The Kenticha tantalum mine, which is being run by the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation, has been looted by unidentified individuals, The Reporter has learnt.
The tantalum mine is located in the Oromia Regional state, Guji Zone, Seba Boru wereda, Kenticha locality 600 km south of Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation mines tantalum concentrate and mainly exports it to China.
On the aftermath of the political unrest that rocked the country, the Corporation was forced to suspend mining operation. Local residents had complained that the tailing dam of the tantalum mine was holding water more than its designed capacity and expressed fear that it will overflow and flood the area. The residents allege that the mine waste was polluting the locality. Accordingly, the local administration instructed the Corporation to halt operation in December 2017.
Sources told The Reporter that recently local residents have invaded the mining area and have been panning tantalum from the corporation’s license area. “Illegal miners have been producing tantalum from the mining area. Though the corporation suspended mining activity last December, tantalum is still exported by unknown individuals,” sources said.
According to sources, two weeks ago unidentified individuals have looted two tons of tantalum from the mine. “There was four tons of tantalum concentrate produced previously and stored at the processing plant. Two tons of tantalum was stolen from there,” sources said. The looted tantalum concentrate is estimated at two million birr. The Oromia Regional State Police is investigating the matter.
The tantalum mine, which was discovered by former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) geologists in the 1980s, has been mined since 1994. The mine was owned by the Ethiopian Minerals Development Enterprise which was merged with the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation.
The Corporation has been only mining and exporting tantalum concentrate mainly to China. The Kenticha mine has an installed capacity of producing 174 tons of tantalum concentrate. However, due to aging machineries and financial constraints, the production capacity has been limited to only 100 tons. During the heydays, the Corporation used to export 90-95 tons of tantalum concentrate generating 20 million dollars per annum.
The Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation was planning to expand the tantalum mine and build a tantalum processing plant that manufactures value added tantalum products. The Corporation has been searching for an international mining firm that will co-invest in the project. In a bid to find a partner that will jointly develop the tantalum mine and build a value added tantalum products manufacturing plant, the Ministry of Public Enterprises has put up an international tender. However, the Ministry later cancelled the bid due to the impasse.
Sources told The Reporter that the tailing dam issue is only a pretext. “The local administration wants to confer the tantalum mine to the unemployed youth in the neighborhoods,” sources said. Sources also told The Reporter that the Kenticha tantalum mine issue has been presented to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), and President of the Oromia Regional State, Lemma Megerssa. “Efforts to resolve the matter through dialogue have not been successful so far,” sources added.
CEO of Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation Mulugeta Seid, declined to comment on the issue.