inclusion of local populations in decision-making processes. Furthermore, the collaboration between the EU and Africa should account for China's growing influence and the shifting dynamics of the global resource struggle. A new EU strategy should prioritise mutual benefit, respect African sovereignty, and encourage inclusive growth to ensure a sustainable future for both regions.


Awuah, M. A. (2019). Raw materials diplomacy and extractives governance: The influence of the EU on the African extractive industry space. South African Journal of International Affairs, 26(2), 251-275. 

Baranzelli, C., Blengini, G. A., Josa, S. O., & Lavalle, C. (2022, September 22). EU–Africa Strategic Corridors and critical raw materials: two-way approach to regional development and security of supply. International Journal of Mining, 9(36), 607-623. 

Eguegu, O. (2022, July 29). Why the G20 needs African Union as a member. The Africa 

Küblböck, K. (2013). The EU Raw Materials Initiative and effects upon resource-based development: Lessons from Africa. Austrian Foundation for Development Research. 

Money, D., Frøland, H. O., & Gwatiwa, T. (2020). Africa–EU relations and natural resource governance: understanding African agency in historical and contemporary perspective. Review of African Political Economy, 47(166), 585-603. 

Tröster, B., Küblböck, K., & Grumiller, J. (2017). EU’s and Chinese raw materials policies in Africa: converging trends? Kurswechsel, (3), 69-78. 

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