Last week, Rwanda hosted the East and Central African Mining Forum which focused on ways countries in the region can use to attract sustainable investments into their mining and mineral trading activities.
Rwanda, particularly, showcased some of the potential areas of investment for exploration and production of minerals like tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold, lithium and gemstones, among others.
The New Times’ Julius Bizimungu caught up with Shane Ryan, the head of technical services at Piran Resources Rwanda, to talk about the outlook of the industry, what’s attracting mining companies to emerging countries like Rwanda, and how those countries can attract investment in exploration activities.
Piran Resources, a subsidiary of Pella Resources group, secured a 25-year mining license in the Eastern Province to operate two concessions – Musha and Ntunga less than two years ago.
It specializes in production and exploration of tin, tantalum and most recently embarked on lithium.
Last year, Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) predicted that tin and lithium will be the most impacted metals by the technology industry.
The technologies that are expected to impact these metals include autonomous and electric vehicles, advanced robotics, renewable energy, and advanced computing and information technology.
Piran’s intention, they say, is to create a sustainable, long term, commercial operation in Rwanda and look to use this as a platform to further grow the business in the country and across the region.
Below are excerpts:
At the forum, participants spoke a lot financing exploration activities, putting up the right environmentally friendly regulatory frameworks and skills development. Give us an overview of the mining sector in the region?
First of all, Piran came to Rwanda as a mining company, and we are here because there is deposit. There are three things you need to know before you start a mine and that is, ‘know your deposit, know your deposit, and know your deposit.’
Then you look at other things which are those things that were highlighted (at the conference) for the last three days – geopolitical stability, the framework that the government provides, and the infrastructure that the country has.
All those things play into why we are in Rwanda.
The three things you highlighted are definitely what many miners are looking for. How convincing was Rwanda’s deposits to you in that regard?
First and foremost, the deposit was very attractive to us. We are a tin miner, but we do have some lithium potential in some of our deposits. But also the country’s stability and infrastructure was also attractive.
Of course, there are countries that are more endowed with big deposits, but you need to look at deposits individually. The deposit we looked at – Musha and Ntunga – stuck out in terms of profitability.
I understand realising that profitability and bringing out the value of those deposits requires a lot, part of which is finance. How do you get that financial resources?
The biggest aspect for the biggest genuine miner like Piran is always funding. My Chief Executive and my Chief Finance officers are constantly pitching to investors who are not necessarily in Rwanda who are looking to invest in the mining industry.
And how we demonstrate that is how we develop the deposit; we drill it through exploration.
At the moment, we are undertaking a trial mining phase of Musha where we are getting more data. It’s more about data. If you demonstrate what it is, how the deposit looks, and how you are going to mine it, that is what attracts investment.
Secondly, the investor looks us in the country where the deposit is in – is it stable, does it have a bit of infrastructure and so on.
The initial phases you referred to, which is exploration, is capital intensive. Traditional financiers hardly associate themselves with exploration activities because they believe it is more of speculation. At the same time, raising equity isn’t that easy. What happens in that case?
The answer to that is pretty complex, but the Rwandan Government is like other countries progressive governments, they are doing a lot of legwork already. They are developing a portal in relation to geo-data, they are importing a lot of historical data from Belgium days, and they are providing an environment where it is easy to set up a business.
And in terms of exploration stages, you are right, it is very expensive and that’s up to businesses to decide. At some point, you have got to spend money to make money and that is the ‘mining game’ we are in.
We have to generate those funds with the prospect of an income in terms of a mine and producing.
The Government of Rwanda is doing well if not better than many governments around the world in providing data and information. The rest of the work is for Piran is to generate funding for drilling, for exploration and to add value to what has already been done.
Do you think small, emerging countries like Rwanda have competitive edge in marketing themselves as destinations for mining activities?
Let’s talk in the context of Africa. Rwanda is at the forefront of attracting investments in terms of mining. They are the early stage of doing that, and I will openly say that but they are excelling at what they are doing.
As a miner, Rwanda is an easy place to do business. I can’t speak for other industries.
How does ‘Piran Resources’ wants to position itself here and what’s your big plan?
The plan is to develop Musha as a central tin deposit. As we speak, we are currently exporting tin but we need to understand tin more and we need to generate more data.
Secondly, we are embarking on a regional exploration programme. We hold 4,000 hectares of mining lease and 2,000 hectares of mining exploration. So, there will be a regional exploration plans for early next year.
In addition to that, we need to do further drilling at both at Musha and Ntunga.
At the moment, we are in the process of gathering finance and all looks positive.
The immediate fund raising, to achieve what we want to achieve, is in the range of $15 million to $20 million.
The good news is that you also want to fully go into lithium. Talk to me about that?
Rwanda has got very good lithium potential. In terms of early lithium potential, we have one drill hole that has shown very good results. We know that we are sitting on a lot of pegmatite material (large rocks that contain precious metals), we need to drill that material more.
The end of that extra drilling will be next year.
As far as further potential within the Musha area, we have got Kabari, Manini which are just North and South of Musha. They present more potential also for tin.
Can Rwanda focus its efforts on lithium than the 3Ts the country is competitively mining?
Lithium is abundant in many places across the world. It’s absolutely right of them to diversify their metal targets. Rwanda has been much known for 3Ts for very many years, they have also been known for lithium, but there was never a demand for lithium.
The problem of lithium is when it comes to processing side – do you upgrade it with a processing plant or do you that elsewhere? What we know so far is that, the further you have to transport raw materials, the more expensive it is.
You want to be able to process it as close to source as you can. That is just a simple business model.