Features

Mbala’s link to World War I

FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
THIS coming November marks exactly 100 years after the last gunshots were made and weapons laid down, signifying the end of the First World War in 1918.
This happened in Zambia’s Mbala district on November 25, 1918.
But how does Mbala come into the picture when the war was purely a European affair?
During World War I that broke in 1914 in Europe, Mbala, then known as Abercon, was a focus of the British military effort to defeat the German army under General von Lettow-Vorbeck’s command.
The war raged on in Europe for four years and on November 11, 2018, Germany surrendered after the Triple Alliance, comprising Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy and the Triple Entente, comprising Britain, France and Russia, signed a cease fire.
Nonetheless, owing to poor communication at the time, the war continued in Mbala not until November 25, 1918 when a telegraph reached the warring camps that the battle had actually ended.
At this point, Gen von Lettow Vorbeck formally surrendered in Mbala and his troops were ordered to throw their weapons into Laka Chila and a cenotaph in today’s Mbala town was built to mark the spot where the Germans surrendered.
After Zambia’s independence in 1964, the name of the town was changed from Abercon to Mbala.
It is because of this antiquity that Zambia has a special place in the world history and joins the rest of the world in celebrating the centenary of the end of the World War I, and Mbala will be a centre of attraction this coming November.
According to documented history from the Lusaka National Museum, Mbala developed from Zombe village which was located on the Lucheche River that runs from Lake Chila through Mutambalika graveyard towards the Moto Moto Museum.
Zombe village and the surrounding areas extending up to Lake Tanganyika in Mpulungu, only became known to the outside world after the 1860s because of the writings of Scottish explorer, David Livingstone, following his visit to this area.
Lusaka National Museum director Victoria Chitungu said Dr Livingstone drew the British attention to the happenings of Mbala, especially on the slave trade that was rampart at the time.
During most of the 19th century, Ms Chitundu said, the Mbala region was one of the worst affected by slave trade in Zambia because the district was one of the main slave routes from the hinterland to the main slave market at Zanzibar and the east coast in Tanzania.
Ms Chitungu said Dr Livingstone’s writings inspired missionaries of the London Missionary Society to come and set up mission stations on major slave routes of the area to curb slave trade.
“This led to the building of mission stations such as Niamukolo on Lake Tanganyika and Kawimbe mission station, 25km from Mbala town,” she said.
Ms Chitundu said Chituta Bay on Lake Tanganyika was the main slave trade harbour using the Stephenson road which was the key slave route connecting Lake Tanganyika to Lake Malawi.
It was in fact the activities of slave trade that made Mbala noticeable to the British South African Company (BSA) through the African Lakes Company that had engaged itself in trying to stop the infamous trade around this area.
According to Ms Chitungu, by 1893, the British acting from their base in Nyasaland decided to create a post in Mbala to help the African Lakes Company in their fight against slave Trade.
“This made Mbala to become the most northerly British South Africa outposts right on the border with Tanzania which was under the German East Africa territory also encompassing what are now Burundi, Rwanda,” she said.
By 1895, the very northerly border position of Mbala gave it away to the BSA Company who took over its administration to strengthen the British government’s presence on the southern part of the border to prevent the Belgium and the Germans from extending their boundaries there.
Ms Chitungu said it was during this period that the Germans led by Gen von Lettow-Vorbeck commanded an army that wanted to take over the British territory that included Northern Rhodesia in order to expand German territory to Germany South Africa, in today’s Namibia on the southern side of Zambia.
“It is for this reason that Mbala today becomes a centre of attraction, 100 years after the end of the First World War,” Ms Chitundu said.
Government says the First World War centenary festivities will coincide with the Northern Province Investment Expo in Mbala this November. Both events will attract 1, 000 delegates, among them local and international war veterans as well as investors.
The Northern Province Expo will be held from November 20-25, 2018.
“Because of limited accommodation facilities in the province, arrangements are being made with one local airline to bring dignitaries on a daily basis from either Lusaka or Copperbelt during the event,” Northern Province Minister Brian Mundubile said.
Government is rehabilitating key infrastructure in the area to ensure that the event is a success, according to the minister.
Government is spending about K15 million on the expo and end of World War I centenary celebrations.

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