For over 25 years Brian Menell, 53, has overseen, developed and managed natural resource and mining projects across 18 sub-Saharan African countries, and in the CIS and Canada.
The Menell family, of which Brian Menell is a key member, founded and controlled the Anglovaal Group – one of the most dominant players in the African mining and industrial scene over the last 80 years.
In this light, I was delighted to briefly chat with Menell about his new venture, TechMet, an industrial company that is building controlling or significant minority positions in world-class projects across the technology metal supply chain including mining, processing and recycling. He talked about the growing geopolitical significance of technology metals supply from Africa and other emerging markets.
The media has recently focused a lot of attention on China’s increasing footprint in Africa through procurement-driven MNCs and the continued lack of competition from other major powers for a strong position in the region. How does this dynamic in your view correlate to a U.S./Western foreign policy dilemma?
Africa has indeed been a key focus of Beijing’s foreign policy for a number of years. Their assertive move to build partnerships and their increasing presence across the continent has been particularly noticeable at a time when the US and European economies have been more cautious to engage than in the past. But I do not see Beijing’s increased influence in Africa, in itself, as a source of a foreign policy dilemma; Africa’s investment needs are so great that there is room enough for China, the US and Western economies to play a significant role alongside each other in the continent’s development.
There is an exception to this and that is China’s race to secure global sources of critical natural resources.
We are presently experiencing what Klaus Schwab, the Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. This is a period marking seismic shifts in the geopolitical landscape through the development of next generation technologies and renewable energy.
There is now an increasing realization in the US and other OECD countries that China exerts dominance over many of the critical natural resources required to build this new tech economy. The dominance is a result of China’s decade long strategy in Africa and elsewhere that seeks to control or exert influence over these strategic metals. This reality has been exacerbated by most of the Western consumer economies turning a blind eye – “As long as we are getting our finished products at a low cost, we don’t really care how it happens.”
I think this is the backdrop to the Western foreign policy dilemma to which you refer, and it will be up to the West to step up its investment in this space if it wishes to lead or at least compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as they did the last.
Where should western bodies, both public and private, place emphasis to successfully compete within the geopolitical arenas?
The forecast of exponential growth in electric vehicles and energy storage systems is now well known. However, in the West, little consideration has been given to the supply of the group of critical metals essential to enable this growth. There is an imperative to increase capital investment into this part of the supply chain in order to meet the projected EV adoption targets. While the investment scenario is incredibly compelling, this suit of critical metals is also going to be vital on the geopolitical landscape.
China realized this a long time ago: The key to winning the next industrial revolution was controlling the inputs. They are now well ahead of the game, both in their control of key primary resources and in their development of processing technologies to produce the products suitable for technology applications such as batteries.
There is going to be a significant strain on supply as the electric vehicle and renewable energy storage demand takes off. The West needs to understand the vulnerable position it has woken up to, and to rapidly develop strategies that seek to increase its ability to secure these materials, as well as building the processing capacity to produce downstream products.
Many of the primary resources are found in developing economies, often in difficult environments. It will be crucial to find the right partners who have experience in these environments to help implement these investment strategies.
Tell me more about TechMet and its ambitions?
TechMet is a private industrial company that is building controlling or significant minority positions in world-class projects across the technology metal supply chain including mining, processing and recycling.
We are confident that ‘Technology Metals’ will consistently outperform other commodities, and our focus is on the metals expected to see the largest supply/demand tension over the next 10 years. We have made initial investments in a core portfolio of companies, with rights to deploy additional funds in specific high-growth opportunities.
Our vision is to create a technology metals champion with strategic control over significant production of the key metals that will define and power the 21st century global economy. We look forward to building on our partnerships with exceptional teams, organizations and governments that understand the imperative to be a part of investing in responsible and sustainable sourcing of these critical metals.
Contact me via email at mfon.nsehe @ gmail.com or via Twitter @MfonobongNsehe