The mining sector is the country’s second highest foreign exchange revenue earner.
The production has been improving year over year. For example, the total export earnings from minerals has increased fourfold in just 4 years from 166$ million in 2016 to 733$ million in 2020.
However, according to RMB field inspection reports there are still some challenges crippling the full professionalization of the mining sector.
The challenges include poor mining practices leading to accidents, lack of occupational health and safety measures in some companies, bad working conditions, gender gap, and lack of necessary infrastructure for women among others.
These challenges have also been cited in the recent report by Transparency International Rwanda.
Efforts underway to improve conditions
Narcisse Dushimimana, the Head of Regulation and Inspection Department at Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB), says that most of the challenges are linked to the history of the sector because there haven’t been clear regulations since the introduction of mining activities in Rwanda in the 1930s.
“In all these years the sector has been characterized by informalities. There were no clear laws, no clear policies regarding the treatment of employees.” He told The New Times, Rwanda’s daily newspaper.
He added that in 2018, RMB finished setting up the laws and regulations governing the sector.
For example, the law requires mining companies to put in place prevention measures by constructing their working environment properly, giving sufficient safety facilities to workers and training them on how to handle the environment in which such accidents could potentially happen.
And when the accident happens, there has to be measures to adequately help workers who have met injuries and illness associated with the accident.
The requirement is that all mining companies should have insurance for all their workers, both medical and compensation-related insurance.
The law provides sufficient ground for regulation to take place, and, as an institution responsible for regulation there are now tools to be able to follow up on compliance.
There are sanctions and costs, whether financial cost or suspension of the activities, to those who fail to comply.
Rwanda Mines Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB) is working with key players in the sector to make sure there is a progressive change.
The process of enforcing the new laws is now underway so that employees know their rights and the responsibilities of the employers.
“The pandemic broke out when we were trying to disseminate the laws so that mining operators, investors in the sector get to know what these laws and regulations entail and standards guiding the mining sector,” Narcisse explained.
RMB keeps engaging companies to first have a fixed amount of money for miners even when there is no produce and pay them at a good and harmonized rate.
The board is also working with the Rwanda Mining Association and mining companies to ensure that miners are paid in proper way through having contracts and banking system and also adopting saving culture for workers.
An assessment of gender and social inclusion is being undertaken and findings will be used to inform solutions.
Concurrently, companies are being encouraged to establish some of the solutions include putting in place necessary infrastructure for women and children for inclusive friendly working environment. This is being piloted in partnership with stakeholders including National Child Development Agency, UNICEF and Rwanda Extractive Workers Union.