Tin is playing a leading role in a boom in mineral exports from Rwanda. The country’s total mineral export earnings in the ten months to October 2008 amounted to US$81.9 million, of which cassiterite (tin ore) accounted for $37.6 million. Mineral export earnings were on course to exceed $100 million in the year. In volume terms cassiterite exports in the ten months were 3,700 tonnes gross weight, according to local press reports. The other major export minerals currently are wolfram, coltan and gold, although gemstones, platinum, nickel and cobalt are exploration targets.

Minerals accounted for 40% of Rwanda’s export earnings in 2007, challenging the traditional major earners tea, coffee and tourism. Tin accounted for 18% of the country’s total exports. The mining sector as a whole contributes some 10% of the country’s gross domestic product. Mining is mainly artisanal, although the government is seeking to encourage inward investment by overseas mining companies and working with the World Bank and IFC to reform regulation of the sector.

“We are organising the sector and believe with this, we can easily triple income within the next five years. We want to return $200 to $250 million,” Vincent Karega, the natural resources minister told Reuters in December. “We have a clear policy and a new law that protects investors in the sector allowing long-term leasing and we have in place a government agency that provides geological information and advisory role in better ways of mining,” he said.

Overseas companies already granted tin concessions in Rwanda include Metal Processing Association (MPA), part of the South African-controlled Kivu Resources group, and the German company Natural Resource Development (NRD) Rwanda. MPA is developing the Gatumba deposit in a joint venture with the government, while NRD was granted five concessions at the start of 2007 and has initially focussed on expanding production at Nemba, in the south east of the country.