YANDE SYAMPEYO, Solwezi
FIRST Quantum Minerals Ltd, a global metals and mining company, which in Zambia operates the Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi (Africaâ€™s largest copper mine by production) and the Sentinel Mine in Kalumbila, calls the Solwezi-Chingola road its lifeblood.
The reason is simple; all its consumable goods and finished copper are transported on the same road.
But the 168km road has been in a bad state to such an extent that the North-Western Province faced being cut off from the rest of the country during the rainy season, potentially bringing copper exports to a standstill.
â€œWe rely on the road not only for supply but also to move our copper concentrate to the smelter on the Copperbelt. Any work stoppage due to the bad state of the road would have crippled operations at the mine, and we would not have suffered alone – the Zambian economy would suffer as a whole, as well,â€ says FQM head of government affairs John Gladston.
Not wanting to lose its route to the market, the company has spent more than US$3.5 million to date in engineering and maintenance works. It deployed 85 staff and contractors, including road engineers and labour, along with equipment to complete remedial work on the road which carries 60 percent of the nationâ€™s mineral wealth to the market.
â€œThe work done by First Quantum served to stabilise this road which was previously in a deplorable state and presented a real and present danger to the mining sector and to those Zambians whose livelihoods depend on it. The works we undertook on the road have kept business flowing in Zambiaâ€™s new Copperbelt, much to the benefit of the Zambian economy,â€ Mr Gladston said, according to a statement released by Langmead & Baker in Lusaka.
President Lungu recently drove on the 168km strenuous Solwezi-Chingola road when he went to the North-Western Province to inspect developmental projects.
â€œI chose to drive on this road to appreciate the hardships that people face,â€ the President said.
Indeed, the road has been a nightmare to the travelling people between Solwezi in the North-Western Province and Chingola on the Copperbelt.
Monica Kasanda, a resident of Solwezi, calls it a hell-run. If youâ€™ve driven on it, you would understand why she calls it that.
â€œThe Solwezi-Chingola road has been a nightmare to us for many years and Iâ€™m glad Government has decided to work on it,â€ Ms Kasanda says.
â€œI now feel like Government cares for us because in the past we felt neglected. Iâ€™m excited that our cry to have this road rehabilitated caught the attention of President Lungu and his administration.â€
President Lungu said he wants the North-Western Province to be connected to the rest of the country with a good road network to boost economic activities.
He says it will be easy for tourism, agriculture and mining to flourish once construction of the road is completed.
â€œThis road is an economic promise more than a campaign promise. This is so because this area is rich in mineral resources and has great potential in tourism,â€ the President said.
The Solwezi- Chingola road, which will gobble over one billion kwacha, is being constructed by China Geo and Buildcon Investment Limited.
The President, who was impressed with works by the local contractor Buildcon Investment Limited, revealed that Government is in the process of reviewing the percentage of road contracts awarded to locals from 20 to 40 percent. However, the increase in the percentage will depend on the performance of the local contractors.
North-Western Province is one of the regions where President Lungu did not receive majority votes, but he says he still has a duty to work for all Zambians regardless of their political affiliation.
In other words, it is not just about the areas where he received votes.
â€œThere is only one Zambia, one nation and there is only one leader and that is me. So, whether you voted for me or you did not, Iâ€™m not bothered,â€ Mr Lungu said. â€œI have a job to work for the people of Zambia wherever they are.â€
The President acknowledges that the North-Western Province is among the three least developed in the country and that as â€œnumber one civil servantâ€, he will work to change the status.
The nation will see him making a number of tours across the country. So far, he has been to Eastern and Luapula provinces.
â€œI will continue to encourage my members of Parliament to visit their constituencies when Iâ€™m not visiting my constituency, which is Zambia. So those [of you] who are saying Iâ€™m travelling too much, Iâ€™m sorry, that is my job,â€ he says.
The President wants all relevant line ministries to be proactive in the monitoring of projects.
While in the North-West, Mr Lungu also inspected other projects in Solwezi, which include the construction of a two-storey building that will house the provincial administration headquarters and the K3.6 million provincial veterinary laboratory, which is scheduled to be handed to the State next month.
The President reiterated that Government will prioritise construction of economically viable projects due to limited resources in the national treasury. He says Government wants to ensure the value of money spent on projects is realised and channelled to other competing needs of the economy. He wants the nation to understand that the national coffers are limited, hence the need to prioritise projects with an economic impact.
For the projects in the North-Western Province, the President was generally impressed with the pace and execution.
â€œIâ€™m not easily impressed but Iâ€™m impressed with what I have seen so far,â€ he said.
YANDE SYAMPEYO, Solwezi