This line is a major hub linking the port of Lobito (western Angola) to the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latter uses it to export minerals, such as copper mined in the Copperbelt (the “copper belt” stretching across the DRC and Zambia) and cobalt, an essential ore for the production of electric batteries, of which the DRC now produces three-quarters of world demand.
According to Trafigura, this consortium will be responsible for the operation, management and maintenance of the railway infrastructure for the transportation of goods, minerals, liquids and gases for the corridor that extends for about 1,290 km, and connects Lobito with Blauu, in eastern Angola near the Congolese border.
The consortium brings together Trafigura and Motta-Engel each with a stake of 49.5%, with the latter holding Vecturis, the rail operator’s managing director, Eric Biver, explained to Belga on Monday.
“At the end of a procedure that was clearly intended by the Angolan authorities to be very transparent, our consortium was declared the winning bidder and the concession agreement was officially signed on Friday, November 4 in Luanda, after the three leaders of the companies formed the consortium President (Joao) Lourenco “, he added.
For a Belgian company like Vecturis, “Being able to strike a bundling agreement with two global partners and being assigned the key role of rail operator for such a strategic concession is clearly a paradigm shift,” he said. Follow Mr. Beaver.
According to him, Vecturis – based in Wavre and very present in Africa – will deploy teams on the ground in order to prepare for the launch of the operation within the announced period of six months.
The consortium has committed to investing significant capital in rail infrastructure improvements to improve the capacity and safety of the Lobito Corridor, as well as investment in key rail equipment for freight operations. With an initial term of 30 years, the agreement provides for a total investment of $450 million, plus additional operating and capital expenditures.
For Mr. Beaver, the main challenge goes beyond the organizational aspects and acquisition of equipment and vehicles, “It is clear that nearly a thousand local workers will be recruited and trained.”
From Loa, the link joins the Congolese border at Dilolo and extends into the Congolese towns of Kolwezi and Lubumbashi (southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the heart of the Copperbelt.
Formerly called the Benguela Railway, this line belonged to the Belgian Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) group. It was the main export route for Congolese copper until 1975, the date of Angola’s independence but also the beginning of the civil war that tore the country apart for more than twenty years.
The conflict has halted online activities and destroyed infrastructure. Rail traffic across the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola was only resumed in March 2018 after 34 years of suspension.
When peace returned in 2002, Angola took over the remaining assets and the line was rebuilt with Chinese financing and by Chinese companies, the investment amounting to more than three billion dollars, according to Mr. Beaver.