Rwanda's revenues from mineral exports are set to triple - from US$136.6 million (over Rwf87 billion), in 2012, to US$409 million (about Rwf261 million), by 2017, according government projections.
Prime Minister Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi announced the forecast yesterday while briefing both chambers of parliament on the state of the country's mining sector.
The government is particularly determined to cease exporting unprocessed raw materials as it mulls plans to boost value addition to boost revenues, the premier said.
In 2012, he said, mineral exports were 28 per cent of the country's exports compared to tea and coffee which accounted for 14 and 12.6 per cent of total national export revenues, respectively.
The country's top forex earner - tourism - fetched US$281.8 million [over Rwf180 billion] last year, counting for 58.4 per cent of total export earnings.
Dr. Habumuremyi said, "Exploration will be concluded with the intention of knowing exact locations of other high value minerals, with special emphasis on gold, copper, lead, zinc, silver and other rare earth elements (REE)."
He stressed that processing Rwandan mineral exports to add value so that they earn more on the international market will be a government priority.
Mining will continue to be among the first two foreign exchange earners for Rwanda. To achieve this, he said, several activities are in plan. They include, the privatisation of mines "such as Bisesero and Kigali Nord" as well as shedding off government's shares in Gatumba and Rutongo mines.
"The amount of these shares will be known towards the end of this month when a team of experts led by finance ministry will present the report on an audit they conducted."
The Premier said government is working to fine-tune the process of licensing mineral exploration and mining as well as the management of its mineral resources.
Apart from continuing wooing private local and foreign investors, and monitoring them, miners using outdated methods and technology will be trained to enhance their technical capacity and, large government concessions will be subdivided to ensure better management, he said.
The government plans to increase the number of local mineral experts, from the current 43 to 83, especially since foreign expatriates are costly.
He agreed with lawmakers that government must as well, among other things, step up measures to improve the well being of locals involved in the lucrative sector by stepping up safety measures and ensuring people have adequate medical insurance cover and other special necessities.
He said the safety of Rwandan miners is a top government priority.
A mining law is being reviewed by Parliament to streamline issues in the sector.
MP Jean Baptiste Zimulinda said that contrary to what foreigners believe, it is "simple logic" that Rwanda has lots of minerals, especially since all its neighbours have them.
Zimulinda said: "Be it in the west, in Karongi, or many other parts of the country, we have minerals. But apart from that, it is just simple logic. It can't be that, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo [DRC], and Burundi, have many minerals and we have none."
Like many other lawmakers, MP Charles Kamanda commended government for putting emphasis on the sector's development "as it can do very much in liberating Rwandans from the bondage of foreign aid."
According to the Premier, latest preliminary findings, in four areas - Nyagatare, Kirehe, Muhanga and Nyamagabe out of the 21 country zones suspected to have substantial mineral deposits, indicate that the country has gold, copper, zinc, lead, silver, rare earth elements, tin, niobium, tantalum and tungsten. A Germany company called "BEAK" has finished exploration.
"We believe that the results from this research will add clarity and increase the number of potential investors in mining," the Premier said.
Rwanda's economy was, in the past, centered on coffee, tea and tourism but the mining sector has increasingly attracted more attention.
The government has prioritised addressing challenges such as local capacity in terms of skills and high-level expertise, illegal mining, information on the available mineral wealth, and others.
The Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) - Kigali announced recently that it had introduced a mining course, Advanced Diploma in mining that is expected to produce skilled technicians in the field of mining.
This makes it the first institute in the country to offer this course which will help in bridging the skills gaps.
Last week, President Kagame created the portfolio of minister of state in charge of mining.