Breathtaking Muchinga Escarpment tour

MR KABWE (centre) in the company of Serenje education board secretary Zikam Kaira (right), examines Mpondela Bridge in Serenje.

TO SYNOPSISE my journey to Chisomo, a valley in Serenje district, I can say it was a fact-finding mission-cum adventurous outing, especially around the breathtaking Muchinga Escarpment.

It was a Sunday and we met around seven o’clock for breakfast and a briefing at Villa Mbanandi, a lodge.
Once everyone was around, our journey of 100 Kilometres, which takes five hours because of the rough terrain, was set off.
Soon we were on Nga’swa Road before veering into the Great-North Road.
Our convoy then made another turn and we landed on a dirty and bumpy road in Kabamba chiefdom.
This was the first time Central Province permanent secretary Chanda Kabwe was visiting Chisomo.
Provincial medical officer Rosemary Mwanza, Jennipher Banda in-charge of education, Adreena Nasungwe (agriculture), Abigail Malukutila (youth development) and Serenje district commissioner Francis Kalipenta were travelling with him.
Journalists were part of the entourage on this fact-finding mission of development challenges in rural communities around the Muchinga Escarpment.
Before long, we reached Chibale chiefdom and as our vehicles moved forward, we left thick clouds of dust.
Driving past Kabamba area, we saw village houses mostly made of red soil, wood and grass.
Women were seen doing chores as children rushed towards the road to catch a glimpse of our convoy of vehicles which appeared to be racing. Our first stop was supposed to be Chief Chisomo’s palace, but along the way, we made stop-overs to allow the permanent secretary to interact with the people.
“We are suffering a lot here because of this bad road,” Robata Bwalya told Mr Kabwe when he made an impromptu stop.
“It’s worse during the rainy season on this road. And it’s even difficult to transport our maize to the depots. Help us by working on this road, perhaps things will be easy for us,” Ms Bwalya, a small-scale farmer made the appeal to the permanent secretary.
We soon reached Lukusashi River a tributary of the Luangwa River. Here, a bridge is made of wood supported by steel beams and 10 stone pillars. Not far away lies Fikwe Bridge made of the same materials.
Termites are evidently consuming the wood. Apart from that, the wear and tear is taking a toll on the bridges which are now weak and posing danger to the lives of people.
At both bridges, officials from the Road Development Agency (RDA) conducted preliminary assessments, raising hope among locals for the construction of modern bridges.
The state of the bridges unsettled Mr Kabwe and he conferred with Mr Kalipenta, the Serenje district commissioner, on the need to repair them to avert calamities.
“Ba engineer, let’s make a plan before we lose lives,” a seemingly worried Mr Kabwe stressed while examining the eaten wood.
When we reached Miyenga stream, Chisomo ward councillor Peter Mukosha who was travelling with us announced: “This stream lies on the boundary between Chibale and Chisomo”.
Poor access to water, healthcare facilities, schools and telecommunications are among the major problems facing people in Chisomo, Mr Mukosha told us.
Hunger is a common problem because maize fields on the shores of Lukusashi River are usually flooded.
Vehicles are a rare feature in Chisomo. People depend on bicycles and some walk for about three days to reach the Serenje district administration to buy such essentials as sugar, salt and cooking. Others still, travel to the boma to sell things such as reed mats.
Feeder roads are in poor state, therefore making village life in Chisomo harder than usual.
Driving on the gravel road, we came across a man and women carrying bags of maize and we stopped to give them a lift. Unfortunately they were going to Chibaya, in an opposite direction.
After expressing apologies to the two, we proceeded but only to meet to two boys carrying heavy bags of maize. Again we stopped to give them a lift and saved them from a whole day of walking.
The valley terrain is uneven and hilly, hence the road has a number of steep slopes
So we drove through cautiously, slowly, and sometimes swiftly to swerve bad sections of the road.
Apart from the rough terrain, Chisomo has a beautiful natural and serene environment, full of fresh air. Different species of trees stand tall and give the valley a picturesque appeal.
When we reached Katiso, a steep slope in the Muchinga Escarpment, we all disembarked from our vehicles as Mr Kabwe wanted to inspect roads and bridges in the area.
“PEO (provincial education officer), there are lions in this forest,” Mr Kabwe joked as we cautiously walked down the slippery cliff.
The locals have patched up the road with rough concrete to prevent vehicles from falling off while ascending or descending on the cliff.
Mpondela stream was our next stop. During the last rainy season, a section of the bridge here was flooded, and people could not go across the stream for some good days.
“Chisomo was cut off because of this bridge,” Mr Mukosha informed us.
In his briefing, Chief Chisomo lamented the poor condition of the feeder roads.
“You have seen the road for yourself, it is in bad state,” he said. “We will be happy if Government can help.”
Alfred Munyemba, an engineer at the RDA said the bridges on Lukusashi River and Fukwe stream are in bad condition.
Mr Munyemba said standard culverts need to be erected on Mpondela and other streams.
“We need to sign contracts for the design of the road. Where there are mountains, we may look at alternative routes or blast them to reduce the vertical gradients,” he said.
Mr Kabwe assured Chief Chisomo that Government will make efforts to improve the condition of the road and bridges in the area.
“We will engage ZNS to do a detailed survey and see what we can do in the meantime to reduce the vertical gradient on that hill,” he said.
After a one-day’s job, our mission was accomplished and we had to hit the road for a 390km journey from Chisomo to Kabwe, to our homes. However, a major setback awaited us at Katiso when Mr Kabwe’s driver failed to ascend that section of the Muchinga Escarpment.
Soon the other oncoming drivers were also wrestling with their vehicles at that problematic spot.
What we didn’t know is that we needed to disembark from our vehicles to enable the vehicles go up hill with lighter weight.
So we allowed the drivers to go up without us as we walked up the cliff for about 300 metres. After a wearying walk, we got back into our vehicles for a rough ride four-hour journey from Chisomo to Serenje boma and later to Kabwe.

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