One hundred and eleven Chinese enterprises now own exploration licenses to dig up Botswana for Uranium and other raw materials. China, which is competing with Japan over Botswanan resources, currently has 12 nuclear reactors under construction, with another 33 planned and another 80 proposed. The Chinese mining activities in Botswana have been compared to French mining activities in Niger.
Reports have claimed that the Chinese, who are not content with holding equity or being in joint ventures with exploration companies in Botswana, are now focusing on full control of their exploration activities.
According to the Johannes Tsimako, Chief Geologist at the Department of Geological Services (DGS), “The Chinese companies would prefer to hold 100 percent equity in the company holding ground and would rather own the exploration license themselves. Even if they bought into an existing company, they would want to take it over.”
Observers say that the hunt for copper, nickel, uranium and coal, among other minerals is China’s effort to balance the effects of the global recession. With Botswana fast emerging as the new uranium destination, after Niger, Chinese companies are eager to take over the uranium mines in the country and satisfy the huge demand for energy in China. “The Chinese are venturing into areas which have huge potential for exploration and development of these resources,” added Tsimako.
Meanwhile, as news of the Chinese takeover continues to hit headlines, it must be noted that their move is not new to Africa. France per example, is developing a $1.5bn mine in Niger, which is expected to yield 5,000 tonnes of uranium per year when it opens in 2012. Areva, the French nuclear energy giant formerly known as Cogema, has had major holdings in uranium mining in the Western African country for about 40 years.
Just like Areva, the Chinese companies taking over Botswana’s mines are being empowered by their government. Despite the reduced export earnings due to weaker international markets at the wake of a global recession, the Chinese government doled out multi-billion US dollar stimulus to maintain development growth.
Experts have ruled out a possible resource-war, facilitated by foreign governments interested in Botswana’s wealth of resources, owing to the fact that Botswana is a middle-income nation, a fairly stable country, relatively free of corruption and has a decent human rights record.
Japanese companies have also increased their presence on the Botswana mining sector to compete with the Chinese, but unlike Areva which has been in Niger for decades raking in an annual 428 million euros in profits in a backdrop of abstract poverty, observers expect Botswana and its people to benefit from the Asian resource hunt.