The Congola Express

by John Grobler

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Economic lifeblood: With no formal service station yet operational in Luau, fuel is dispensed directly from the Sonangol tanker and sold by the 20 litter container only. Cheap Angolan fuel is the most sought-after commodity in neighbouring Katanga Province and underpins a roaring black-market trade in the commodity.

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The Gaddafis: Informal fuel traders take a break on the road between Dililo and Matsatsa, a three-day, 150-kilometre-long journey pushing their bicycles loaded with petrol they buy in Dililo and sell for three to four times more inside the DRC where fuel is not readily available.

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A brand-new Chinese-made locomotive hauls a goods train on the section of the CFB between Luau and Luena, capital of Moxico Province. Angola has made liberal use of Chinese loan facilities to rebuild the railway line - but the control of the entire railways system falls under a company owned by a small handful of officials in the Office of the Angolan President.

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The great open pit of the KOV mine, outside Kolwezi. Once the most prolific producer of copper and cobalt in the world, decades of mismanagement has seen the once fabled mine broken up into smaller concession and sold to foreign investors as part of Kinshasa’s plans to revive the country’s economic engine.

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A Chinese train driver attached the the CREC-20 workgroup has a brief instant breakfast of green tea and rice cakes after driving through the night to deliver a work team to the remote border town of Luau, eastern Moxico Province. The Angolan government has implemented a massive infrastructure program for this town of about 12,000 people, including a new international airport.

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Eaters of Copper: the entrance to the fabled KOV mine in Kolwezi, Katanga province, which has produced 10 percent of the world’s copper and more than 50 percent of all cobalt produced in 2012. A former Gecamines jewel, the now utterly run-down mine has been sold off piece-meal to South African, Israeli and Chinese investors.

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Many Chinese, once they have completed their contracts, prefer to stay in Angola and take advantage of the building boom, financed by cheap Chinese loans and repaid in Angolan oil. Angola now has one of the largest expatriate Chinese communities in Africa, estimated to be as high as 120,000 people.

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Workers attached to the China Railway Engineering Company Unit 20 work on reinforcements on the CFB line outside Huambo. Given the total lack of skills on the part of Angolans, the Chinese supply every level of artisan except common labourers, who in the rural areas often are only paid in food. The Chinese workers earn between $150 to $250 per month - in a country where basic meal costs $15.