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Chinese-Built Port Evokes Dreams of El Dorado in Cameroon

A controversial $1.3 billion port in Cameroon will open the region’s iron ore, cotton and other commodities to world markets.

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Gantry cranes sit on the dockside at the container terminal at the Port of Kribi, Cameroon.

Gantry cranes sit on the dockside at the container terminal at the Port of Kribi, Cameroon.

Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

Every day at sunrise, Alain Eko walks half an hour on a footpath cutting through a coastal forest to the edge of what’s to become the biggest deep-water port in central Africa.

Eko, 34, is among hundreds of migrant workers who have pinned their hopes on Cameroon’s most ambitious project since independence in 1960 that’s meant to transform the sleepy fishing town of Kribi into an industrial hub. Built and funded by China, the project is helping Chinese companies gain a foothold in Cameroon, whose oil-dependent economy used to be dominated by French firms, and eased access to neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.