To date I have shared some ideas on how we can empower youths in agriculture and infrastructure development and this week I want to touch on the issue of youth in mining. As I continually say, our underlying philosophy must be that youth are an asset and not a liability and we have to do everything we can to nurture their talents, skills and gifts for the future. In fact for me true leadership is all about creating the necessary space for others, especially our youths, to shine so that they may live to their potential in this lifetime to the benefit of all.
The developing world, particularly Africa, is awash with natural resources including unparalleled mineral endowments, yet Africa is considered the poorest continent on earth. These resources have been exploited over many centuries and exported abroad either fairly or unfairly in their raw form, a trend which has continued to the present day. Fortunately, the need to address this paradox of poverty amidst plenty is now being taken seriously in many developing countries, particularly in Africa. Many African countries have crafted new laws to govern resource exploitation to, among other issues, remove colonial barriers to equitable resource access by indigenous populations. In particular, many African countries have enacted or are enacting ‘mining codes’ to align their mining policies to domestic developmental needs. Value addition or beneficiation is now the mantra as Africa seeks to use its factor endowments to expedite industrialisation. That is a good thing.
Rwanda’s development agenda must include, not only on the judicious exploitation of its mineral resources, but on increasing productivity; ensuring adequate capitalisation; ensuring inclusivity especially of youth and women; facilitating the transfer of technical and management skills, transparency, creating a regulated environment and avoidance of environmental degradation. Above all, it must create inclusive economic growth and I think we all agree that our youths must play a more meaningful role in that process.
In Rwanda and other countries, we are seeing conscious efforts to increase the sector’s contribution to mineral revenues; improve transparency; inculcate a culture of safe and responsible mining; reduce the use of hazardous substances and environmental degradation while fostering development of communities within the mining areas. Most African countries have many small scale miners who can contribute significantly to mineral output however generally, their activities are associated with informal, unregulated, under- capitalised, under-equipped and labour-intensive operations where technical and management skills are lacking.
Small scale miners are mainly youths who unfortunately continue to work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for “big men”. They also lack own financial resources with no access to bank loans. Very often, the mining operations are done haphazardly with severe consequences to the environment, the surrounding, and even distant, communities, and to the miners themselves. Lack of adequate equipment, such as drilling and pumping machines also leads miners to abandon their deposits prematurely, once hard rock or water is encountered. Without financial resources and technical and management skills, miners cannot conduct systematic exploration of the mining areas to allow long-term planning and adequate mining development. Sadly, it is indeed a brutish and short life for many.
Youths are typically a large part of small scale miners and it is critical that the participation of youth in the mining sector becomes one of the key drivers of future growth. There is therefore need for a more considered approach to youth in mining which, in my opinion, should be done at provincial level to ensure inclusivity and effective economic devolution.
It is critical that small scale mining activity is NOT characterised by minimal use of machinery or technology; operation without legal mining title or valid contract with the title holder; low productivity; inadequate safety measures, healthcare and environmental protection; high seasonality linked to economic insecurity. Added to this is the fact that lack of adequate geological knowledge and mine planning skills and safety have resulted in mining activities being chaotic and environmentally damaging
Many small scale miners have no financial capacity to mechanise mining operations due to lack of viable business plans and collateral security required to access bank loans. Deliberate youth inclusion strategies are very necessary if we are to create inclusive economic growth. These, among others, must include;
· Facilitating the access of youth to government loan facilities in mining sector;
· Reserving a percentage of mining claims/licences/rights for youth;
· Establishment of support centres to provide regional registration and purchasing and training services to youth the mining sector;
· Provision of concessionary loan facilities primarily for equipment purchase;
· Some level of exploration must be done to improve mining output;
· Ensuring that youths are part and parcel of mining sector value chain developments; and
· Ensuring that youth mining activities do not degrade or damage the environment.
In pursuance of the above, it is critical that we have provincial mining resource development blue prints which are driven at provincial level. Each province must know what mineral resource reserves lie under its ground and what actions are going to be taken to bring our youth to the table. Added to this, our youths must organise themselves around economic opportunities.
“Countries that are more inclusive in their approach are likely to enjoy better natural resource management and developmental outcomes. Countries where a greater proportion of society has a voice in policy making and where decisions are made on the basis of public goods provision to the many, rather than private spoils to the few, are more likely to benefit from welfare-enhancing policies that share developmental riches across social, political, and economic groups in a sustainable fashion.”
And so says the book titled “Rents to Riches” – The Political Economy of Natural Resource–Led Development. The book, authored by several experts in the subject matter, looks at the political economy of the “resource curse” prevalent in resource rich but poor countries, a pervasive phenomenon especially in Africa. It presents an analytical framework for evaluating a country’s political economy and institutional environment as it relates to natural resource management and offers some prescriptions across the natural resource value chain.
Rwanda aspires to transform and maximise the development of its extractives sector for the inclusive welfare of its citizens while stemming out serious leakages and ensuring that there is tangible socio economic impact from revenues generated. We must however appreciate that transformative economic or mining policies will therefore be key determinants of progress, but these policies are also driven by inherent institutional structures and political dynamics. Transforming the mining sector must definitely be a priority if we are to see the emergence of prosperous youths in that sector. This will ensure inclusive, sustainable and broad based economic growth and development which is a key pillar of the National Strategy for Transformation (NST) in achieving Vision 2050.