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Once-Forsaken Copper Country Is Back in the Spotlight

For years, western mining companies have largely avoided the central African copperbelt.

Workers load batches of copper sheets ready for shipping inside a warehouse facility in Mufulira, Zambia.

Workers load batches of copper sheets ready for shipping inside a warehouse facility in Mufulira, Zambia.

Photographer: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

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Mining investors are stampeding back into a region many had seemed determined to leave.

Straddling the border of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast forested area roughly the size of Portugal contains one of the world’s richest caches of minerals: copper for wires and cables, and cobalt for rechargeable batteries. At the intersection of the two African nations, trucks queue for about 53 kilometers (33 miles) along a cratered road snaking past giant mounds of mining residue and villagers selling stacks of watermelons — most of them carrying metals vital to the global energy transition.