BENEDICT TEMBO, Gwembe
PERCHED in the harsh environment of the valley between Siavonga and Sinazongwe, Gwembe district can be described as a Cinderella outpost.
After years of being in the shadows of development, Gwembe which, according to the 2010 census, has a population of 53,117 people, is ready to shake off its once backward status and embrace growth in its own ambits.
Despite it being wrapped around the drought-prone conditions of the valley, the region provides beautiful settings that inspire creativity and activity.
Leading the flow of creativity and activity in the area is the Gwembe District Council, which is the seat of local government system in the area based at Munyumbwe.
The council has put service delivery at the centre of its developmental agenda.
The municipality has refused to succumb to the pathetic road network throughout the district surrounded by mountains.
â€œOur roads are in a deplorable state. We have come up with an initiative to buy earth-moving equipment,â€ the councilâ€™s director of works Peter Madubeko says.
Mr Madubeko says the council has so far procured a grader, a tipper truck and by next year, a bulldozer, water bowser and a roller will be bought.
He said the acquisition of the earth-moving equipment is designed to open up the district to facilitate the movement of people and goods.
At the heart of the road rehabilitation works is the Chipepo-Gwembe road which holds the economic potential of this predominantly agricultural district.
Among the feeder roads earmarked for renovation is the 46-kilometre stretch between Siampande and Hamatuba.
There is also the 50-kilometre Siampande-Kole road and the 13-kilometre Bbondo-Nthanga road. â€œ[The roads are] so critical [because] most of the farmers come from there,â€ Mr Madubeko says of the areas rich in crop and fish farming.
Mr Madubeko explains that because farmers in those areas feel cut off from Gwembe, they take their merchandise to neighbouring Siavonga district.
â€œSo, Gwembe council is losing out on crop and fish levy,â€ he says.
Due to morbid poverty levels and low revenue collections, the local authority has acquired a Tata bus to fundraise and plough back the proceeds into service delivery.
The bus was initially deployed on the Lusaka-Livingstone route but due to stiff competition from luxury buses, it has now been shunted on the Chipepo-Gwembe-Monze route.
â€œPeople are appreciating because we are assisting them,â€ Mr Madubeko says.
While the council is determined to facilitate the development of one of the countryâ€™s oldest constituencies, it faces a number of challenges, which are not of its making.
At the core of Gwembeâ€™s underdevelopment is the Chipepo-Gwembe road, which links the district to the Lusaka-Livingstone road at Chisekesi.
The council has opened up roads like the 18-kilometre Hanyimbo-Bunyete route, the 25-kilometre Siampande road, the Kayuni-Chipepo and the 3.1-kilometre Chipepo-Namazuma road, which leads to fishing camps.
â€œUsing locally generated resources, the council has opened Simafula-Chisanga road (27km). It was just a bush, vehicles were unable to pass,â€ Mr Madubeko says.
Using funding from the National Roads Fund Agency under the KfW, the council has opened up the 34-kilometre road from Makuuyu to Changwe.
Through a Danish International AID grant, the council embarked on the access improvement project in which 53 culverts were built.
The infamous 17-corner road remembered for fatalities such as the overturning of a truck which killed several Chipepo Secondary School pupils, is a threat to the constituencyâ€™s development due to its dusty gravelled – meandering road on undulating land and hill slopes, turning sharply seven times.
The poor road means that most companies are not willing to invest in the constituency because of the wear and tear of their vehicles.
Gwembe is expected to benefit from the famous Bottom Road which is designed to link the constituency to its offshoots Siavonga and Sinazongwe.
In Munyumbwe where the council is based, there is only one mobile operator – Zamtel – while the biggest mobile phone number company MTN and Airtel are only present in the plateau where the district commissionerâ€™s office and other Government departments are based.
In Munyumbwe, where hundreds of civil servants, public service workers and council workers are based, MTN is still at slab level.
Gwembe is load-shedded between 05:00 hours to 10:00 hours and during this period, even the Zamtel network goes off air, virtually rendering people incommunicado as the telecommunication utilityâ€™s tower is linked to the Zesco grid.
There is no Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation signal in Munyumbwe but Zimbabwe broadcasting corporation is able to be picked.
Worse still, the area has no community radio station.
Gwembe has the strong buying power of over 30,000 people comprising the working population of civil servants, public service workers, council employees, farmers, contractors and business people in Munyumbwe and Chipepo.
However, these people spend all their money in nearby Monze district which is 73 kilometres away because Gwembe has neither macro nor micro-financial institutions. It does not even have a filling station.
â€œAll the money made here is spent in Monze, meaning that we are boosting the Monze economy. We get paid there (Monze) and buy almost everything there that include fuel,â€ Elias Thole, the head teacher at Malobe Primary School said.
All hope is not lost as three banks were recently there for market research and are satisfied the constituency fulfils all the fundamentals for setting up base there.
Mr Madubeko named Investrust, Finance and Zanaco as the banks which have expressed interest to open branches in the constituency.
Mubiana Situmbeko, a businessman in Munyumbwe says the lack of a police post is another factor discouraging investments.
Apart from the bus and earth-moving equipment procured from the constituency development fund, two classrooms have been built in Munyumbwe while an abattoir and a police post have been planned.
Gwembe is predominantly a farming constituency, with a lot of fishing and eco-tourism taking place at Lake Kariba.
However, the municipality has noted that while the Zimbabwean side of Lake Kariba is developed, the opposite is the case on the Zambian side.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Gwembe