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Africa is poised for unprecedented growth. It is projected to become the world’s fastest-growing region, with six out of the 10 highest-growth economies located on the continent. In May in Kigali, I was privileged to attend the 11th edition of the Africa CEO Forum, where key leaders from Africa’s private sector and governments shared their perspectives of a continent with a highly promising future.

One question for discussion was how African nations can leverage their mineral resources to drive sustainable economic growth and development. With demand for critical minerals related to green technology expected to reach 42.3-million tonnes by 2050, Africa’s mining sector has an enormous growth opportunity. However, the amount of infrastructural investment needed to make the most of these opportunities remains substantial.

Significant investments in critical infrastructure, including human infrastructure, are required, not only to enable access to often hard-to-reach deposits of critical minerals, but to facilitate the industrial and economic transformation that the coming decade could bring.

The key to realising these infrastructure mega-projects remains in securing financing and co-development partners. The African Development Bank estimates that additional financing of $68bn-$108bn a year is required to meet existing needs. With a challenging financing environment, states must reconsider how to promote ambitious mining and infrastructure projects that could fuel national development and place them at the centre of the green industrial revolution.

In Simandou, in eastern Guinea, where Rio Tinto is working on Africa’s largest mining and related infrastructure project, a model of co-development is being put into action. Simandou brings a mix of private and public sector players together to deliver a project of strategic significance to Guinea, one that can play a key role in facilitating the global energy transition. The Simandou iron ore, with an average iron content of 65% and low impurities, can be used in lower-carbon methods of steelmaking, and is thus a key enabler for decarbonising sectors dependent on steel.

Simandou’s foundational agreements give multiple parties a seat at the table, including the Guinean government, Chinese state enterprises and Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian company. It is estimated that by 2028 about 120-million tonnes of high-grade iron ore will be exported from Guinea, boosting the country’s GDP by 50% a year. It has the potential to be transformational for Guinea and its people.

With an overall investment of about $18bn and nation-building infrastructure, this is a project of such significant scale that it must be delivered in partnership. Partly because of the remote location of the deposit, Simandou requires the creation of more than 600km of railway to bring the ore to market as well as associated shipping infrastructure.

According to the co-development agreement, the government of Guinea is incorporated via its 15% free carry equity stake in joint venture company La Compagnie du TransGuinéen. Rio Tinto Simfer and its industrial partner, Winning Consortium Simandou, (WCS) will each receive a 42.5% equity share. No single party has a managing stake, giving the government a deciding vote on matters concerning the development of the shared project infrastructure.

The co-development arrangement will allow each partner to draw on its strengths to deliver separate construction scopes. In this case, Rio Tinto Simfer will construct the 70km Simfer spur rail line and trans-shipment vessel port, while WCS will construct the dual-track main rail line, a 16km spur rail line, and barge wharf.

With the future route of the Trans-Guinean Railway passing through each of Guinea’s four regions, this infrastructure will boost connectivity and trade, driving economic development across the country. This new infrastructure will have a multiplier effect for local enterprise, including by seeding investment opportunities on a local and regional scale in areas such as sustainable agribusiness.

Projects like Simandou demonstrate the advantages of ingenuity and willingness to forge new ways of collaborating to deliver large-scale infrastructural projects in the interests of national development.

We are likely to see more co-developed mining projects as demand for critical minerals ramps up. The Simandou model highlights how partnerships on projects of this scale can harness private sector investment to unlock a range of other benefits — including access to technology and expertise — while ensuring projects are structured to drive economic development for the host country.

• Dechambenoit is global head of external affairs at Rio Tinto.

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