By Ivan R. Mugisha
Rwanda is the world’s largest producer of tantalum, accounting for over one-third of the mineral traded on the international market, according to the latest Minerals Commodity Summaries published by the United States Geological Survey.
Rwanda accounted for about 37 per cent of the global tantalum production while DR Congo accounted for about 32 per cent in 2015, the survey indicates.
Tantalum is an essential mineral for electronics industries in the manufacture of capacitors, high-power resistors, jet engines and missile components.
The total value of tantalum produced in 2016 was over $290 million, according to the survey.
Rwanda also produces a quarter of the world’s niobium, a mineral used by over 80 per cent of the world’s steel industries to strengthen their steel products.
It also states that Rwanda was 7th and 12th biggest exporter of tungsten and tin ores, respectively.
Rwanda has been positioning itself to become a significant player on the global mining scene, although it is still bogged down by exportation of unprocessed minerals that attract low prices.
The mining sector is Kigali’s second-largest foreign currency earner, after tourism.
“The world now recognises that we are a major producer of a very important mineral,” said Jean Malic Kalima, president of the Rwanda Mining Association. “By joining the international study centre, we will broaden our market base and work more closely with tantalum experts, in a bid to boost the value and volume of our exports.”
Prices of tantalum have been falling over the past five years. Whereas a kilogramme cost about $280 in 2012, it halved to $124 per kilogramme in January 2017. Rwanda produced 410 tonnes of tantalum in 2015.
Coupled with significant price drops for other principle minerals (tin and wolfram), revenues from Rwanda’s mineral exports fell from $226 million in 2013 to $206 million in 2014 and $150 million in 2015.
They climbed a bit for the for first time in three years to $166.4 million last year, owing largely to the exportation of non-principle minerals, which collected have of those revenues.
Of Rwanda’s three principal minerals, tantalum collected the most revenues last year – with $39.7 million from the export of 1,270 tonnes.