ALVIN CHIINGA, Samfya
SANDALA Mubanga of Mpanta village on the shores of Lake Bangweulu in Luapula Province cannot believe how his life has improved after enduring years of living without electricity in his home.
The 60-year-old Mpata village headman is not alone in this merriment as people in over 480 households run short of words when they look at how their village has transformed after being electrified by government through the Rural Electrification Authority (REA).
In the middle of this vast village, 25-year-old Sylvia Chishala is also all smiles as she explains how her life has changed for the better by the rural electrification programme.
At the nearby primary school and health post, the story is not different because the facilities have also been connected to electricity, much to the delight of pupils and patients.
â€œWe did not expect this to happen during our life time, we thought that perhaps this was going to happen during my great grandchildrenâ€™s time, but this government has made it possible. I have electricity in my house,â€ Mr Mubanga said with a broad smile.
Headman Mpanta said the village, which most of the time relied on fishing, has now seen people diversifying to other economic activities such as rearing broiler chickens, owning restaurants and even opening up entertainment outlets.
He said the gesture by REA to implement the Mpanta mini solar grid project was a well thought out initiative that should be replicated in other parts of the country so that many people can benefit.
Mr Mpata, who runs a shop with storage facilities such as fridges which require electricity, said he now makes more profit in his business because electricity is now available in his area.
â€œMy orphaned grandchildren are now able to go to school because I can now afford the school fees unlike in the past,â€ he said.
As for Ms Chishala, who runs her grandfatherâ€™s restaurant, business has boomed and her clientele now appreciates her food even more.
Before the electrification programme, her customers would complain because she had difficulties in storing food stuffs, especially fresh ones, for future use.
REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda said the Mpanta mini solar grid is a renewable energy scheme, the first of its kind in Zambia, which supplies electricity to households, public facilities and businesses in eight villages in Samfya.
Surrounding the mini solar grid plant are giant solar panels.
There are also neat rows of panels connected to a house which accommodates 700 giant batteries that store energy captured from the sun.
The electricity is then transmitted to the villages through overhead lines mounted on wooden poles, like those Zesco use to supply hydro-electricity to its customers.
â€œIt is a project in which government has invested K9 million, a worthwhile investment indeed,â€ Mr Musonda said.
He said the scheme is a partnership between REA and the local community and described it as a success story.
Luapula, Northern and Muchinga provinces REA regional manager Wazingwa Mugala said many people are happy with governmentâ€™s decision to connect electricity to the houses in Mpata and other villages in Samfya.
Mr Mugala said the 60 kilowatt mini solar grid has changed the lives of many people who live in areas where it supplies electricity.
â€œThe people of Mpanta are happy about this development because they had no source of energy. REA will soon be implementing two more mini solar grids in Lunga district at 300 kilowatts and Chunga camp at 200 kilowatts,â€ he said.
The mini solar grid stations will help alleviate poverty among vulnerable communities where they are operational such as in Mpanta Village.
According to Mr Mugala, some of the people such as those in Mpanta Village have already started benefiting in terms of having their businesses generating more profits because of the mini solar grid plant that has been mounted in the area.
The Mpata story could just be a tip of the iceberg in as far as electrification of rural parts of Luapula Province is concerned. There are several other electrification and power generation projects that REA has implemented in the province.
In Milenge district, which is over 200 kilometres from Samfya, another electrification programme of rural areas between Samfya and Milenge is underway.
Milenge district commissioner James Nyenjele does not mince his words when it comes to the electrification programme being undertaken by REA in his area.
â€œPeople in the district have commended President Lungu and government for considering connecting Milenge to the national grid,â€ he said.
Mr Nyenjele said after being declared a district in 1997 by late former President Fredrick Chiluba, the Patriotic Front government embarked on infrastructure development and electrification of the district.
â€œDespite it being given a district status, Milenge has over the years lagged behind in infrastructure but now the story is changing because we have a secondary school and a district hospital, among others,â€ he said.
He said there is only a 60 kilometre stretch remaining for Milenge to be connected to the national grid.
Once this is done, the district will be opened up for investment and business activities will thrive.
He said there is a lot of business potential in the district which has over the years been hampered by lack of electricity.
Still in Milenge, the governments of Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo signed a memorandum of understanding last year to start works on the Mumbotuta hydro power station.
In Mwense, the Musonda Falls power station is being worked on and is envisaged to contribute 10 megawatts to the national grid by January next year.
â€œThe works on the US$41.7 million project stand at 64.2 percent, there is tremendous progress,â€ said Luapula Province permanent secretary Boniface Chimbwali.
Mr Chimbwali said the initial works were aimed at rehabilitating the station but after discovering that the machinery in all the five units were almost obsolete, it was decided that there be a complete replacement of the machinery.
Many other power generation projects have been initiated in the province mainly by private companies. Some of such projects are the Mwansabombwe and Mansa sugar plantations which will be producing energy from waste.
ALVIN CHIINGA, Samfya