Rwanda mining sector to diversify as global prices of tin, coltan fall

Saturday May 21 2016

Miners at work in Rwanda. The fall in global prices of tin, cobalt and wolfram has led to a major drop in the earnings of Rwanda’s miners. PHOTO | FILE

The drop in global prices for Rwanda’s principal minerals — tin, coltan and wolfram — has left some 37,800 miners facing joblessness as companies suspend operations.

The government is now looking into exploring for other minerals, such as gold and gemstones, as well as ensuring that minerals are smelted and processed before exportation in order to add value to the product.

“One way we can help the artisanal miners is by finding ways to add value to the minerals and exploiting more mineral types,” Evode Imena, the Minister of State for Mining, said.

“Miners earned approximately $10 for every kilogramme of tin, but the price has dropped to half of that in three years. We will build a sector that is more resilient to external shocks, by not just relying on extracts.”

The income of artisanal miners has dropped by more than 20 per cent in the past three years. Many have returned to subsistence farming.

Patrick Bayisenge, 37, a miner at the new Bugarama mining site in Northern Province, said mining is not as lucrative as it used to be, and only earns him about half of what he used to make three years ago.


“Many others have deserted the mines. They say they have never experienced this situation before. I am holding on because I need to do what I can to take care of my family,” said the father of three.

READ: Drop in mineral prices forces Rwandans into farming

The mining companies are also being shunned by banks and other financiers who are reluctant to risk lending to a sector wallowing in uncertainty.

With forecasts still predicting an uncertain future for Rwanda’s minerals, the government is to revise its revenue targets downwards.

Government officials say the current target of $400 million from mineral exports will be fine-tuned to a “more realistic target.”

“The sector is still in turmoil; this does not apply to Rwanda only but the entire world. The economy and artisanal miners are affected, but this is just a phase and we are sure that the curve will start to climb again,” said Mr Imena.

Over the past three years, international prices for tin have fallen by 38 per cent, wolfram by 25 per cent and coltan by 22 per cent.

Revenues from mineral exports also dropped from $226 million in 2013 to $206 million in 2014 and $150 million in 2015.

Several mining companies defaulted on paying miners.

The fall in prices also led to the temporary closure of Rwanda’s only standard tin processing unit in Karuruma, Kigali.

Financiers are reluctant to risk lending to the sector. The National Bank of Rwanda cites mining as the least financed sector in the country, with the value of loans to SMEs falling by 16 per cent from Rwf516 million ($676,000) in 2014 to Rwf435 million ($570,000) in 2015.

The president of the Rwanda Mining Association, Jean Malic Kalima, said that bankers are cautious because of the volatility in international prices for minerals.

“Bankers say that the mining projects presented are not bankable. But we are optimistic that the situation will change. We are working with the government to develop a new code that helps mining investors to present viable projects,” Mr Kalima said.

In 2015, the value of Rwanda’s total exports fell to $558.8 million from $600 million in 2014, mainly due to the poor performance recorded by the mining sector, whose exports fell by 42 per cent.

The central bank projects that growth of the industry will fall by 6.2 per cent by the end of the year.