Correspondent GERALD KITABU this week talked to NASIR GAMA, a Tanzanite dealer, on how the gemstone benefits locals and artisanal miners.
QUESTION: You have been dealing with Tanzanite for more than ten years now; tell us how the gemstone benefits locals and small-scale miners?
ANSWER: Before I start talking about Tanzanite, let me say that Tanzania is a very beautiful nation, endowed with variety of minerals, which alone could turn it into a wealthy nation if these natural resources are properly managed.
I think every where in Tanzania people are living with minerals without their knowledge. A good example is the recent discovery of uranium and natural gas. Along the rift valley, for example, there are many different minerals because of the folding and faulting of land blocks but also volcanic eruptions that took place many years ago formed minerals in different rock strata.
In different districts in the country, and along big rivers and lakes such as Lake Tanganyika, there are large reserves of minerals like gold, diamonds, uranium, coloured gemstones, nickel, tin to name but a few. There are many other unknown minerals and natural gas which awaits discovery.
I commend government efforts for the initiative taken to educate and mobilize youth to take active role in developing this nation. However, many things need to be worked out before the youth like me can actually realize their dreams.
When you look at the objectives of mineral policy of 2009, for example, the policy says the government will continue attracting private investments in exploration and mining, the government will participate in strategic projects; it will emphasize integration of the mineral sector with the rest of the economy, underpin development of small scale miners, promote public participation in mining activities and guide investors towards sustainable exploitation of mineral resources of Tanzania in a win–win manner, just to name few objectives. However, all the objectives and massive deposits of such minerals, the sector has never made life better for local communities and Tanzanians at large. Tanzanians are complaining about foreign companies every day. They think that they are not benefiting as larger share is taken away by foreign investors.
In other words, it has completely failed to deliver the expected results including changing the economy of the nation and individual income.
It has failed to link and improve other economic sectors such as roads infrastructures in rural areas
where minerals are found. It has failed to link and improve local industries to create employment because the number of unemployed youth is on the increase every passing day. Instead, the sector is satisfying the need of foreign investors.
Q: What is your experience?
A: I was born in Iringa region. When I started this business in early 1990’s, Tanzanite was a very big deal for the youth from different parts of the country. Many youth like me by that time would flock in Merelani Arusha in search of Tanzanite without many restrictions. Those who were sharp, they made quick money and they are now very rich. However, as time went on, big companies and foreign investors started coming in. the situation changed. Many mines were owned by big companies and the youth turned employees of these companies.
Many youth are no longer benefiting from the mineral because currently many mines are owned by larger companies.
Q: By the way what is Tanzanite?
A: Tanzanite is a special gemstone with wonderful colour, blue, surrounded by a fine hint of purple. In recent years, it has become one of the popular minerals in the world, thus promoting Tanzania in every corner of the world.
Tanzanite is found in Arusha. When you hear stories from big businessmen, government officials or read different literatures, you will find that tanzanite was discovered in 1967 and it was enthusiastically celebrated by the specialists as the gemstone of the 20th century.
Normally Tanzanite occurs as orthorhombic crystals, which may be colorless, yellow-green, brown, or blue to violet when found. However, when these crystals are heated they change to sapphire blue, which is the preferred color for gemstones.
Q: What is your advice?
A: If the government wants to build a middle income class, it should empower small-scale miners. These will contribute significantly to raising our economy. There is also a need to review mineral policy and laws so that they can benefit Tanzanians first before foreigners. The way minerals are being mined and managed is different from what the policy says. For example one of the objectives of the mineral policy of 2009 says the government will guide investors towards sustainable exploitation of mineral resources of Tanzania in a win-win manner. The policy is very good but it doesn’t reflect the real situation on the ground. If big percentage of minerals is taken by big companies, this is not a win-win situation. Finally I call upon foreign companies and mineral dealers from all over the world to work with us local entrepreneurs so that we can improve our entrepreneurship and business relationships.