A growing mining sector in Rwanda and the role of RMB

Mining is one of the key drivers of economic development in a number of African countries.

And with the global Fourth Industrial Revolution now underway, a recent World Bank study concluded that the world will need approximately a double of the current volume of produced minerals and metals.

After realising that mining is a potential flywheel for industrialisation and sustainable development, the Government of Rwanda established a mining board to re-design the mineral sector to deliver higher-level results.

The Rwanda Mines, Petroleum, and Gas Board (RMB) has a responsibility to re-design the sector in order to transform mining resources into key drivers of Rwanda’s growth during the first phase of the Nation Strategy for Transformation.

The mining sector in Rwanda is going through a transition, as is the case with many African countries, moving from its traditional nature of small-scale exploitation with limited links to the rest of the economy to being a major foreign currency earner.

Mining has hence been integrated as a key driver for Rwanda’s national economy in the government’s seven-year programme.

There are plans to transform the mining sector by adopting a new approach to deliver higher-level results of the mining industry including the increase of export revenues from the sector. 

Under the same strategy to transform the mining sector, Rwanda has a vision to become a regional mineral processing hub, adding value to minerals mined in Rwanda and the region before exporting them.

Achievements of Rwanda Mines, Petroleum, and Gas Board

Since its establishment two years ago, the agency has done a lot towards attaining the national vision for the mining sector. Below are some of the key achievements so far:

1. Promoting mining safety and environmental protection:

Mining and safety standards have been developed and disseminated to all mining companies and cooperatives and local governments as a way of consolidating efforts in ensuring safety in the mines. Countrywide campaigns on professional mining practices in addition to fighting illegal mining practices were part of the efforts to trim down the number of accidents in the sector. Other measures include suspension and sometimes revoking mining licenses of companies that do not meet health and safety standards, as well as encouraging miners to switch from artisanal mining to modern mining.

A mining law and regulations have also been reviewed; mines inspections and monitoring of mining agreements compliance have been conducted, and miners have been encouraged to have occupational health and safety facilities through countrywide dissemination of the new law and safety standards. In addition, RMB has decentralised inspection by deploying some of its employees at the district level.

It has also put in place annual inspections programmes to check if workers are operating their works wearing Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs).

2. Enacting a new Mining and Quarry Operations law

Gazetted in August last year, the new mining law, Law N° 58/2018 of 13/08/2018,  seeks to promote professionalism and growth of the mining sector while giving a new lease of life to the mine workers whose safety at work has been the cause for concern.

The law also tackles a wide range of other issues in the sector, including licensing, illegal mining and the safety of the communities that surround mines. Among other things, it stipulates penalties, including jail terms and fines, to mining companies or individuals who illegally operate the business.

The Chief Executive Officer of RMB, Francis Gatare, said that the new law came up as a result of efforts to undertake reforms in the mining sector, which had started with the establishment of the institution in charge of mining itself as part of Government’s efforts to inject new momentum into the mining sector.

Some of the main provisions of the new Mining and Quarry Operations law include the obligation to carry out environmental and social impact assessment before commencing mining or quarry operations.

The law also provides for demarcation of potential mining areas which are economically viable in order to promote investment in mining, as well as the introduction of new types of licences such as mineral trading and mineral processing licence, or the mining support services license.

The new law was reviewed in consultation with different stakeholders in the mining sector, including mining associations and other members of the private sector.

3. Promoting environmental protection

Through the reform of reviewing mining policy and mining law, mining has been taken into consideration basing on the findings of a strategic environment assessment conducted in 2016. The new mining and quarry operations law has provisions that are clearly related to environment management. Some of the provisions include progressive rehabilitation of the mining site during the course of the mining project and developing tailings and waste management facilities.

4. Promoting investments in mining

The Mining sector in Rwanda has untapped potential that presents lucrative investment opportunities in the entire value chain from exploration to value addition. Detailed mineral explorations can be carried out in the recently identified Prospective Target Areas (PTAs) to delineate and quantify their mineral resources for traditional minerals (3Ts) and prospective exploration in other types of minerals.

Rwanda is home to a variety of gemstones including beryl (aquamarine), amblygonite, ruby, sapphire and different types of quartz.

The main minerals produced in the country are tin, tungsten, and tantalum (3Ts) of which the country is ranked among the top producers worldwide. Gold, gemstones, and rare earth elements, as well as a wide range of development minerals, such as industrial minerals and precious and semi-precious stones, are also found in significant quantities in Rwanda and are ripe for investment.

As part of promoting investments in the mining sector, industrial mining has become a priority as Rwanda’s mining sector is mostly done at small scale level. There is need for improved use of mining and processing equipment including; drilling equipment, bulldozers, jaw crushers, conveyor belts, shaking tables, jigs, spiral, and magnetic separators among others.

Partnerships between global mining companies and local mining companies have also been encouraged as the latter operate on a small scale while many of them own mining concessions with good potential for mineral deposits. Hundreds of these local companies are open to consider partnerships and joint ventures.

RMB has also encouraged value addition as all of Rwanda’s mineral ores produced in the country are currently exported as raw materials with no value addition. There is therefore a significant opportunity for investors to establish processing plants needed to beneficiate, smelt, refine or transform the minerals as metals or value products.

Another area of investment opportunity in the mining sector in Rwanda is locally assembling and manufacturing mining equipment. There are untapped opportunities in this area given the big number of mining operators in the country.

Some companies have already started tapping into the abundant investment opportunities in the mining sector in Rwanda. Luna Smelter Ltd. is a joint venture of a local company, Ngali Holdings Ltd., and Luma Investment S.A, an investment firm based in Poland. Its main focus is adding value to the minerals mined in Rwanda and it is now at the final stage of establishing a cassiterite refining plant which will be producing tin for export. Lack of investments in value added projects results in a higher business risk and lower investment appetite of mineral extractors. This, in turn, leads to export of minerals found in Rwanda, mainly 3T's, in their raw form, which translates into widening of the trade deficit. The Chief Executive Officer of LuNa Smelter Ltd., Dr. Krzystof Zamasz, says that the company’s plan is to start with a capacity of 12 tons of cassiterite per day during the first year of operation and then up to 30 tons per day once the smelter has reached the full capacity of 2 furnaces. “We would like to underline that LuNa Smelter's activities will boost a comprehensive development of the entire industrial and mining sector of Rwanda, especially new 3T mining projects,” he said in a recent interview at the company’s plant on the outskirts of Kigali."

5. Rwanda was approved as member of T.I.C.

Rwanda hosted Tantalum Niobium International Study Centre (T.I.C.) conference last year becoming the first country to host the high-level conference in Africa.  TIC was established in 1973 to support, develop and promote the global tantalum and niobium industries. The 3-day conference aimed at exploring different tantalum issues including; technological developments in tantalum and niobium applications, key factors affecting tantalum and niobium consumption in its core markets. Rwanda’s bid to become member was made in early 2018 and was approved during the conference which took place in October last year in Kigali.

“Having Rwanda welcomed in TIC means awareness of tantalum international price, getting ore market and knowing the best technology in mining.” Says Francis Gatare. 

Rwanda is among the top producers of tantalum ore producing more than half of the needed quantity onto the global market.

How credible is mineral supply chain in Rwanda?

Through implementation of a mineral traceability programme, the mining sector in Rwanda has been able to ensure the presence of mineral potential in the country and its conflict-free supply to markets. Rwanda implemented Traceability and Due Diligence System, an international requirement designed to prevent illegal trade in minerals, particularly cassiterite, coltan, wolframite, and gold from Eastern and Central Africa. Tag managers are deployed at mining concessions to seal and record minerals produced in order to efficiently monitor and contain potential illegal dealing in minerals.

However, according to the mining fraternity in Rwanda, the cost of traceability is still a challenge.

Jean Malic Kalima, the Chairman of Rwanda Mining Association, said that the high traceability costs were hurting productivity and undermining efforts to professionalise the sector.

For instance, Kalima says, a mining company pays $130 per tonne of tantalum traced in the country and $170 at international level.

“The cost is very high and we don’t think there is need for such a fee because traceability fee was established to ensure no minerals are sourced from war zones but our country is safe,” he said.

Prospects from 2019 to 2020 and RMB’s role

Revenues from Rwanda’s mineral exports are targeted to be US$800 million in 2020 and detailed exploration works will continue including drilling in order to determine and characterise mineral resources in the country.

Establishment of gemstones cutting, polishing, and trading hub in Rwanda to act as a centre for processing and trading as well as a laboratory for testing precious stones is underway.

Among other projects underway include establishment of geological and mineral information management system and continued promotion of investment in mining by attracting strategic investors using adequate data as being generated through exploration programmes in the framework to professionalise the mining sector.

RMB will continue to deal with some of the major challenges in the mining sector such as poor mining practices and illegal mining which remain the main cause of mining accidents, promote best practices in the mining sector, and promote improved partnerships among all stakeholders in the mining sector.

Highlights:

The recent mineral export earnings show an upward trend; US$149.1 million in 2015, US$ 166 million in 2016 and U$373 million in 2017, surpassing coffee and tea earnings and making it the second highest foreign exchange earner of the country after tourism.

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