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Africa scrambles to build export network for mineral resources
by Staff Writers
Mombasa, Kenya (UPI) Nov 8, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

These days, Africa's buzzing with plans to build railways, highways, pipelines and ports to get the mineral wealth from the states at the heart of the continent, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans for export.

China, with its insatiable appetite for oil, natural gas and raw materials like copper and iron ore to fuel its ever-expanding economy, is behind much of this effort to develop export corridors eastward across the Indian Ocean.

Indeed, Africa's eastern seaboard is the main focus of this continental drive to accelerate the export of raw materials to a level never envisioned by the colonial powers that began plundering Africa in the 19th century.

"A competition is developing among several southern Africa nations to move minerals produced in Africa's landlocked regions to ports along the coastline," the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor said.

"The prize for the competing nations is Katanga province, a mineral-rich region in the DRC, and Zambia's copperbelt province."

Katanga produces some 570,000 metric tons of copper and about 60,000 metric tons of cobalt per year.

Zambia, to the south, produces about 675,000 metric tons of copper annually. Between them they account for 7 percent of global copper production and roughly half the world's cobalt.

Right now, most of Katanga's output flows through South Africa and Tanzania, much of it by road to the port of Durban.

But mineral producers prefer rail transport, which is cheaper, and there's a plan to redirect much of this through Angola, along the refurbished Benguela rail line that fell into disuse during the Angolan civil war in the 1970s and '80s, and to Walvis Bay, Namibia, both on Africa's southwestern Atlantic coast.

However, this will depend on the DRC investing in repairs on its end of the Benguela line. The World Bank already has provided Kinshasa with $280 million for that purpose, and the rail operators are seeking private investors for $200 million more to complete the project.

Zambia has pledged to invest $1.6 billion to upgrade its rail system for a coastal linkup.

"Africa's geographic tragedy through the ages has been its isolation, which has long been among the main causes of its poverty" despite its vast mineral wealth, Stratfor analysts Robert Kaplan and Mark Schroeder said.

Despite long coastlines, Africa has few deepwater ports, and its network of great rivers is mostly unnavigable from the center of the continent to the Atlantic and Indian Ocean seaboards while the Sahara Desert in the north has blocked contact with the Mediterranean region.

Three of these projects originate in Angola, a former Portuguese colony that is now one of Africa's top oil producers. These connect to the southern fringe of Congo's vast rainforest.

The plan is to extract diamonds, copper and other precious commodities which have never been fully exploited because of the impassable terrain.

But it's the eastern seaboard that's the target for many of the transportation projects now under way or on the drawing board, and this is why China is so central to this emerging network.

Its imports from Africa go directly across the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea, where Beijing is building up its naval power to protect shipping lanes whose strategic value is increasing.

The Tanzam railway, built in the 1970s but currently in disrepair, carries a small proportion of central Africa's minerals 1,560 miles from Lubumbashi, the Katanga mining capital, to the Indian Ocean through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic center.

Right now, the port can't handle large cargo vessels. But with a major offshore gas boom swelling in Tanzania and neighboring Mozambique, there are plans to expand eastern ports to deep-water status.

The Chinese are concentrating on Tanzania's Bagamoyo and the Japanese on Dar es Salaam.

Kenya, an emerging oil producer, wants the Chinese to build a rail line and a pipeline southeast to link the oil fields in South Sudan to a new port at Lamu on the Indian Ocean.

Beijing, which imports most of South Sudan's oil, has held back on making such a major commitment.

But with the growing energy potential on Africa's east coast, from the Horn of Africa down to South Africa, the proposed megaport, envisaged as a giant complex with 32 berths, three airports and a 1,000-mile rail network, remains a prospect.

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