New minerals found as govt steps up exploration

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Workers at Nyakabingo mines in Rulindo District during the ore dressing process. Rwanda has far more natural resources than previously thought, an official familiar with the country's mineral exploration programme has said. (Timothy Kisambira)

Rwanda has far more natural resources than previously thought, an official familiar with the country’s mineral exploration programme has said.

The revelation comes days after the Government established a fully-fledged statutory body to oversee and coordinate all the exploration and mining-related activities in the country: the Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board.

Dr Emmanuel Munyangabe, who the Cabinet on February 3 appointed as the Chief Operations Officer of the new body, told The New Times last week that an ongoing airborne geophysics survey has found deposits of several new minerals in different parts of Rwanda, including rare earth elements, gemstones, cobalt, iron and lithium.

Rare earth elements are essential in developing high-tech devises in the areas of communication, defence, alternative energy, among others. 

The ongoing exercise, which started in October last year and is set to be completed later this month, also established that Rwanda is endowed with more deposits of traditional minerals like gold than previously thought, Munyangabe said.

In January, President Paul Kagame said there were new indications that Rwanda could be rich with previously unknown deposits of minerals and assured citizens all the country’s resources will be exploited in the best interest of the people – brushing aside the narrative of resource curse.

Munyangabe was until February 3 the head of geology and mining department at Rwanda Natural resources Authority (RNRA).

The department has since morphed into the Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, with the Cabinet naming former Rwanda Development Board chief executive Francis Gatare as the new body’s chief executive.

In the latest reforms, the other departments under the former RNRA (land, and water and forestry) will remain under the Ministry of Natural Resources.

“The newly established board will build on what has been ongoing under the previous framework, in the areas of exploration, licensing, inspection and regulation,” Munyangabe said last week.

The restructuring will also see the new body inherit some of the staff from its predecessor department, he added.

“The whole idea is to optimise the resources that we’ve always known to have as a country and new finds,” the official said. “The public has probably seen an aircraft flying over their home with a loop hanging low, these are airborne geophysical surveys that we will continue to conduct until later this month.”

He added: “There are new finds, including resources that we previously had no idea existed in Rwanda, while in other cases we found extensions of existing mineral deposits like gold…the next steps will include to conduct further surveys and analyses to determine the exact components and quantities of the deposits.”

No oil exploration deal

The official also said that renewed efforts will be put into prospecting for petroleum and gas around Lake Kivu, one of the numerous lakes that form the East African rift valley, with geological surveys in recent years in neighbouring countries showing that the rift is endowed with huge oil reserves.

Lake Kivu is already home to methane gas deposits and exploitation is underway, with a power plant having been inaugurated there last year.

The newly established Board, Munyangabe said, will sustain the momentum in ongoing surveys. “We believe we will have completed the geophysical, geological and geochemical analyses by July this year and that will give us a clear picture of the mining and underground resources that Rwanda has.”

“There’s a commitment to diversify the country’s resources”.

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Wolfram miners. Geological survey shows Rwanda has more minerals to explore. (File)

Rwanda’s principal minerals have been known to be tantalum (coltan), wolfram and cassiterite and gold – nonetheless the country has not been known to be resource-rich, which partly informed the Government’s efforts to invest in human resource.

Last year, the country generated $160 million (about Rwf134 billion) from the mineral sector.

However, Munyangabe dismissed recent media reports that a local investment company, Ngali Holdings – through its subsidiary Ngali Mining – had won the tender to renew oil exploration, saying “no company is in talks with the government regarding oil exploration at the moment.”

“Once a decision has been taken and a company identified it will be communicated to the public,” he said.

Homegrown skills

Meanwhile, Munyangabe said the Government plans to step up efforts to process its minerals locally, with a casseterite-processing plant set to open in Karuruma, Gasabo District this year. “We are looking for more experts to work with in this effort.”

Digne Rwabuhungu, the dean of the School of Mining and Geology at the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, welcomed the government’s decision to set up an autonomous body in charge of the mining sector and to have its chief executive as a Cabinet minister.

“It will allow for the country’s vision to easily permeate through the sector,” he told The New Times last week.

He added: “Now that the top leadership has been put in place, what remains is to see how the Board sets up a technical team to implement the institution’s mandate…there is quite a lot to streamline within the sector, for instance, every company that is involved with mining should be supervised closely to ensure that the environment is protected and other standards observed.”

He also called for a deliberate policy to consistently promote homegrown skills in the sector, by among others, including the component of skills transfer in exploration or mining deals that involve foreign firms.

“We need to promote local skills especially among the youth,” he said.

The School of Mining and Geology will hold its maiden graduation in about two years time.