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Congo’s mining highway near the Zambian border.

Congo’s mining highway near the Zambian border.

Photographer: Lucien Kahozi/Bloomberg
Markets Magazine

China Built Congo a Toll Road That Led Straight to the Ruling Family

Audits allege $238 million paid to transport cobalt and copper have gone missing.


For 250 hot and dusty miles, the two-lane highway cuts through central Africa, its path lined with the carcasses of trucks, buses, and minivans. But this modest road holds outsize value for global markets, connecting some of the continent’s richest mines to the rest of the world—most notably, China.

Along this route, thousands of flatbed trucks haul sheets of copper and sacks of cobalt hydroxide, essential for electric cars and other 21st century technologies. Their drivers must pay steep tolls, as much as $900 for a round trip.