(Bloomberg) -- The US is going full steam ahead in its effort to catch up with China in a part of the world that’s become central to the green transition: Africa’s “Copperbelt.” Loaded with minerals critical to the production of batteries and other renewable energy components, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have become the latest venue in the struggle for advantage between Washington and Beijing.
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As part of its stated ambition to challenge China’s dominance, the Biden administration saw an opportunity to revitalize a century-old rail line linking key African mines to an Atlantic Ocean port. Called the Lobito corridor, the US is investing hundreds of millions of dollars on the project. In the Bloomberg Originals mini-documentary How the US Can Rival China in Africa, we show how the initiative could offer a quick route to the US and the European Union for these critical elements.
But the US is late to the game. China first built a rail line in the 1970’s heading eastward out of the Copperbelt to the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. A Chinese state company later rebuilt a key railway line in Angola at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
Over the past decade, President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative has seen China invest almost $1 trillion dollars on infrastructure projects in developing countries. The US hasn’t come close to matching that. Now, this may be changing, with the Lobito corridor serving as a flagship for the plan by US President Joe Biden and the Group of Seven to invest $600 billion in similar projects over five years.
However, it’s not just infrastructure that China has dominated. Much of Congo’s copper production is controlled by Chinese companies, and there’s been little US investment in Zambian mining. A Silicon Valley startup called KoBold metals says it wants to alter that dynamic. Backed by Bill Gates and OpenAI’s Sam Altman, the company is racing to transform its massive copper deposit in northern Zambia into a mine that will be a key beneficiary of the Lobito corridor project.
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--With assistance from Paul Richardson, Taonga Clifford Mitimingi, Candido Mendes, William Clowes and Michael J Kavanagh.
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