KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka
IT IS a fact that lack of adequate and quality road infrastructure is one of the major factors obstructing socio-economic development in Zambia.
This problem is most felt in rural areas. People in these areas are capable to contributing effectively to the development agenda of the country.
But their participation is hindered by limited access to good road networks connecting them to the entire country.
Actually, most rural areas in the country are endowed with natural resources ranging from minerals, fisheries, forestry to agriculture, among other resources.
This potential has been underutilised, partly because of the absence of effective roads that can reduce travel time for people to transport goods and services to ready markets.
It is undeniable that shorter distances in some of these areas can take many hours for one to reach the final destination due to the poor state of the roads.
As luck would have it, in 2011, Government embarked on a five-year project dubbed as ‘Link Zambia 8000, whose main objective is to land-link the country’s vast regions so that people will have easy access to different locations.
Central and Copperbelt provinces have not been left out of this massive infrastructure programme. Infact, the two regions have a fair share of some of the major projects being undertaken, which includes roads, bridges, and construction toll plazas, among other projects.
Some of these projects are almost complete and will be commissioned this year. Others are undergoing routine and periodic maintenance to increase their life span and ensure sustainability.
To ensure quality infrastructure is put in place, Government, through the Road Development Agency (RDA), regularly monitors how the projects are being undertaken.
Recently, the RDA led by its board chairperson Samuel Mukupa, board member Mutaba Mwali and some senior management officials toured the regions for inspections.
During a courtesy call on Copperbelt provincial minister Japhen Mwakalombe, the RDA delegation were informed that road infrastructure is key towards economic diversification of the region.
“We are looking beyond mining, into agriculture, manufacturing and tourism but this only possible if we have a good road network,” Mr Mwakalombe said.
Indeed, it is true to have a good road network as can be seen from massive economic development being undertaken on the Copperbelt.
Areas such as Lufwanyama and Masaiti, dubbed as Copperbelt rural, were previously in accessible but are now a marvel to visit due to increased economic activities such as the Dangote Cement plant, the planned construction of a Cement production plant by ZCCM-Investment Holdings and a cable manufacturing by Neelkanth Cables Limited.
It is understood that these and many other economic activities could not have taken place, if the areas had remained inaccessible with poor roads.
Given this foregoing, Mayor of Mufulira Gift Mushinge urged the RDA to consider establishing a road from Mufulira West into Chingola to reduce on transit time and ease the cost of doing business.
Dr Mushinge said there is an increase in traffic volumes from the northern part of the country that transit through Mufulira going to Chingola and Solwezi districts.
“It is our appeal that a road be built from Mufulira West into Chingola, this way, we shall avoid congesting the Kitwe-Chingola road. Once this is done, the transit time will be shortened and the cost of business will reduce.
“We foresee an increased volume of traffic transporting goods from Tanzania destined for Chingola and North Western but passing through Mufulira hence the need to link up the area through a by-pass road from Mufulira west,” he said.
And Mufulira District Commissioner Hildah Kawesha says there is need to establish a toll plaza on the Ndola-Mufulira-Mokambo road to ensure sustainable road maintenance.
Ms Kawesha said motorists travelling to Chingola and North-Western region might start avoiding the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriageway to evade paying of toll fees.
“Our fear is that some people will start avoiding the Ndola-Kitwe route once toll gates are commissioned, so they may start using this road [Ndola-Mufulira-Mokambo], so we appeal that a toll plaza be considered for inclusion in the scope of works,” she said.
In response, Mr Mukupa said road connectivity is important for economic development.
“Government will ensure that roads are built to lower the cost of doing business. The idea of having a ring-road is a must to ensure direct connectivity from Mufulira into Chingola.
“This proposal is something that will be considered since it is possible looking at the economic contribution of the region,” he said.
Mr Mukupa said people have welcomed the cost sharing basis through road tolling.
“We shall definitely put up the toll plaza because this road might be an escape route for those avoiding paying toll fees,” he said.
And some traditional leaders in Mpongwe district urged Government to quickly rehabilitate the Mpongwe-Luansobe-Machiya road and also construct a bridge across the Kafue River to avoid loss of lives and help improve economic activities in the area.
Chief Machiya of the Lamba people said 48 people have lost their lives in the last few months while crossing the crocodile, infested river and due to accidents as a result of the poor state of the roads.
“It is a crisis, and we want the roads to be worked on as quickly as possible. If this is done then we shall see increased economic activities, we already have Novatek for animal feed production, Zamhatch for chicken production and there is another company processing soybeans.
“We also want a bridge across the Kafue [river] since it will help in transporting agriculture produce from the other side. A bridge will further reduce the number of deaths as a result of people being caught by crocodiles while crossing the river using canoes,” he said.
And acting chief Ndubeni said poor road network is causing deaths through accidents.
He also urged Government to compel investors in the area to employ local people especially for casual jobs.
“Unemployment is high and this has resulted in increased criminal activities in the area since most young men have nothing to do. Surely, why should they bring people from Luanshya or other areas to come and cut down trees where the roads will pass?” he asked.
Chieftainess Lesa said poor road infrastructure is hampering the economic potential of the area.
“But we also want to see Government engaging contractors with the caliber of Phoenix Materials that worked on the Luanshya-Mpongwe road many years ago, and the road is still in a very good state….we do not want fake contractors that will provide shoddy works,” she said.
In response, Mr Mukupa said Government is cognisant of the economic potential which lies in Mpongwe district.
“We want to open up the area for agriculture, tourism, mining and many other sectors. People deserve good roads and RDA will rehabilitate them,” he said.
Despite the good intention of putting up road infrastructure, challenges still remain, and these are vandalism of road signage, throwing of litter into drainages and encroachment on road reserves where people are building structures and other properties.
In trying to address some of the challenges posed by these bad vices, Mr Mukupa urged local authorities to help stop vandalism of road signage whose removal is posing a danger to motorists and other road users.
Mr Mukupa also advised councils to stop allowing construction of structures on road reserves, which are making it difficult for expansion of road networks.
“The culture of vandalism and encroachment on road reserves should be stopped. We have a huge challenge of vandalism, people are removing signage, which they go and sell as scrap metal but we need to stop this, and councils should play a key role in helping to reduce this vices.
“Also encroachment is another challenge especially here in Kitwe. We are not going to expand our roads if need arises since people are allowed to put up structures along the road sides, which are meant for future developments,” he said.
It is understood that majority of economic activities depend in one way or the other on an efficient road transport network.
As a consequence, a good functioning road system and related infrastructure is one of the essential prerequisites for socio-economic development.
With good roads and bridges, one is assured of effective and timely delivery of goods and services across the country.
KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka