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Embedding Deep Seabed Mining into Africa's Blue Economy policy

Research by Professor Edwin Egede helped African states develop an approach to Deep Seabed Mining which will allow the continent to access a previously untapped source of mineral wealth.

Deep Seabed Mining (DSM) is part of the Blue Economy – an emerging concept in international relations which encourages sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth.

The deep seabed is beyond national jurisdiction and mineral resources located there are the common heritage of mankind. Known as the ‘Area’, it covers more than 54% of the world’s oceans and offers a future source of mineral resources to support an increasing global population, address challenges with accessing land-based deposits, and provides the rare metals needed to drive the future renewable economy.

Between 2020 and 2030, 5-10% of the world’s minerals will come from DSM, with global annual turnover growing from virtually nothing to an estimated €10B.

Futureproofing Africa’s mineral wealth

Research carried out by Professor Edwin Egede found that Africa was the only region in the world which had not developed an approach to DSM. This meant that mining sites off the coast of Africa could be utilised by other countries resulting in African states missing out on the economic benefits of DSM and leaving DSM activity in the water and coastline off Africa out of the continent’s control.

Professor Egede’s research proposed more proactive African engagement at global, regional and state levels with the ongoing development of the appropriate regulatory frameworks for DSM.

His relatively cost-effective approaches to Africa’s engagement included:

  • Intra-African cooperation, involving a pooling of resources
  • Strategic cooperative alliances with states already engaging with DSM activities
  • Public-private partnerships between interested African States and transnational corporations with the necessary technology.

Professor Egede’s research also recommended revisiting the African Integrated Maritime (AIM) Strategy of the African Union (AU), a long-term vision to better harness Africa’s blue economy, to incorporate an approach to DSM. This would ensure African states were better placed to strategically engage with this future major source of mineral wealth and to protect their marine environments from potential negative impacts.

Bringing parties together and sharing knowledge

Professor Egede worked directly with individual African countries to develop their approach to DSM. He was appointed as a consultant for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) between 2016 and 2020 and was tasked with producing a ‘Roadmap for Development of DSM’.

The roadmap, launched in 2020:

  • recommends the establishment of a trans-African coordinating body to “harmonise involvement” in DSM, promoting technology transfer and capacity building.
  • explains how countries can ensure that the environmental impact of DSM is mitigated or minimised.

As UNECA consultant, Professor Egede co-developed a first-of-their-kind series of workshops for individual states and international bodies. A 2017 workshop was attended by over 60 policymakers from 11 African countries as well as NGOs and international organisations.

Why is the research important?

The research raised awareness of the political, strategic and socioeconomic importance of DSM for Africa and led to the development of an international common approach to DSM for the region.

It changed the policy approach of international organisations, including UNECA and the maritime strategy of the AU while the UNECA roadmap, also developed the DSM capacity of individual countries, such as Ghana.

Professor Egede’s research highlighted the importance of Africa’s engagement with the DSM sector, arguing that:

  • It is strategically prudent for Africa to diversify its mineral production base by actively engaging with DSM.
  • DSM’s potential environmental impacts could affect the oceans adjacent to the African continent. Therefore, active African involvement in the development of regulatory frameworks would ensure that mining activities are carried out sustainably.
  • Direct engagement with DSM by African states would help encourage capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

Prior to Professor Egede’s work, Africa was the only regional grouping in the world which had not engaged with DSM as an integral future source of mineral resources. Through Professor Egede’s role as UNECA consultant, Cardiff University research raised awareness of the political, strategic and socioeconomic importance of DSM for Africa.

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