African Society and Conflict

Dispatches on African Politics and Security

Current Research Project: “Women, Conflict, & Modern Mining in Rwanda” (WCMM)

There are over 13 million Africans directly engaged in artisanal mining, much of it illegal, and countless more depend on its income. An estimated 50% of these artisanal and small-scale mines (ASM) workers are women concentrated in the lowest paying positions (Hayes and Perks 2012). Most of these workers are mining the very minerals necessary to power the world’s electronics, including the very device you are on right now. Research across Africa has shown that the industry is both a boon and a burden for many of these workers.  On the one hand, despite their low wages, ASMs serve as a vital means of income for rural women when no other exists. Yet, as we see most clearly in “conflict minerals”, mining is also associated with violence against women and forced displacement. Additionally, mining may create secondary conditions of environmental and structural violence for women as part of the resource curse.

However, Rwanda has a unique mining story that may change this narrative about gender and natural resources. Mineral earnings are projected to reach $800 million by 2020 and $1.5 billion by 2024, nearly doubling annually. The state is making a concerted effort to close down illegal artisanal mines in favor of far greater regulation in the industry. It is enacting policies to formalize, mechanize, and legalize mining practices across the country. Rwanda has been a regional juggernaut in its efforts to monitor this burgeoning industry, and this dynamic combines with its laudable national policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment to create a case study like no other.

In response to this process, my driving research question is: What is rural women’s relationship with the mining industry during this process of formalization, and how might increased national regulation of mining improve women’s socio-economic wellbeing in Rwanda?

Generously funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in 2021, my interdisciplinary project has an innovative goal of creating ethnographic or “social” maps to visually depict women’s experiences with mining. These computer-generated spatial representations will allow us to understand women’s interactions with and navigation of mining activities. In addition to typical geographic points like roads and waterways and buildings, these maps will also show points to illustrate women’s legal domains, economic spheres, and community interactions. For example, the maps may show which legal actors settle disputes in which areas, where women have changed their economic activities in response to mining, or how mines may affect women’s conflict resolutions pathways. The data for these maps were collected at interactive map-making workshops for women in mining communities across Rwanda in the spring of 2021. At each of the five phases of workshops, a more and more detailed social map was individually and collaboratively created by the female participants. Our team contextualized and detailed these maps with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.

The ethnographic maps inform my 2022 draft book manuscript that draws from women’s first-hand accounts of their lived realities with extractive activities. Additionally, three government agencies in Rwanda have sought out these findings to better inform their national policy-making on gender and mining.


From left to right:

Laine Munir, Principal Investigator: Laine is a political anthropologist with interdisciplinary research and teaching experience in gender, law, and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. She is Assistant Professor of Global Challenges at African Leadership University and Senior Research Fellow at the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at the University of Rwanda. She has served as a Research Fellow at George Mason University Korea’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, an Education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Mozambique, and currently works as an international development consultant from Kigali. She holds a Ph.D. in Law and Society from New York University and an M.A. in Human Rights from Columbia University.

Aline Providence Nkundibiza, Senior Researcher: Aline has 10 years of experience in mineral resources governance, specifically in traceability and certification, environmental management, and gender and social inclusion. Since 2011, she has served in governmental, private sector, and civil society organizations as a projects intervention manager, consultant, and researcher. Most recently, she was with the Sustainable Development of Mining in Rwanda (SDMR) Program, Partnerships Africa Canada, and the former Ministry of Natural Resources. She is the founder of the Rwanda Women In/And Mining Organization (WIAMO). She holds a B.A. degree, an MA in Gender and Development Studies, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies.

Ian Mugambi, Data Analyst: Ian is a Data Scientist working in the fields of Machine learning, data visualization, Geographical Information Systems(GIS), and mapping. Ian has experience in manufacturing, SCADA systems, Logistics, and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Information Technology specializing in Applied Machine Learning and Cyber Security from Carnegie Mellon University Africa and holds a B.S. degree in Software Engineering from Kenyatta University.

Placide Habinema, Field Coordinator: Placide works as contractual Operation Manager and Mining Engineer for U.N.M Mining company Ltd Placide and is also Managing Director of Mining Access Window Rwanda Limited, a licensed consultancy mining company supporting mineral exploration services, social and environmental services, contract services, blasting services, civil works, and construction projects. He has software skills in Arc-GIS, Auto-CAD, Ventism, and Plaxis for analysis. He holds a B.S. degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Rwanda, College of Science and Technology, School of Mining and Geology.

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