China plans to spend US$1Bn to revamp Tanzania-Zambia railway (Tazara) connecting the Central African copper belt with Dar es Salaam to the east.
China’s ambassador to Zambia submitted a proposal to to Zambian Transport Minister to invest in the rehabilitation of the Tazara railway through public-private partnerships. The Tazara was first built in the 1970s by the Chinese, to open up access to the Central African copper belt.
In 2023, the Lobito Corridor, the westward competition to the Tazara railway, had its first trial rail cargo of 1,100t of copper concentrate successfully arrive at the port of Lobito in Angola from Kamoa-Kakula, DRC, on 31 December. This reduced the transit time to reach a port from an average of 25 days trucking via South Africa to just 8 days.
Africa is and is increasingly becoming an important critical materials supplier for the major battery and electric vehicle economies. China leads the investment on the continent, but government policies from the West are opening potential opportunities for African nations to offer alternative supplies for key critical materials to enable energy transition ambitions.
The Tazara railway has to date not been an efficient export route for Central African commodities to China, rather exported via trucking routes as the railway gauges are not compatible across borders. South African port congestions in Durban and Richards Bay were amplified in 2023 with a deteriorating domestic rail network, adding pressure to one of the key trucking export routes from the copper belt to China.