Politics of the European Union too often have damaging consequences for developing countries. Fair Politics EU wants to give developing countries a fair chance at development. - Fair Politics NOW!
Augustin Bida is executive secretary of FECOMIRWA, Federation de Cooperatives Minieres au Rwanda. He knows everything about mining in Rwanda, and the conditions in artisanal mines. Mainly peasants, artisanal miners work long hours in poor conditions for low pay.
Rwanda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a major exporter of minerals like coltan and tin, which you can find in your cell phone. I visit Augustin Bida in the FECOMIRWA headquarters, where minerals are collected, processed and exported. He tells me about the work of FECOMIRWA and the challenges they face. One of the major issues for FECOMIRWA is a lack of qualified personnel. Augustin: “because we lack adequately trained personnel, tunnels are not always well-constructed using secure building principles, which can result in collapse. We need more technicians to upgrade production and safety.” Lack of qualified personnel is not just an issue of safety, but also when it comes to processing minerals.
Because mined minerals are barely processed, Rwanda and FECOMIRWA generally export a still very raw product. “This costs us a lot of money because we export still raw minerals, our exported tin ore is only 60% tin, which means 40% of the exported product is valueless. We still have to pay transport costs for that however.” When you are talking about exporting around 40 tons of minerals each month, this quickly runs up to a high price. Furthermore, Rwanda loses out on a lot of jobs and economic activity as a result of this. Processing now takes place in the importing countries like China and Hong Kong, instead of in Rwanda, where it can create jobs and revenues to benefit the local economy.
Another point that Augustin addresses is a lack of infrastructure. Many artisanal mines lack Electricity, which means tunnels cannot be lit. Waterpumps can also not be installed, which means miners wash the minerals in the rivers near the mines. “Formally this is not allowed, and it pollutes the River.”
Augustin ends our meeting by showing me around the FECOMIRWA headquarters. He demonstrates where the minerals are crushed, and explains how the ‘tagging’ system works. To prove that the minerals exported by Rwanda are conflict free, all minerals are tagged at the mine site. The tag shows the origin of the mineral. This enables buyers of FECOMIRWA’s minerals to know where their minerals are from. In our Fair Politics research report you can read all about why this is still a flawed system!
Jasper van Teeffelen, Kigali, September 2011