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Public optimism for potential fossil fuel in the country raised a notch higher after the recent discovery of oil and gas reserves in the other East African partner states.
The discovery of oil reserves in Kenya and Uganda has led pundits to wonder whether East Africa could be the next oil hotspot after West Africa and the Middle East.
However, Rwanda may have to wait a little longer before it can strike oil let alone benefit from the large foreign exchange inflows that come with it.
Whereas oil exploration in Rwanda began in 2010, Uganda, Rwanda’s neighbour to the north, began exploring oil as early as 1920s and it was not until 2006 that the first oil discovery was made in the Albertine Graben, a region on the Uganda-DRC border.
Kenya so far offers the most interesting scenario. Even though oil exploration began in the 1950s, the country had unsuccessfully drilled about 35 dry oil wells over a period of 30 years before finally striking oil deposits in March this year.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Kenyan and Ugandan experiences indicate that despite serious technological advances in oil exploration, Rwanda still has a long way to go before any potential breakthrough.
Oil exploration began when the government entered into an agreement with Canadian firm, Vanoil Energy, to begin works in Lake Kivu, along the Rwanda-DRC border, which also falls in the Albertine Graben.
“We are still far away from finding oil but what I can say is that the exploration is off to a good start and so far, results from the analyses have encouraged Vanoil (the prospecting firm) to continue their work,” the Minister of Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, said during an interview with The New Times.
“We discovered a sedimentary basin under Lake Kivu with thickness of up to 3.5 kilometres and we are still analysing data from the 2D seismic technology to determine whether the structure of the basin is capable of holding oil.”
Using 2-Dimentional seismic technology, acoustic waves were sent to the deep seabed of Lake Kivu, which is some 400km below.
Using this method, heavy explosives are used to produce sound waves which bounce back to produce an image of the lake’s subsurface. After analysis, the date is analysed to tell whether its geological structure has any oil reserves.
“The next step is to get a detailed 2D seismic with a detailed structure, after which we will decide where to drill early next year,” the minister added.
Rwanda was inspired to search for the “black gold” after other regional countries made key discoveries.
Discoveries in Kenya and Uganda also ensured that the region cost-shares the technology for oil exploration rather than import from outside. As a result, the 2D seismic equipment used on L. Kivu was sourced from Kenya.
“Rwanda is in the Great Rift Valley Basin just like Kenya and Uganda and we have a similar geological structure. The fact that there are discoveries in Uganda and Kenya in areas with the same geological structure, gave Rwanda motivation to begin its own oil search,” an official from the ministry said.
Patience is important in prospecting issues, he added.
Outside a two-roomed house in Kibeho sector of Nyaruguru district, Southern Rwanda, half a dozen men can be seen seated on wooden chairs, either repairing or just making new, black leather shoes.
These are members of “Twiteze imbere” (or “Let’s Develop Ourselves”), a ten-member cooperative born in 2009.
“These shoes constitute my livelihood”, said 22-year-old Alphonse Karangwa as he displayed a pair of black leather shoes being mended.
Karangwa, a bachelor, says he makes between Rwf 30,000 and Rwf 50,000 per month through his trade, just between $50 and $80.
“Each of us [cooperative members] has to save one thousand francs every workday which is then put on our bank account as our cooperative savings. And the money one makes everyday apart from the other one thousand francs, it becomes yours”, said Karangwa, his hands still busy with his craft.
An even compelling account for Jean Baptiste Gashugi, 42, who joined the cooperative in January.
A father to three, Gashugi spent years working single-handedly as a shoemaker in the capital Kigali’s Kimironko market from where he used to come to visit his family in Mata sector of Nyaruguru district after some months, when he thought he had collected enough money to assist them.
“When you work alone, you can easily get lazy. But that’s impossible when you work in a cooperative. Again, when you work alone, you can’t get funding. But as a cooperative, you can easily get funding and training workshops”, Gashugi explained.
“When I was still working in Kigali, I could take home half the money I had worked for because I had to deduct my meals, ticket fees to come home and pay for my rent from the very money I was taking home”, he remembers.
Today, Gashugi says working in a cooperative within his native Nyaruguru district is already paying off.
“All I get [money] out of my job gets to my family in full. My family can’t go hungry and my school children can easily get pens and notebooks”, he said.
The Kibeho-based cooperative makes a wide range of leather products like shoes, belts, purses, bags, wallets and mobile phone-carrying bags. The most expensive of its products – a men’s pair of shoes − costs Rwf 30,000 (about $50) while the least expensive – a women’s pair of shoes – costs Rwf 1,500 (about $3).
And “good” service delivery seems to be a driving force here.
“Shoes repaired here last longer and that’s why I didn’t want to wait for a shoemaker who usually comes to our school at the weekend”, said 24-year-old Dominique Ruvugabigwi, a student at the nearby “Marie Merci” high school who came to get his pair of shoes repaired.
According to George Ntarindwa, Executive Secretary of Kibeho sector, there are already plans to increase the cooperative’s members for a huge number of people to benefit.
“The problem is due to a small workplace but we [sector officials] will be doing advocacy to our partners to sort it out. And hopefully by the beginning of next year , the problem will have been worked out”, said Ntarindwa.
As Ntarindwa further put it, a number of shoemakers will be employed as “trainers” at a vocational training center to be operational in Kibeho sector in 2013. And from the center, new recruits will join the cooperative ranks.
To date, Kibeho sector has a total of 32 different cooperatives which the sector leadership says “they are already transforming the lives of their members for the better”.