EU gets into hot water over 'looting' of minerals by Rwanda

The EU has been accused of a “provocation of very, very bad taste” by the president of the Democratic of Congo (DRC) following the ratification of a deal with Rwanda he claims will “encourage looting or fraud”.

The bloc signed a raw materials cooperation agreement with Rwanda on February 19 that seeks to “nurture sustainable and resilient value chains for critical raw materials”.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Sustainable Raw Materials Value Chains will allow the EU to secure raw materials vital for developing green technologies and is the latest in a series of agreements with African nations.

But Félix Tshisekedi, president of the DRC, has condemned the agreement between its neighbour and the bloc.

He claimed the MoU would only mean that Rwanda exports materials taken from across the border and would get dividends from the “blood of our compatriots”.

In a lengthy statement released earlier this week, Mr Tshisekedi denounced the deal as a “provocation of very, very bad taste”, and claimed Rwanda “doesn’t even have a gram of these so-called ‘critical’ minerals in its subsoil”.

He added: “So when we sign a MoU with this country, it means that we are going to encourage looting or fraud, because there are clever little people who have fun – as we see with gold – taking our materials across the border, going to Rwanda and selling them there.

“Rwanda doesn’t even process them. So it exports them and gets dividends from that, on the blood of our compatriots. And that’s unacceptable.”

The EU has stood firm behind its deal, stating it would prove useful while condemning the actions of armed groups on the DRC’s eastern flank who may be involved in the illicit exportation of its raw materials.

Peter Stano, the spokesman for Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, said the bloc “does not take sides”.

He said the EU has “repeatedly stressed the obligation of all states in the region to cease all direct or indirect support” for armed groups in the DRC.

Analysts have said Rwanda is a “significant source” of minerals vital for sustainable energy development, including the “3TG’s”.

Market intelligence firm Project Blue reported that the country is “either directly or indirectly” a source of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold.

The firm added that it could become a source of lithium – the core component for lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles – and other rare earth elements.

But Rwanda is relatively poorly equipped to refine those materials, with only one gold refinery and a not-yet-operational tantalum refinery.