BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Ikelengâ€™i
IKELENGâ€™I, the home of juicy pineapples, just needed to be a district; to have its own budget; good roads and infrastructure in order to exploit its untapped potential in trade.
Many Zambians must have sampled the Ikelengâ€™i- produced pineapples, but knew little about the region until it assumed district status almost a decade ago.
Ikelengâ€™i, one of the 11 districts in North-WesternÂ Province was separated from Mwinilunga by former President Rupiah Banda in 2008. Like many other new districts in the country, the area is now linked to other parts of the country and, for the first time, small and medium entrepreneurs are coming up in Ikelengâ€™i.
The district has a population of 40, 000 people and it is situated approximately 375 kilometres from the provincial capital, Solwezi.
When it was detached from Mwinilunga West, it had little if not nothing to show in terms of infrastructure befitting district status. The story is similar for many other new districts that were lacking basic infrastructure needed to provide social services to the people.
This is the reason why the Patriotic Front (PF) Government, after assuming office in 2011, embarked on a robust infrastructure development programme so as to provide the much needed public goods to the people such as schools, health centres, and roads.
About nine years after assuming district status, the face of Ikelengâ€™i is slowly changing and its people are beginning to feel a sense of belonging to their country.
Among the infrastructure development projects being undertaken in the district is the construction of a civic centre, a post office, police station and the district administration block.
Others include housing units for civil servants, a district hospital and the first ever boarding secondary school.
Before Ikelengâ€™i became a district, it was in dire need of a good road network to allow the locals to participate in economic activities and also for the purpose of travelling in and out of town.
Being aware of these needs, Government started working on the 106-kilometre road from Mwinilunga town to Ikelengâ€™i district.
Government has since engaged Frecca Mining and Construction Company Limited to construct the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road at a cost of US$106 million under a public-private partnership deal.
The road project has created over 150 jobs for the local people.
The economy of Ikelengâ€™i is largely dependent on pineapple farming. Local farmers earn their living by selling pineapples to different parts of the country; therefore, the construction of the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road has cheered many.
One of the farmers, Isaac Mukandu, said the road will ease the transportation of pineapples and other farm produce to the markets. Access to the market has been a challenge due to the bad state of the road, resulting in huge wastage of pineapples produced in Ikelengâ€™i. Mr Mukandu, 46, a father of six, is confident that the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road will boost trade in the area, as well as across the Angolan border.
â€œWe are really happy. At first when we heard that this road would be done, most people here thought it was mere political talk, but this Government seems to be doing things differently,â€ he said.
Mr Mukandu thanked the PF Government for prioritising the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road, which connects Zambia to Angola.
Another resident, Evaristo Sabondu, who runs a shop at Ikelengâ€™i market said the road is also a gateway to the Copperbelt, where he buys goods for retail.
â€œPreviously, we used to hire Canter trucks from here to the Copperbelt, where we buy our goods. In the rainy season, it was so bad that our goods would get soaked on the way. That meant big losses for our businesses, but now we are able to travel between Kitwe and Ikelengâ€™i using buses without any problem,â€ Mr Sabondu said.
Ikelengâ€™i district commissioner Victor Kayekesi is happy with the good workmanship so far done on the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road.
Mr Kayekesi said Government is impressed that Frecca Mining and Construction Company, a local firm, is working hard to complete the road on time.
â€œI am very happy with the works so far. Frecca is doing a good a job and they didnâ€™t go on holiday the whole rainy season. So far so good Iâ€™m very happy that we have a local contractor who is putting in a lot,â€ Mr Kayekesi said.
He said the road, once completed, will open up the market for many farm products in Ikelengâ€™i.
Mr Kayekesi said the construction of the Mwinilunga-Jimbe road has also reduced the travel time between Mwinilunga and Ikelengâ€™i from six hours to 45 minutes.
â€œTo me, this road is going to help us a lot. It is going to open up the market for our farm produce; the pineapples. It is also going to improve the standards of living for civil servants in Ikelengâ€™i because it used to take us six hours to go to Mwinilunga, but now it is taking us 45 minutes,â€ he said.
Mr Kayekesi said the transportation of people in the area has improved as locals, who previously depended on vans are now able to travel out of town on luxury buses.
â€œWe are no longer now using Canters to go to Mwinilunga, we are now using coaches. This shows the seriousness the PF Government through President Edgar Chagwa Lungu attaches to the welfare of the people here,â€ he said.
He said the construction of public offices and houses in Ikelengâ€™i will help address the shortage of office and housing accommodation in the district.
â€œSome people claim that there is no development in North-Western Province, but here in Ikelengâ€™i there is development. We have seen it, and we are able to point at what Government has done,â€ Mr Kayekesi said.
BUTTYSON KANDIMBA, Ikelengâ€™i