Delayed certification slows trade in Rwanda’s minerals

Rwanda’s push to overcome international bias over the origin of its mineral exports has been hampered by the reluctance of regional countries to implement a regional mineral certification mechanism, experts say.

The certification is aimed at curbing the illicit flow of “conflict minerals,” including tin, tantalum and tungsten (the 3Ts), which are Rwanda’s principal mineral exports, and gold.

Twelve member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) agreed to a deadline of December 2015 to put in place requirements for the mechanism.

Last week, the ICGLR held a meeting in Kigali where it lobbied member states to hasten implementation of the regional certificate mechanism, in order to boost its value on the international market.

“ICGLR has developed a strategy that addresses cross border smuggling and levies uniform mining procedures across the region. All countries should feel the same pressure in implementing this and they should learn from the experiences of those that have done their best to put the mechanism in place,” William Aliga, chairman of the ICGLR Regional Committee on the Regional Initiative on Natural Resources, said.

Partnership Africa is working with Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania to bring them on board.

“We all know that December 2015 will come and go and the member states will not all have implemented the ICGLR Mineral Certification Mechanism, and then they will have to ask for an extension,” Joanne Lebert, executive director of Partnership Africa Canada said in an interview.

“If the regional certification mechanism is fully implemented, the buyers will come. The market has already said that if the ICGLR certification is fully implemented, including the setting up of the independent mineral chain auditor — which is like a regional ombudsman — they will accept the certificates,” Ms Lebert said.

Rwanda, DRC, Uganda and Burundi are ahead of the others in implementing the ICGLR certificate, as they have felt the most pressure from international legislation like the US Dodd Frank Act, which puts limitations on critical minerals that come from these countries.

READ: Rwanda appeals to the US to waive links to conflict minerals

Ms Lebert said it is a “huge challenge to set up these systems.

“Not all states have felt the same pressure and not all states have the capacity to roll it out at the same time. So eventually they will all come on board,” she said. “They should learn from the countries that are more aanced, so they can also do it correctly.”

In November 2013, Rwanda became the first country in the region to issue an ICGLR certificate to a shipment of minerals destined for export.

In addition to the regional certificate, Rwanda is required to implement the Dodd-Frank Act, an American law that requires countries neighbouring the DRC to implement a mineral tagging and traceability scheme to indicate the origin and flow of their 3Ts.

However, despite having implemented both the regional and international requirements, many international buyers prefer to avoid minerals from the region.

“We find this kind of stigma everywhere, even when we have done our best to follow guidelines. Some buyers, especially those listed on the New York Stock Exchange, stopped dealing in our minerals because they don’t want anyone to suspect that they are using so-called conflict minerals,” said Michael Biryabarema, the deputy director general of geology and mines at the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority.

He said Rwanda feels the most pressure because the minerals in question are its priority, whereas other countries in the region have other minerals whose flow is not restricted.