THE Zambian economy has received a proliferation of infrastructure development in the last decade. While investments in infrastructure development have accelerated in Zambia, there is need to rethink on how best such an economic move can be maximised. Zambia needs to learn from other countries such as China, which in trying to catch up with the rest pf the developing world, invested heavily in knowledge infrastructure with a priority of education, innovation, a well- educated workforce and highly skilled specialists that have made its economy excel. Definitely such a move for Zambia should not halt the current physical infrastructure taking place.
There are key areas for physical infrastructure that can be targeted. For example, it took five years to construct the Tanzania-Zambia (TAZARA) railway line in 1976. This was at a time technological advancements had not accelerated. A comparison of technology back then and today makes it easier for anyone to do things within the shortest possible time now and maximise the benefits. Technological advancements and adapting to change is the reason It why there is a modernised railway line stretching 750km from Ethiopia to Djibouti, reducing movement of goods and people from 12 hours to 2 hours. Similarly, a feasibility study can be done on how best this can be replicated in Zambia, probably by tapping on the already existing railway line route from Lusaka to Ndola and all the way up to Kasumbalesa.
This would greatly help the Zambian economy to grow rapidly due to a number of economic activities emanating from increased movement of goods and people. Equally, people would be able to move from different towns and cities for work and get back home within minutes or hours. A modernised transport system as already evidenced from the road infrastructure investments is vital in integrating the vast country and also be a leader in regional economic integration. Zambia has not yet signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Area but if it is signed, then certainly, investing in a technologically advanced transport system is inevitable because of the expected trade benefits from importing and exporting countries.
Zamb i a n e e d s t o s t a r t experimenting with certain policies then implement reforms gradually. A good starting point would be to do a trial of an electric train or tram within Lusaka. In this case, it would mean putting an electric railway line from Bauleni all the way along the ‘Tokyo’ ring road into town and off along the midsection of Great East Road to Chelston. The town route can be extended to Matero and back to the central station. This would be a solution to the traffic congestion being experienced in Lusaka.
Government can go into a Public Private Partnership for this type of project and pricing should be equally competitive as those that would still be operating buses. It is important to bear in mind that in the next 1-2 years, Britain and Japan will be using more of electric cars, meaning Zambia will be importing more of these vehicles at reduced prices leading to exacerbated pressure on the Zambia roads because every Zambian will have a vehicle.
Political and economic implications on the bus business would be there but this would also call for planning of how to deal with bus owners so that they survive in the transport sector. Perhaps, it is also time to consider creating special economic zones for locals so that those with enough capital can make use of such zones as a graduation tool from the transport sector. That too, calls for some form of protectionist measures so that they don’t suffer from increased international competition through cheap imports. Donald Trump and the US are doing it and so is everyone else. The international political economy is current a zero-sum game mixed with realism and liberalism.
As a targeted approach in transport infrastructure and growing the manufacturing sector will make Zambia’s economy competitive in the region and the rest of Africa. Developing world-class transportation systems and export infrastructures is crucial to Zambia’s political and economic future. This will also lower the costs and risks of doing business within the country.
It must be noted that whatever Zambia is benefitting from countries such as China, India, the USA, Britain and many others, investments in advanced research centers for everything ranging from agriculture to technology and production strategies should be made.
With a baseline of 190,746 passengers and a target of increasing the number of passengers using the Zambia Railways Limited trains to 246, 546 by 2021, a modernised rail system would increase this target by more than five times. Under the same plan outlined in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) 2017-2021 Implementation Plan, modernising the TAZARA railway between Zambia and Tanzania would greatly improve trade statistics due to increased volumes of cargo and people. The same can be done for the aviation sector as outlined in the 7NDP but the targets for rehabilitation and construction can be increased so that the sector grows rapidly.
Heavy investment in knowledge and physical infrastructure will be an automatic boost for sectors such as Agriculture, Mining, Tourism, Information, Communication and Technology, Energy and certainly a catalyst for enhanced decent job opportunities in the economy as targeted under the 7NDP.
The author is a Master of International Relations and Development student at Mulungushi University.