By Expendito Chipasha Chipalo
I have witnessed so many Presidential and General elections in our country and I cannot remember a more childish and deceptive message than the “Mukalya Misebo” (You will eat the roads) slogan by the United Party for National Development
The UPND leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema has always boasted about his knowledge and competence as an economist and I thought he would be the best person to understand the importance of good infrastructure in any country’s economic and social development.
I also thought that Mr. Hichilema would appreciate the importance of opening up the country to investors through the construction of dependable all weather roads and communication.
One of the problems that Africa has faced since the advent of self rule is the departure of educated and skilled citizens to the developed world. It is not just the better salaries, but the good roads, housing, communications, health services and other life supporting facilities that have attracted emigrants to the countries they have gone to.
My experience and opinion is that there is even a greater brain drain that hinders development in Africa and particularly in Zambia. This greater brain drain is referred to by economists and social scientists as the Rural Urban Migration.
The movement of the citizenry from rural to urban areas in search of employment, better hospitals, smooth roads and the bright lights of the city is a more devastating brain drain than the emigration of skilled labour to the northern hemisphere and of late to Australia. Why do I say so?
In the first place, rural urban migration exerts a lot of pressure on governments to provide services such as schools, hospitals, housing and by and large, the mass movement of people from rural areas into cities and towns leads to the growth of unplanned settlements and townships.
Secondly and most importantly, the rural urban migration leads to lower productivity. Able bodied and skilled men and women flock into cities in search of menial jobs that do not add much value to the national economy.
Over ninety per cent of all secondary and college graduates live in urban areas. Poor infrastructure and social services have made rural areas very unattractive to these people whose education and skills are supposed to be applied in the exploitation and management of our natural resources.
In Zambia, this devastating brain drain is now being reversed with the construction of good roads to almost all the districts in the country.
More educated young people are now opting to invest their labour and skills in rural Zambia and the Patriotic Front government must be recommended for doing such a recommendable job in such a short period.
For those who are singing the deceitful slogan of Mukalya Imisebo (you will eat the roads), I will outline below the positive impact that the good roads have brought to many Zambians’ lives and the economic potential that will be unlocked through the excellent Patriotic Front Link Zambia road network.
I will start with rural Zambia where a lot of our citizens are expressing appreciation of the good roads. Travelling from Lusaka or the Copperbelt to Zambezi and Chavuma Bomas was a nightmare of a journey.
I drove to these two districts for three consecutive years during the late eighties and on each occasion, I fitted new tires before embarking on the journeys, and on returning to Lusaka on each occasion, I had to replace the tires.
I remember on one occasion I was saved by volunteers who were running the Integrated Rural Development Project (IRDP) in Zambezi. One of the retread tires I had on my Nissan Blind Van just got eaten up by the stones and I traveled without a spare wheel up to Zambezi, a great risk at that time when there were rebels kidnapping people. The volunteers had a good used tire which they kindly gave me.
At that time, one could travel the full distance between Solwezi and Zambezi without meeting any other motor vehicle. There were no buses and the only mode of transport for commuters on that road was by open trucks.
Nowadays, it is a completely different story; there are so many buses and private vehicles on this route and commuters even have a choice. People travelling in private cars can even do the trip in one single day.
The short distance between Luwingu in Northern Province and Mansa in Luapula Province used to take nine hours. Between Chipili and Mwenda, one traveled very slowly because there were corrugations with sharp stones that chewed up your tires. The travelling time has now been reduced to two and half hours. A new all weather road connects the two provincial centers of Mansa and Kasama through Luwingu.
To shame the hypocrites who are busy shouting the shallow Mukalya Imisebo slogan, the construction of the Mansa-Luwingu-Kasama road has opened up new commercial traffic in this hitherto sleepy part of Zambia.
Tanzanian and Congolese truckers are now using this route as they travel between Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the port of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. This route has cut down the distance between the two destinations by over three hundred kilometers.
In fact the completion of this project has given impetus to the long running plans of the DRC government to build a bridge on the Luapula River at Kasenga and also connect Mwense district to Luwingu via a short stretch of an all weather road from Mwenda-Kawambwa-Luwingu junction. I doubt if the UPND leadership even know the existence of this junction!
Another important link between Luapula and Northern Provinces is the road between Kawambwa and Luwingu districts via the Pambashe plains and the Kawambwa Tea Plantation. This is an area which agriculturalists have surveyed and confirmed that it is suitable for sugar cane, rubber and cassava plantations and to which investors were reluctant to go.
The area has now been opened for investment and the government has even revived the Chishinga Ranch which is rearing cattle for restocking beef farmers in the Northern and Luapula Provinces.
Still in the Northern Province, the town of Mporokoso which is the gateway to Nsumbu National Park, Kasaba Bay, Nsumbu Bay, Ndole Bay and southern Lake Tanganyika was not easily reachable by road. I once got stuck in sand at a village called Kaniki in the month of October.
That’s how bad the road was to this destination which is an important location in the Northern Tourism Corridor. The town is now connected by an all weather road and is reachable within three hours. The good road has led to increased traffic and a reduction in the fares for both goods and passengers.
Further up in the Northern Province, the Nakonde to Mbala road which passes below Zambia’s highest peak, Sunzu Mountain, I doubt if the UPND leadership know about this beautiful place, has also been completed.
If the UPND knew the statistics that are coming from this area, they would not be telling Zambians at Mukalya Imisebo. Before the tarring of this road, the only mode of transport between Mbala and Nakonde was by open trucks. Zambians may still remember the tragedy that happened on this road when many people were killed after the truck they were travelling in lost control.
The truck fare on this road was K150.00 per person and it took six to nine hours of unpleasant and uncomfortable driving. Today, the bus fare has reduced to K50.00 per person and it only takes three hours of cheaper and more comfortable driving.
The Mbala-Nakonde road is also part of the Southern African Development, (SADC) Transport Project of reviving the old Stevenson Trade Route to link Chitipa on Lake Malawi to the Mpulungu Port on Lake Tanganyika in Zambia.
Before the Patriotic Front embarked on the Link Zambia project, people traveling from Muchinga and Northern Provinces to any town in Eastern Province had to come to Lusaka and then proceed to Chipata. This was a journey of plus minus 1,400km depending on your starting point and final destination.
Link Zambia has now opened up a shorter and more direct route from Matumbo in Chinsali through Mafinga and Chama. The distance has been reduced by 900km. People in Eastern Zambia can now travel to East Africa at a much cheaper cost and trade is already thriving between Zambians, Tanzanians and Malawians because of the new roads that the PF government has built in this part of the country.
After fifty-one years of independence, the important rural town of Luangwa which sits on the confluence of the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers has finally been connected by an all weather road.
Apart from facing two borders between Zambia and Mozambique to the east and Zimbabwe to the south, Luangwa has huge tourism potential which could not be exploited due to the bad roads.
Down in the Southern Province, the Bottom Road, which was envisaged at the time the Kariba Dam was built in 1960, has finally come to fruition, thanks to the PF Government.
The economic potential that this road will unlock is unmatched by any other Link Zambia project. It will open doors for utilization of the Kariba Dam for irrigation, facilitate fish farming and game ranching, enhance cattle ranching, provide better access to the Mapatizya Amethyst mining area and open opportunities for tourism along the Lake Kariba shores and upstream on the Zambezi River from Siavonga to Livingstone.
In Western Province, the Mongu-Kalabo masterpiece of a road has been completed. This road is a milestone; it will open up the Western Zambezi Plains for investment in tourism and agriculture as well as cattle ranching and many other economic activities.
Taking merchandise to Kalabo and the rest of the Western Zambezi Plains was another nightmare. I was once contracted to install a billboard at Kalabo Boma and the logistics of carrying the 2.4 x 1.2m billboard on a boat was something else.
Thanks to the PF Government, goods will now flow between Kalabo and Mongu without hindrance and lead to faster economic and social development in the area.
For the urban dwellers, the endemic traffic jams between the town center and the suburbs has come to an end. We used to take hours between Chilenje and the town center, today, even at peak hours, save for days when there are breakdowns, we are doing it in less than 30 minutes.
For commercial operators, this means more turn round trips and more income and less expenditure on fuel than was spent during the days of the go-slows.
When all is said, PF has in four years, done what the previous regimes should have done in 47 years. Through Link Zambia, the PF Government has led a great foundation for the economic diversification and future growth that is so essential for our country.
It is therefore the worst lie and hypocrisy to underrate such a great achievement by telling Zambians that Mukalya Imisebo (you will eat roads).
I can understand the desperate politicians engaging in such shallow and cheap slogans, but I cannot understand the Zambians who are believing this nonsense. We must learn to be truthful and give praise where it is due otherwise we shall even frustrate good leaders at our own peril.
We must also start thinking critically and analytically before shouting empty slogans.
Rural infrastructure development will reverse the greater and more devastating brain drain called Rural Urban Migration for the betterment of our nation.