University of Kentucky CAER Home


African Coal Supply Prospects

AUTHOR: Martin Daniel
DATE: February 1991

The importance of Africa for world coal supply lies not in its share of global output but of international trade. The Republic of South Africa (RSA) currently exports just under 50 Mt of steam and coking coal, and supplies almost 30% of internationally traded steam coal, competing with Australia as the world's leading steam coal exporter. In the future the RSA could be joined as an exporter by several other southern African countries, who possess coal of a similar quality to that of South Africa in very large quantities.

The first part of the report concludes that availability and cost present no problem for the foreseeable future as the RSA continues to offer some of the most cost-competitive steam coal in the world. However, infrastructural constraints will restrict steam coal exports to a maximum of 65 MV/y during this period: well below the 80 MV/y forecast until relatively recently. Moreover, political and economic developments in the country could result in even lower export levels.

The second part of the report considers African coal producing countries other than the RSA. In most of these countries the coal industries are small and poorly developed in spite of the quality of their coal reserves. Developments in the 1980s were affected by infrastructural constraints, the limited availability of capital, and the small potential market compounded in some cases by political instability. Prospects for the 1990s are little better, especially for those countries with aspirations to become coal exporters. The cost of developing most of the reserves cannot be justified at the international steam coal price levels likely to pertain during the decade. Nor is the domestic market likely to stimulate growth, in spite of the crisis affecting wood fuel supply in the continent.