Why honeymoon is over for Arusha Mineral Centre

A Tanzanite stone being inspected. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • After the order to shift Tanzanite trading to Mererani, stakeholders and brokers believe that Arusha also could benefit from a relaxation of the mandate

Arusha. It was all smiles and joy one chilly morning in June 2019, when the facility swung its gates wide open to the public.

That was during the official opening of the Arusha Mineral Trade Centre, not very far from the iconic Clock Tower.

The faces of those in attendance, especially the mineral dealers, beamed with prospects of more fortunes from gemstone trade.

These included hundreds of small dealers who swarmed the area ahead and after the opening ceremony; later staying put.

This was to be the major and formal buying and selling centre for all minerals in Arusha, notably the gemstones.

These include the precious blue and violet zoisite, as the Tanzanite is scientifically known.

However, on Friday, it was an entirely different story. What was expected to be a vibrant market, is all but less vibrant and active compared to a year and a half ago.

Tanzanite, a gemstone which propelled Arusha and Mererani, to the international gem markets, is hardly mentioned, not necessarily out of fear.

The rare gem, found nowhere in the world except the Mererani hills in Simanjiro district, Manyara region, is no longer sold there.

It was in July 2021 that the government directed that all Tanzanite trading and processing be conducted at Mererani, some 65 km from Arusha.

The measure would, among others, boost the economy of the township in the semi-arid plains and earn it visibility to the global market.

Although the relocation targeted only Tanzanite business, the mineral centre has seen a decline in trading of dozens of other gemstones.

Few traders found there on Friday were ready to talk about the state of business and when ready, they only spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Officially, there is no Tanzanite business here. That does not mean you can miss a piece from hawkers,” one of them said.

Another dealer, commended the government for being serious in collecting its dues from the trade.

He was of the opinion that Tanzanite sales should not be prohibited in the Arusha Mineral Trade Centre which, in some way, was constructed for the purpose.

The mineral centre, though, continues to attract brokers for a host of other gemstones, other than the more famous Tanzanite.

Just past the entry gate of the Arusha Mineral Centre is Leboi Ole Timbau, seated among the brokers.

He and colleagues would focus on everyone entering the premises, hoping to be a client for their mineral sorting business.

“I am an interested party. I have not committed myself in this business but for now you can call me a broker,” he told The Citizen.

Previously a rights activists for pastoralists based in Arusha, he was forced to change trade after seeing opportunities in brokerage.

However, his colleague, Mr Saning’o Kuriay said the brokers were still active at the market in transactions involving mainly the gemstones.

“We were told this is an official market for all types of gemstones though there are challenges as some are licensed and others not,” he said.

He nonetheless admitted that business was not the same due to the devastating impact of Covid-19 and government restrictions.

Although the Arusha Mineral Trade Centre lost its vibrancy after the government’s order to confine Tanzanite business to Mererani, it continues to attract people.

The move to establish regional mineral hubs across the country was aimed to eliminate illegal exports and crack down on tax evasion.

It was not the turn of the Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa to order that Mererani - the source of Tanzanite gemstones - should be where the Tanzanite market should be located.

Initially, Tanzanite was sold at the regional minerals market in Arusha alongside other gemstones from various areas in the northern zone.

The PM gave the directive when he visited the site in June 2021, insisting the measure is aimed to ensure the people of the dusty town benefited through trickle-down effect.

Until then, most Tanzanite minerals were being auctioned in Arusha - not wholly at the regional mineral centre but elsewhere in the city whose economy has been boosted by the rare gems.

In September 2017, the government ordered the construction of a 24km wall around the Tanzanite mining area in Mererani, a measure intended to curb smuggling.

This gave more credence to the mines and its adjacent town where for the first time an international auction for Tanzanites took place in December that year.

The Chairman of the Manyara Miners Association (Marema), Mr Sadiki Mneney was more than excited that the auction was held in Mererani town where it is mined.

He and other stakeholders believe that auctions held there would convince people that the Tanzanite was mined and obtained in Simanjiro District, Manyara Region and not in Arusha.

Prior to the construction of the wall, there had been plans to construct an investment centre of the Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA) at Mererani.

Besides Tanzanite, Manyara and the neighbouring Arusha region are dotted with gemstone mines for ruby, emerald, green garnet,tourmaline, sapphire and others.

There is now a renewed appeal for Tanzanite sales and processing to take place in Arusha city as well.

Mineral dealers say the city should not be deprived of the opportunity as a major local investment destination for the gemstone’s earnings.

“Arusha should also benefit even after the government relocated Tanzanite sales to Mererani,” said Sammy Molllel, the chairman of Tanzania Mineral Dealers’ Association (Tamida).

He said while Mererani should continue to be the prime local market for Tanzanite, Arusha should host the international Tanzanite fairs.

“This will enable both areas - Mererani and Arusha - to benefit from Tanzanite business,” he said.

He said he had reached out to senior government officials on the matter noting, however, that their request was not to go against the government’s directive of 2021.

The directive was made by the Prime Minister when he inaugurated the Sh.1.3billion Magufuli Tanzanite Centre at the mining town.

However, mineral sector stakeholders reached out to by The Citizen insisted that a partnership of the two areas would be more beneficial to the industry.

Arusha, they said, is where most of the proceeds from Tanzanite exports end up in forms of investments, especially in real estate and hotels.

The country’s safari capital has been a destination for Tanzanite buyers from around the world for years and hosted international gem fairs.

Mr Mollel, who is the CEO of the Arusha-based Gem and Rock Ventures Company Limited, said he would very soon meet the minerals minister on the issue.

“We will have to go through the regulations. As you know the Tanzanite market is dynamic; there should also be selling points in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar,” he said.