By Dr Nicolaas C Steenkamp

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not only increased investment in their own mining sector, but has expanded internationally, with more project involvement in Africa.

Image Credit: Unsplash | Precond

In recent years the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has shifted their focus away from a dependency on oil towards development of hard rock mineral mining and attracting foreign investments. The Kingdom has also opened the country to external companies to undertake mineral prospecting and apply for mining rights. However, Ma’aden still remains the biggest mining company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, controlling the largest and richest domestic deposits.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also looked internationally to secure mineral resources and has increased its involvement and invested in a number of mining projects in Africa.

In Guinea, the KSA has shown interest in the Simandou bauxite mine. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is currently in talks with Aluminum of Dubai (Dubal) to acquire a stake in the giant Simandou bauxite mine in the country. The mine is estimated to hold over 7 billion tonnes of bauxite, making it one of the largest deposits in the world.

In terms of other fossil fuel energy security, the KSA has turned to South Africa. The Mmamabula Energy coal mine and Saudi Arabia’s mining giant Ma’aden signed a joint venture agreement with South Africa’s Optimum Coal Mine to develop the Mmamabula Energy coal mine. The mine is expected to produce 18 million tonnes of coal per year once operational.

In order to secure supply of critical minerals, Zambia’s Kalumbila copper mine was identified to be of interest, where Saudi Arabia’s PIF is considering investing in the Kalumbila copper mine, which is owned by Barrick Gold. The mine is one of the largest copper mines in Africa and is expected to produce 400 000 tonnes of copper per year.

Tanzania was also visited where nickel projects by Ma’aden is now exploring for nickel – seen as a key metal for the electric vehicle industry. The Kingdom is aiming to become a processing hub for battery minerals.

Saudi Arabia has also pledged to invest USD10-billion in African mining projects over the next five years. This investment is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan. These are just a few examples of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in African mining.

The Kingdom is increasingly looking to Africa as a source of critical minerals and metals, and its investments are likely to grow in the coming years.

It is important to note that some of these projects are still in the early stages of development, and it is not certain whether they will all go ahead. However, Saudi Arabia’s growing interest in African mining is a sign of the continent’s increasing importance as a source of mineral resources.

Apart from mining, the KSA has also starting investing and getting in volved in African infrastructure and energy projects. Investing in renewable energy projects is one of the major areas, where Saudi Arabia is supporting solar, wind and geothermal projects across Africa, contributing to clean energy development and diversifying the continent’s energy mix.

Further, Saudi Arabia is involved in building critical infrastructure like roads, ports and railways, facilitating trade and economic growth across Africa. This is evident in projects like the Lamu Port in Kenya and the Mombasa-Nairobi Expressway. Saudi Arabia is also collaborating with the African Development Bank to improve electricity access in Africa through regional power grid interconnection projects.

Due to the near full current dependency of KSA of food imports, the country has involved itself in African-based projects that will secure agriculture and food security and is partnering with African nations to improve agricultural productivity and food security. This includes initiatives like providing financing for irrigation systems, promoting sustainable farming practices and supporting agribusinesses. In addition, the Kingdom provides substantial food aid to vulnerable African populations, addressing food insecurity and humanitarian needs.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) provides vital healthcare assistance in conflict zones and areas affected by natural disasters across Africa. The Kingdom is also investing in educational initiatives, like building schools and universities, and offering scholarships to African students. This aims to foster human capital development and empower future generations.

Saudi Arabia is increasing its trade ties with African nations, promoting bilateral trade agreements and supporting the development of Africa’s free trade zones. The Kingdom is also offering financial assistance and credit lines, enabling African countries to invest in infrastructure projects and boost their economic development.

Actively engaging with African nations at the diplomatic level, Saudi Arabia is strengthening bilateral relations and building political partnerships. This includes high-level visits, joint ministerial meetings and participation in regional forums.

Over the last two decades, China has been the largest investor and operator of mining projects in Africa. The potential is that the Kingdom will start to ingress on this sphere of influence. There are some key differences in the mining investment strategies of Saudi Arabia and China in Africa.

The main focus of Saudi Arabia has been primarily targeting critical minerals (e.g., lithium, cobalt and nickel) needed for their economic diversification and high-tech industries, driven by Vision 2030.

Additionally, it is investing in coal for domestic energy needs. In contrast, China has a broader focus on securing a wide range of minerals and metals, including bulk commodities (e.g., iron ore and copper) essential for their booming manufacturing sector and infrastructure development.

The difference in approach is also notable. Saudi Arabia has placed more emphasis on strategic partnerships with African governments and established mining companies, often through their Public Investment Fund (PIF), focused on building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. The approach of China has been more often to employ state-owned companies for direct investments and acquisitions, offering infrastructure upgrades and loans in exchange for mineral rights. This can be seen as more assertive and potentially exploitative by some African nations.

Important is also the scale and scope of involvement. To date, Saudi Arabia has been a relatively newcomer to large-scale African mining, with investments being generally smaller and more targeted, focusing on specific projects or partnerships. In turn, China is considered to be established as the dominant player in African mining for over two decades. Large-scale investments across multiple countries and diverse minerals.

Where development and sustainability of the mining projects are considered, Saudi Arabia has placed emphasis on sustainable mining practices and local skills development in their partnerships. Vision 2030 includes goals for environmental protection and community engagement. Historically China was criticised for prioritising resource extraction over environmental and social concerns in Africa. However, recent initiatives suggest they are taking steps to improve their social and environmental impact.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been taking a more cautious, strategic approach focused on securing critical minerals and building partnerships, prioritising sustainability and responsible resource management, whereas China is maintaining their more aggressive and expansive investments, driven by their massive internal demand, resulting in them facing increasing scrutiny over environmental and social impacts.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the potential to become the next major foreign player in Africa. It is expected that more companies will start looking to the KSA for investment, rather than China in the near future.