Smelting industry in Rwanda

Smelting industry in Rwanda

A reliable power supply is critical to the success of the smelting industry in Rwanda

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Background

Rwanda is one of Africa’s smallest countries and has a history of both genocide and political corruption. Since the appointment of President Paul Kagame however, Rwanda has been considered by many to be one of the least corrupt country in its part of the continent.

Economy

Since 2010 the service industry has been the most important sector for the country’s economy contributing over 43.6% of their GDP. These include a number of different contributors; finance, retail, real estate, leisure, health, education, transport and the fastest growing sector of them all; tourism.

Unlike many of its neighbors Rwanda has few natural resources however its mining sector is still a major contributor to its overall GDP; tin, cassiterite, tungsten, coltan and gold, some of which are used in the manufacture of mobile phones, are important exports for them.

Its economy is also however still hugely reliant on the success of their local farmers, however the techniques and tools they use are still very basic and the land they farm is often small and located on steeply sloped plots. Subsistence agriculture makes up nearly 33% of the country’s total GDP and is the dominate source of employment, with approximately 90% of the working population making their livings on farms. Tea and coffee are still the source of the country’s biggest agricultural export income.

Smelting minerals

Rwanda economy, like most others across the world, is suffering as a result of the depressed global commodity prices.

In an attempt to boost its economy, protect jobs and maintain miner’s incomes, the country has committed to resuming the smelting of the raw minerals they mine, in fact some investors in the project are urging the government to insist on a complete ban on the export of all raw minerals, ensuring the smelting plants have an adequate and reliable supply.

Next steps

A team of auditors from the Conflict-Free Smelter Programme are due to arrive in July to assess the plants and their furnaces, this is essential to ensure accurate and consistent records are being maintained, in turn guaranteeing traceability and therefore ‘conflict-free’ certification of all the minerals being processed. The Director General of Phoenix Metal Rwanda, Christophe Barthelemy said, “We have to run the furnaces during the audit. We need to show the auditors that we are ready for traceability,”.

Regional power cuts have however recently necessitated the switching off of the furnaces, as a power of shortage of as little as 20 minutes, can result in the unwanted solidification of the mineral being smelted, pushing up operational costs and damaging furnaces.

In July 2015 the Rwanda government revealed plans to improve the country’s power distribution network by upgrading lines etc, as well as by improving the management of the power sector itself. Their target is to increase the amount of power generated in the country from approximately 200MW to 563MW by 2017. There are also plans to begin importing additional electricity from both Kenya and Ethiopia.

A reliable and adequate power source is absolutely essential to run a smelting plant and as a result is key to ensuring that Rwanda’s economy can benefit from the substantial increase in income available to them by exporting semi-processed and processed minerals versus unprocessed minerals.

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