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AMN - Rwanda’s vision could set template for success – comment by Yolanda Torrisi

Yol headshot May 2011

The continent will turn its attention to Rwanda and Central and East Africa later year with a mining forum this October in Rwanda. The East African host nation has been actively embracing the key tenets of the decade-old Africa Mining Vision, highlighting the value in its approach and setting a template for other countries to harness the benefits of mining as they implement an agenda for change.

The Africa Mining Vision was adopted by heads of state in February 2009 but 10 years on its pillars of mining investment remain ever relevant. Five years ago, South Africa’s then Mines Minister Susan Shabangu articulately outlined the first pillar of the mining vision when she told a forum at Mining Indaba that Africa needed to “shift from exporting of largely raw material to ensuring that minerals serve as a catalyst for accelerated industrialisation through mineral value-addition”.

Industrialisation is the transformation of agrarian societies towards manufacturing, technical enterprises and productive activities. While it’s arguably not a term we use quite as often these days — results-driven words like sustainability and efficiency tend to be more popular — we’re still targeting similar outcomes. After all, industrialisation has a wider meaning — the wide-scale development of industries in a country or region.

A second pillar of the Africa Mining Vision is a call to action to ensure the communities where Africa’s mineral resources are mined can be transformed by mining efforts — like the producers advancing projects. Think empowerment efforts that involve community members in part-ownership of mining companies but don’t go down a track of resource nationalism that risks investment.

Positive transformation efforts, like that now seen in Zimbabwe, can improve investment in African mining and sentiment in a country. These efforts can also help improve sovereign risk assessments and add to global financiers’ interest in funding projects in-country. All these factors help advance the second pillar of mining — with community benefits such as jobs, training, infrastructure improvements and key economic boosts.

Africa Mining Vision’s third pillar is more philosophical. If geological endowments have regional similarities and mineral provinces aren’t necessarily country specific, why not share knowledge to improve the continent’s overall understanding and encourage wider investment in African resource projects? Rwanda’s certainly on board with the approach; and it makes sense for governments and project owners to back the push if they want to move things forward.

Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board chief executive officer Francis Gatare believes nations play a role in bringing geological information to industry and private investors. He’s certainly got a good point. A number of media outlets have noted Gatare has highlighted the tin, tantalum and tungsten-rich nation is making discoveries on the lithium-battery metals front and is also putting gold and gemstones in focus. The gemstones found in Rwanda include amblygonite, beryl (aquamarine), various quartzes, ruby and sapphire. Rwanda’s progress with discoveries is encouraging and it’s realistic to expect local communities can benefit if investors come on board.

Gatare believes the mining industry needs three building blocks to build a successful cluster of Rwandan miners — private company investment, government regulation and facilitation, and an environmental regulation framework. These beneficial building blocks look to have universal value.

After all, welcome investment, good regulatory frameworks and transparent environmental conditions can help all parties move projects forward as companies and communities benefit with transformative change. When we encourage governments and industry representatives to press for regulatory change, let’s keep these building blocks in mind and suggest a practical template for success.

- Yolanda Torrisi is Chairperson of The African Mining Network and comments on African mining issues and the growing global interest in the continent. Contact: yolanda@yolandatorrisi.com