Namibia’s uranium paradox

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Windhoek

Despite Namibia being the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world, the lucrative resource continues to be controlled by foreign firms, while Namibians are left with no choice but to sit and watch as outsiders rake in billions from locally sourced uranium.

During a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Wednesday in New Delhi, on the sidelines of the Third Africa-India Forum Summit, President Hage Geingob informed his counterpart that India cannot buy uranium directly from Namibia, because “government does not own uranium”. “There is no ability for India to buy uranium directly from the Namibian government since the mineral is mined by private companies, while the government does not own uranium,” he said.

Namibia and India signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and a memorandum of understanding on geology and mineral resources in 2009. President Geingob also referred to the agreement on uranium between Namibia and India during last week’s meeting.

“Uranium [in Namibia] can only be acquired through securing prospecting licenses. India has the option of negotiating with existing companies that are mining uranium in Namibia. There is also the option for India and Namibia to collaborate through a joint exploration [project] through Epangelo Mining,” said Geingob.

According to a media statement circulated by the Presidency, in which the meeting was summarised, Modi responded by saying that India would work towards putting mechanisms in place to pursue these options. “India is keen to promote clean energy and due to this, the country needs uranium,” Modi said.

“The challenge now is figuring out a mechanism for getting it. India has also entered into agreements with Australia, USA, Canada and Namibia, which are binding with numerous regulations regarding the use of the mineral. Canadian uranium has already reached India,” he said.

After signing the 2009 agreement, mines minister at the time, Erkki Nghimtina said Namibia could start exporting uranium oxide to India, since it is no longer subject to the embargo on international nuclear trade.

Uranium contributes less than 20 percent to the country’ gross domestic product (GDP), mainly due to the fact that it is controlled by foreign mining companies. According to the World Nuclear Association, in 2014 Namibia’s uranium production dropped to 3 255 tonnes from 4 323 in 2013.

While addressing the Third Africa-India Forum Summit last Thursday, Geingob bemoaned the fact that Africa is resource-rich, but most Africans are poor. “India can play a key role in changing this picture. India understands what it takes to transform from the export of raw materials to local value addition,” Geingob said.

He further said: “In the spirit of South-South cooperation, Africa can only learn from the success and failures of India by adapting the Indian experience. It is through meetings like these that common positions can be thrashed out in a conducive environment without the presence of anti-development forces.”

In the National Assembly last year former premier Nahas Angula expressed concern over government’s inability to fund institutions that can secure Namibian ownership of local mines.

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