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Zambia Eyes “Once-in-a-Lifetime” Opportunity with Angolan Rail Link

Zambia is about to undergo a huge economic transition, according to President Hakainde Hichilema, who sees a US-backed project connecting the country’s copper mines to an Angolan port as a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance. This massive project, spanning three countries and supported by the United States, the European Union, and the G7 nations, aims to build a key link to the Atlantic Ocean, avoiding the conventional route through South Africa and perhaps benefiting the region’s economy.

The Lobito Corridor project involves building new railway lines in Zambia and linking them to an existing line in Angola, finally leading to the port city of Lobito. This strategic action not only promises to drastically cut transit times for both mining supplies and mined metal exports, but it also plays an important role in the Biden administration’s goal to ensure access to critical resources for the global energy transition. Furthermore, it offers a chance to oppose China’s expanding influence in the region.

President Hichilema, emphasizing the project’s transformative potential, stated it represents a generational opportunity with benefits for the nation’s economy, its people, and business prospects. Initial trial shipments from the Democratic Republic of Congo have already demonstrated the efficiency gains, taking a week to reach Lobito compared to over a month via the traditional South African route.

The United States held an investment event in Zambia to encourage private financing for this multibillion-dollar project. Meanwhile, China made its own proposal, a $1 billion-plus plan to revive the existing Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) line that connects Zambia’s copper belt to Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam. President Hichilema wants to complete this arrangement with China by September, with a state-owned Chinese corporation taking over Tazara’s commercial activities.

Zambia finds itself at a crossroads, with two large infrastructural projects competing for its attention. While Angolan rail provides a speedier and perhaps more efficient path, the Chinese option has a lower cost and proven infrastructure. The eventual choice will have a huge impact on Zambia’s economic future and relationships with global powers competing for influence in the area.

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