Seized minerals may further chill Rwanda-Uganda ties

Saturday October 27 2018

Gatuna/Katuna border

A truck passes under the Rwanda Revenue Authority scanner at the Gatuna/Katuna border. Rwandan trucks were impounded in Uganda at the Katuna border point while transporting minerals worth $750,000. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Two trucks full of minerals from Rwanda are being held by Ugandan authorities two months after they were impounded at the Katuna border point.

The continued detention of the minerals could further chill already frosty relations between the two neighbours.

The Spedag trucks were carrying a combined 40 tonnes of tantalum and tin valued at about $750,000 (Rwf650 million), belonging to Mineral Supply Africa, when they were impounded at Katuna border by Ugandan authorities on August 2 on their way to Mombasa. Ugandan officials claim the trucks were transporting minerals using forged certificates.

Rwanda’s Foreign Ministry contacted Uganda three weeks later, requesting the release of the trucks, insisting that the documents were legitimately issued by the Rwanda Mining Board.

Uganda then responded in a short letter dated August 27, saying that the matter had been forwarded to the relevant authorities. Since then, there has been no public communication between the two foreign ministries over the matter and the minerals remain impounded.

Jean Malik Kalima, president of the Rwanda Mining Association, told The EastAfrican that the country’s mineral traceability system is strong, which makes it hard for forged certificates to be used.

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“There is a co-ordinated system between miners, the revenue authority and the mining board. Using forged documents in the mineral traceability system is unheard of in Rwanda,” he said.

Ugandan officials said the trucks are now in the custody of the police, who insist that the certification documents were forged and so the contents must be examined.

Komarovic Julija, a representative of Mineral Supply Africa, declined to speak to The EastAfrican, but industry sources said unsealing the contents of the trucks could breach the trust between the company and its clients.

“The trucks are supposed to be sealed until the goods reach their buyer. This is another example of continuing trade bottlenecks in the region despite the initiatives put in place by the East African Community to facilitate regional trade,” said a Rwandan mining investor.

Mineral Supply Africa is incurring huge costs each day that the minerals are held. Sources at the Ugandan embassy in Rwanda said the matter is being closely followed and they hope it will be resolved in “the next coming weeks.”

It is not the first time that Mineral Supply Africa is facing problems with exporting its minerals. In 2015, the company lost a 24-tonne container of coltan valued at $1 million, which it alleged was stolen at the Dar es Salaam port en route to China.

Trade in minerals is a sensitive topic in the region, particularly because of “conflict minerals” allegedly used to finance rebel activities in eastern DR Congo.

This saw a mineral traceability system put in place for all the countries neighbouring DR Congo.

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