BENEDICT TEMBO, Gwembe
MENTION the name Gwembe, and the only information one is likely to have about the area is on its location in the valley.Gwembe’s low-lying locality has become synonymous with its under-development.
It is because of this history that Justus Phiri, the district commissioner for Gwembe, is shocked that some newly-created districts are developing faster than Gwembe district.
“This town (Gwembe) was created in 1947 but new districts are developing faster,” Mr Phiri muttered to himself in his office, while fiddling with some papers.
Gwembe has lagged in development compared to the two districts it has given birth to – Siavonga and Sinazongwe, created by the construction of Lake Kariba.
However, the district’s narrative is bound to change – thanks to the robust infrastructure programme initiated by the Patriotic Front administration and other actors in Gwembe.
The construction of the Bottom Road is one of the game changers in the district’s socio-economic fortunes.
The 131 kilometres Bottom Road stretches from Njame in Chirundu district to Munyumbwe in the valley.
Gwembe Town Council planner Jeff Mwenge said people in Munyumbwe now prefer to use Bottom Road when going to Siavonga, Chirundu and Lusaka because it is a shorter route.
On the other hand, travellers from Chirundu and Siavonga use Bottom Road via Munyumbwe when going to Livingstone.
The recently-commissioned district hospital in Munyumbwe has added aesthetic beauty to the area apart from enhancing health delivery.
The local authority has complemented it by installing solar street lights along the Munyumbwe hospital access roads.
Mr Mwenge said the opening of the hospital has also created demand for accommodation by health workers and other staff.
The local authority is now negotiating with traditional rulers to avail land for residential and commercial development.
“We have been engaging traditional leaders so that they give us more land for development,” Mr Mwenge said.
In Chipepo, there is land that was demarcated, numbered and surveyed [about 300 stands] comprising commercial and residential plots.
However, the plots in Chipepo near Lake Kariba are yet to be advertised because there are a few issues the local authority needs to sort out with Chief Chipepo.
On its part, using the local government equalisation fund, the local authority has constructed a public toilet at the market.
In the past, marketeers used to go to their homes to answer the call of nature, but now they will spend more time selling.
The council has also built a bus station at Gwembe market and a taxi rank.
The local authority has disbursed constituency development fund to 13 ward development committees out of 14.
The local authority has also procured another bus to increase local revenue.
The local authority has continued to make Gwembe conducive for local people and investors by maintaining roads and attendant infrastructure.
This includes the grading of the 62 kilometres Gwembe-Chipepo road which links Chipepo to the Lusaka –Livingstone highway at Chisekesi.
The council has used the local government equalisation fund to grade the Siampande-Henga road to enable fishermen from fishing camps on Lake Kariba access the market via Siavonga instead of going via Gwembe.
Apart from enhancing access for fish traders, the Sinafala – Simulilika road has been rehabilitated to open up the route for fish traders from the fishing camp there as it is easier for them to access the market from Choma via neighbouring Sinazongwe district than via Gwembe – Monze.
“Gwembe council has been losing on revenue. Besides that, there is a school and people seeking medical attention go to Sinzongwe instead of Sinafala, which is about 15 kilometres away, and the danger is that their mode of transport is water.
Hence, if the road is perfectly worked on, it will enable the people to access the nearest market, medical attention as well as the council generating revenue,” Mr Mwenge said.
He said the council has been losing out in terms of revenue. So the local authority’s strategic objective is to open up these rural economical roads to increase access to markets.
“We intend to do this using our earth moving equipment though we need a few pieces like a compacter, water bowser and, if possible, a bulldozer though it is very expensive,” Mr Mwenge said.
The request from the end users is that they need more space for their merchandise. There has never been a designated place for a taxi rank. Therefore, taxi drivers have been operating under a tree, hence the construction and within it is a fee paying toilet.
Non-governmental Organisations have also been key actors in developing Gwembe.
These include ADRA Zambia through Glassco Foundation, which has tremendously helped the community of Gwembe through the construction of primary schools both along and off the Bottom Road, health facilities and boreholes. Others are Heifer International working with farmers.
WaterAid, too, was involved in water reticulation and sanitation but has since ceased to operate in Gwembe.
German government-owned development bank, Kfw, will also add to changing the face of Munyumbwe by funding the construction of an office block at the civic centre as well as the renovation of the current offices.
Mr Mwenge said the procurement of a utility vehicle is in the pipeline, so is the construction of two more council staff houses, which are at design stage.
There are plans to construct classroom blocks (1 x 3) at Kakoma and Nyangwe Primary Schools as well as a 1×2 classroom block at Chaamwe Primary School, including a teacher’s house.
Gwembe has a unique administrative structure, with the district administration based on the plateau while the civic centre is in Munyumbwe in the valley.
This poses challenges in fulfilling the Government’s decentralisation agenda.
“Decentralisation is going on well. The heads of departments from the plateau do manage to come for meetings.
We have been having expanded management meetings and they attend committee and ordinary meetings of the council. There may be small challenges of one or two departments but we are down to earth,” council secretary Mang’wato Cheembo says.
Coal and tantalum has been discovered in an area called Nyangwe.
“So far, things look positive. There is also uranium prospecting going on in Gwembe,” Mr Cheembo said.
The discovery of minerals may be the game changer for the district, which has been in the doldrums for ages.
Equalising Gwembe’s development potential
BENEDICT TEMBO, Gwembe