Burundi Government suspends Africa’s only producing rare earths mine

The Government of Burundi in East Africa has suspended operations at several mines run by international mining companies, citing an unfair share of income from the country’s mineral wealth.

In a letter to the seven targeted companies of British, Chinese and Russian origin, Mines Minister Ibrahim Uwizeye said the decision was taken earlier this month because of ‘numerous failures’ regarding the country’s mining code.

“The state, which owns the soil and minerals, is not making a profit as it should,” the letter said. Uwizeye also described the mining contracts as ‘unbalanced’.

“We want to renegotiate all these agreements for the benefit of the people, because these minerals must be used to finance the development of the country,” he told media outlet AFP last week.

UK-listed Rainbow Rare Earths, which operates the only producing rare earths mine in Africa, is reportedly the main target of Burundi’s judgement. Rainbow, via a subsidiary that is 10%-owned by the Burundi government, operates the Gakara project in the country’s Western region.

Uwizeye said Burundi was demanding a more equitable share of revenue from the Gakara project and had ordered Rainbow to halt exports of rare earth concentrates until the situation was resolved.

Rare earths are crucial to the manufacture of magnets used in wind turbines, robots and electric vehicles, as well as consumer goods such as smartphones, computer screens and telescopic lenses.