Rwanda leads in eradication of blood mineral trade
by Charles Kazooba
Rwanda has assured that it will issue the first regional certificate guaranteeing conflict-free sources of minerals early next year as required under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region arrangement.
It will be the first state to fully commit itself to the ICGLR Protocol against the Illegal exploitation of natural resource even though in the past it has been accused of fuel illicit mineral trade.
The DR Congo, which has also been at the forefront of fighting the illicit trade, will issue its first certificate in the second quarter of 2012 followed by Uganda in 2013. The other ICGLR member states are yet to decide on certification.
“Rwanda will deliver its first certificate between January and February next year (2012),” said Silas Sinyigaya, the ICGLR Program Officer for Good Governance and Democracy, adding that 90 per cent of Rwanda’s minerals had been covered under the traceability mechanism.
Sinyigaya was speaking during the ICGLR special session on sexual gender-based violence summit meeting in Kampala on n December 12.
The implementation of the protocol on illegal exploitation of natural resources was a basis under which the Rwanda Geology and Mines Authority early this year set up a mineral tagging and sealing scheme, internationally recognized as the iTSCi project, which aims to curb illegal trading of minerals.
It targets to curb illegal trade in four conflict minerals; gold, tin, tantalum and tantalite, between the Democratic Republic of Congo, marked as a conflict zone, and her neighboring countries.
Although in the past Rwanda mineral trade has been growing (US$ 74 million in 2010 compared to US$ 54.6 million earned in 2009) lately it has dropped due to mounting pressure from the regional initiative.
On December 15, 2010, the Lusaka Declaration of the ICGLR special summit to fight illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Great Lakes region underscored the commitment of respective governments to end the illicit trade in minerals.
But some member states of the ICGLR apart from Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Uganda appear to be dragging their feet to fulfill their regional obligations under ICGLR.
How they are smuggled
The minerals are transported in small aircraft from the mines in rebel-held areas or to the orders of some rich companies from outside the continent in collusion with corrupt government officials. Minerals mined in one country are often exported clandestinely to one or more neighboring countries in order to disguise their origins.
In April, an International Crisis Group report showed that the belligerents partly finance their activities from the sale of gold, wolframite, coltan and cassiterite — minerals much prized by the electronics industry and valued at around US$ 60 million per year.
For instance, the DRC is estimated to have US$ 24 trillion worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper.
But because of the pressure from ICGLR initiative the DRC in September 2010 slapped a six-month ban on mining and trade in minerals in the volatile eastern districts of Maniema and North and South Kivu until the government succeeded in clamping down on illegal mining, with the government arguing that rebel groups had been exploiting some of the world’s most sought after minerals to finance military activities.
Global Witness (2005) claims that at least three-quarters of the minerals exported from Katanga were leaving illicitly. According to the 2004 DRC’s recorded copper and cobalt exports amounting to US$ 390m, the illicit trade rises to as much as US$ 1.1bn.
The United Nations has in the past accused 27 Belgian and British multi-nationals of having violated set standards of practice by looting DRC’s natural resources. In Africa, South Africa tops the list of plunderers, with 12 companies being blacklisted. Other companies named come from Ghana, DRC and Zimbabwe.
It is believed that the multinational companies, powerful politicians and businessmen have hired armed groups to facilitate the illicit trade.