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Towards a Modern and Sustainable Mining Sector in Rwanda

There’s an old saying, “If it isn’t farmed, it’s mined”. Did you eat today? Thank your farming community.

Did you receive a call or email today? Thank your mining community.

Every piece of digital transmission (and electronic communication), whether is a phone call, Instagram post, email or Google search, is made possible by the mining community.

That’s right, none of these electronic systems could exist without key minerals, many of which are beneath your feet, right here in Rwanda.

Tin and tantalum are two of these metals critical to the global economy.

Primarily used in the production of electronics, a large proportion of these metals containing minerals originate here in Rwanda and our neighbouring territories.

Looking to the decades ahead, tin and tantalum, alongside lithium, are set to be in greater demand than at any other time in history, which could mean a real boost to the Rwandan economy.

However, from the lay person to the mining expert, there are many who have legitimate concerns about resource booms and I’m one of those people. You see, without sustainable practices, such as environmental stewardship, a good thing can turn bad.

In resource-boom economies, there are two major topics of concern; most obviously, environmental damage, but less obvious is something economists call ‘Dutch Disease’.

The environmental concerns are complex but, thankfully, Rwanda is amongst the world’s most conscientious observers of environmental stewardship. It is, therefore, unlikely that we will see standards in Rwanda lowered to accommodate short cuts in exploration and mine development.

If anything, it has been pleasing to see higher standards applied in recent years.

The transition towards a modern and sustainable mining sector requires industrialisation, which is underpinned by comprehensive investment in exploration and mining feasibility studies, before any mineral extraction takes place.

With the average mine containing between 100 – 400 grams per ton of tantalum, in a world where 2,000 tonnes of tantalum are consumed annually, Rwanda would need just six industrial scale mines to secure 20% of the world market share in a sustainable manner.

A potential, which, it is more than ready to realise and, as industrialised mining incorporates environmental and closure rehabilitation plans, is a sure way for Rwanda to guarantee environmental concerns are alleviated, while concurrently achieving rising exports.

‘Dutch disease’ is more complex.

This phrase was coined in 1977 after a resource boom in the Netherlands where rapid inflows of foreign currency in a single sector, (oil), strengthened the Netherland’s currency to a point where traditional manufacturing sectors became uncompetitive on the international stage.

In Rwanda, this could be an acute concern if the minerals were simply exported without added value, as has been the usual case across the African continent for decades.

However, during recent years the Rwandan government, has been able to attract value-addition to the sector just in time for the anticipated industry growth. First was the Luna tin smelter, closely followed by a gold refinery and, now, Africa’s only tantalum refinery has been built in the Bugesera Industrial Park, meaning that Rwanda has keenly addressed the top three mineral products to ensure value addition in-country.

So, what is the answer to a modern and sustainable mining sector? I think we are already living it.

A practical and efficient regulatory mining body (RMB) complemented by private sector investment in value addition, and socially responsible operations.

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