Rwanda’s mining sector evolution through the eyes of an investor

After slightly over 20 years living and working in Rwanda, mining guru David Bensusan is leaving the country as duty calls elsewhere.

Bensusan will be flying out to Lagos, Nigeria this week for his new tour of duty as Managing Director of Kian Smith Trade and Company, a mineral exploration processing and trading company that is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

‘Hard to say goodbye’

 

“It is with a sad heart that I am leaving Rwanda. I have watched the country grow over the last twenty years from the depth of despair into the modern day miracle it is today,” he wrote in a brief but emotional email before we settled down for a face-to-face interview.

 

Bensusan came to Rwanda at the close of 1997.

“East End of London was a very tough area to grow up in. What is now multi million pound properties was then a very poor area.”

Bensusan had earlier studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic in the West End of London after various jobs he joined Euromet (AMLON METALS LTD) and this began his journey into minerals in Africa.

He still vividly recalls his first impressions when he arrived in Rwanda.

“The only decent road was the road from the airport to downtown Kigali, and partially the road from Kigali to Gisenyi up to Musanze, and then it got terrible again.”

Bensusan says he was introduced to Rwanda by a friend of his who had been to Rwanda.

“He asked me to come over and get involved in the mining. So I came to work as his partner.”

And so Bensusan set up his first company in Rwanda- Muka Trading.

It was to be a good start, as the years 1998-2001 registered a boom in the coltan trade, with high prices on the international market. 

“I spent time in the Congo and Rwanda at that time there was no system of traceability and material was traded freely between the two countries”

Then the Coltan boom collapsed very badly and Tin started to boom. This was in turn followed by a similar boom in Tungsten and Tantalite – making up the 3 Ts that would later define Bensusan’s mineral trading portfolio in Rwanda.

He recalls that, at the time, the Government was moving to privatise the mining industry in a bid to create more employment opportunities. This led to the splitting up of large mines into smaller artisanal mines.

In all, he reckons that some 650 small and individually owned mines were opened, and some 50,000 jobs created.

Bensusan contends that splitting up the mines into smaller units was at the time the best right decision considering lack of employment.

Today, if the mining industries is to progress to its full potential the mines have to be larger.

Cluster mining would allow this to happen and therefore enable investors to pay for drilling operations to ascertain the true value of the clusters create a bankable study which would encourage banks and or investors to look seriously at Rwanda.

“I signed the first contract between the Congo and Rwanda and brought in 3,000 tonnes of Tin legally. The Material had to have Certificate of Origin stating ‘Mined in DRC processed in Rwanda’. The UN Group of Experts checked this in 2009/2010 and reported that it was legal movement of material.”

He explains that prior to April 2010, when the Dodd Frank Legislation came into force, Joseph Kabila, the president of the DRC “had stopped movement of all materials out of the Congo, which created a big problem.”

“Dodd Frank needed a traceability scheme. ITRI (THE TIN ASSOCIATION) offered to help in this.

With assistance from a number of Government departments we went to the World Bank and explained what was happening, and we managed to get the World Bank to help kick start the Dodd Franks Traceability scheme.

Rwanda was the only country to comply.

Six months after, Katanga region in the Congo also complied.

2008 was a good year for the seasoned miner, as he became Managing Director of Minerals Supply Africa (MSA), a Swiss German Company owned by Cronimet Central Africa.

“We produced a turnover in 2013 and 2014, of 100 million dollars each year. I also helped found the Rwanda Mining Association with John Paul Higiro and Jean Malic Kalima which was a boost to the country’s mining sector.”

In 2014, MSA Ltd was named Best Exporter and Trader of minerals in Rwanda.

Even with all this boom, the industry suffered a collapse in 2015. According to Bensusan, the three ‘Ts’ (tin, tantalum and tungsten) all dropped by more than half the value creating a major problem for the industry.

He quit MSA as he wanted to create a regional business in minerals.

Bensusan decries the “constant attack on Rwanda by the UN Group of Experts and international media for things that are not true”.

“I’m one of the people who’ve been defending the country on numerous occasions. In 2013 we (MSA) opened up our books for the UN Group of Experts to prove that the material that was being exported by Rwanda was legal, and we proved it 100 per cent. They went to other companies and the same thing happened. That’s when they stopped attacking Rwanda”

New frontiers

“It’s heart-wrenching for me to leave, but it’s something that I’ve got to do, but I do it with regret, and love for the country.”

In Nigeria where he is headed, Bensusan hopes to carry on with what he has been doing in Rwanda: he will be involved in the tin, tungsten, tantalite and gold trade.

“Rwanda is and has been my family for twenty years, and I would like to thank Rwanda for this wonderful experience.

“Rwanda is and will continue to be my home. I love the country and the people, and I want to thank the Government and in particular the mining industry for their support, and most of all, the people of Rwanda, led by President Paul Kagame and his visionary approach in developing Rwanda into what I consider to be a modern day miracle. He’s turned the country into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and certainly the safest country to live in, and a wonderful place to do business”.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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