Rwanda’s export earnings from minerals are projected to reach $800 million by end of 2020, up from $399 million in 2017/18 Financial Year, according to Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB), with a projection to earn $1.5 billion in 2024.
Five years from now, Rwanda could be able to process and add value to all minerals, says RMB.
Most of Rwanda’s mining being artisanal, poor mining and washing technologies. Most companies use ground washing whereby they lose over 50% of recoverable mineral value.
Among the challenges facing the Rwanda’s mining industry is that almost the produce from mines is exported to be processed abroad which reduces the revenues from the minerals.
Dr. Emmanuel Munyangabe, the Chief Operations Officer at RMB, says it may take Rwanda more than five years to have the ability to extract and fully process its minerals before they are exported.
Rwandan is rich in coltan, gemstones, granite, cassiterite, wolfram and gold, among other minerals.
The first Rwandan mineral processing factory was founded in 1983 and later stopped its functions and it only processed cassiterite.
Investors are rebuilding it and it will start refining and will process diverse minerals and by the end of the year, it will have released its first Rwandan made tin metals.
Dr, Munyengabe said RMB has projects to process coltan in the factory to be based in Bugesera Industrial Park.
The institution is also looking for investors to process gemstones and other minerals.
“We wish to export only fully processed minerals on the international market,” he said.
Currently, Rwanda can extract minerals and only refine to purify them from other impurities.
In October, 2018, Rwanda hosted the International Conference of the Associations of operators involved in the various levels of the value chain of the tantalum and niobium.
Two critical elements were discussed in regard to the international industry space for tantalum/coltan.
The statistics show that 90% of this product, tantalum, comes from Africa.
About 60% or more, depending on the year, comes from the Central Africa region and Rwanda is the highest contributor to the tantalum market globally.
This gives Rwanda a certain importance in the market.
However, Gatare says, “we have not been actively pursuing an approach of controlling the market because it is a privatized market, we have private operators that run this industry, with Government as regulator”.
Gatare is of the view that, Rwanda is still very low at the value chain in the sense that the product that goes to the market is still in mineral ore form, called concentrates.
“The two approaches we would be taking to increase the value to our country [minerals] is one, to establish refinery processing here in Rwanda, secondary; is to add value to the refined products” he says.
To achieve the above stems, Rwanda has secured a partnership with an international company to set up the refinery as the first stage of value addition to process the tantalum.
The company will assist in separating the tantalum from niobium and get to obtain more value from both minerals separately.
Gatare’s future aspiration is to take it further and make products that could be put on the international market.
That way, Rwanda will have more value retained.
“Rwanda has distinguished itself for pro-business reforms, and there is no reason at this moment requiring to start a conversation on setting up the restrictions to try to control the market,” Gatare explains.
Understandably, such an attempt to restrict exports would potentially have other ramifications that we may not want to get into at this stage.