Rwandan miners have protested a new law that bans artisanal mining, saying it could frustrate investment and push out most of them.
The new law repealed all provisions for artisanal mining, and now the cheapest contract will cost about Rwf700 million ($8 million) — which is ten times more, thereby favouring big investors. Previously, artisanal miners were required to commit Rwf70 million ($80,000) for a mining field licence of 49 hectares within five years.
“This new law means that artisanal mining is banned in Rwanda. It does not consider the fact that the sector employs thousands of Rwandans who have relied on it for their livelihoods for many decades,” said the executive secretary of Rwanda Mining Association, Frank Butera.
The mining law was gazetted last month, but miners say that they were not consulted before the changes were adopted.
“We shared our concerns before parliament passed the law, but it was gazetted regardless of our concerns,” said Mr Butera. “Instead, we received a response from the mining board explaining why they did not consider what we pointed out.”
Artisanal licences make up half of the 523 mining contracts currently in effect, data from the Mining Association shows.
The Rwanda Mines Petroleum and Gas Board defended its position, saying that it intends to attract “serious” investors who can afford modern practices that are not harmful to the environment and the miners.
Narcisse Dushimimana, the legal affairs specialist at the mining board, said that the new law seeks to encourage players who relied on rudimentary mining methods to upgrade to skilled practices.
“Artisanal mining is conducted unprofessionally, destroying the environment and putting miners at risk. We want to help them upgrade to at least small-scale mining where professionalism is needed,” said Mr Dushimimana.
The new law also introduced imprisonment terms and fines of up to Rwf30 million ($35,000) for injuries and environment degradation caused by mining accidents.
The punishments will also apply to negligence by senior authorities.
But miners say this punishment is vague and harsh.
“Some mining activities are dangerous; that is the nature of the industry. But it is shocking that miners will now be arrested if an accident such as a landslide happens,” said Mr Butera.
But the mining board said that accidents will only be punished if it is “proven beyond reasonable doubt they were caused by negligence or bad intent.”
“Accidents are not punished simply because they are accidents; we shall investigate, then punish,” said Mr Dushimimana. “The Rwf30 million penalty is a deterrent to bad practices. No one will be punished if they stick to professional practices.”
Minerals are becoming Rwanda’s most important source of foreign revenue, ahead of coffee and tea.
The sector is however dogged by price fluctuation, although it managed to exceed its target by 55 per cent last year, generating $373 million in revenue from its principle minerals — cassiterite, coltan and wolfram.
Rwanda follows in the footsteps of Tanzania, which last year amended its mining laws, giving the government more control over the sector and more revenues. In June, Tanzania announced that it had realised a 1.3 per cent GDP growth from mining, attributing it to stringent new laws and regulations.
Mining contributed around 4.8 per cent to the GDP, up from an average 3.5 per cent realised over the years, said Minerals Minister Angellah Kairuki.
“We aim for a larger piece of the pie; at least 10 per cent of the mining sector’s contribution to Tanzania’s GDP by 2025,” said Ms Kairuki.