ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Mongu
THE opening of the multi-billion Mongu-Kalabo road in Western Province has unlocked a number of business opportunities for the youths who are in the transport business as well as other entrepreneurs.
Standing on 26 bridges, the Mongu-Kalabo road was constructed at a cost of US$286.9 million by Avic International Limited, with the major bridge Lubosi Imwiko II across the Zambezi River measuring over one kilometre in length.
From the time President Edgar Lungu opened the road last month, taxi drivers and traders dealing in fish and other merchandise have set base at the main entrance of the road, looking for business opportunities.
FISHERMEN in the plains are now assured of easy access to the markets.
These businessmen and women target people going to Lealui, Tapo and Kalabo, Sikongo or even beyond to the neighbouring, Angola.
For the youths in the transport sector, the road has given them an opportunity to ferry people to and from Kalabo in the shortest possible time, thereby earning more money than before.
Taxi drivers and bus operators are now only taking an hour to reach Kalabo, a thing that was a tall order in the past, because of the poor road network in the plains.
In the past, the Kalabo-Mongu route had no business as people preferred to travel by water transport, was more comfortable.
At the beginning of the project in 2010, Avic allowed transport operators to use a temporary road that the company had created to ferry building materials. However, the rough terrain on the alternative route meant high motor vehicle maintenance costs for transporters as they had to take their vehicles to the garages quite often.
During this time, taxi drivers were charging K120 per passenger for a four-hour journey, while mini-buses were charging K80.
But today, with the good road, people travelling to Kalabo by bus are being charged K30 per person, and K50 for those going by taxi. The duration of the journey has also reduced from four hours to an hour only.
Kaumba Ngombo, a taxi driver, says the new road between Mongu and Kalabo has reduced motor vehicle maintenance costs for transporters, hence giving them more disposable income
He, however, complained that the good road has attracted more transporters on the Mongu-Kalabo route and competition has become tough and slow, especially for those operating at the main entrance to the road.
Mr Ngombo, who reports for work at 06:00 hours daily and retires around 19:00 hours, said on a bad day, he only manages one return trip between Mongu and Kalabo.
â€˜â€™The only problem I have seen is that the number of vehicles that have started operating on this route are more than the number of potential customers. Moreover, most of the villagers living along this road prefer to walk,â€™â€™ he said.
Another taxi driver, Joe Mushosho, said some people are not using their services yet because they want operators to slash the bus and taxi fares further.
Mr Mushosho said some of the locals are demanding that taxi fares should go down to K30.
â€˜â€™As much as we agree with them that our vehicles are now enjoying the good roads, we canâ€™t reduce the fares again because we need to pay K10 each time we load our vehicles, while cashing [to taxi owners] is K100 per day,â€™â€™ he said
The route has also attracted inter-city bus operators like Red Bomber who are charging K150 per person between Lusaka and Kalabo.
A merchandiser on the Mongu-Kalabo road, Ngembe Chiputa, said the new road has given her the opportunity to sell foodstuffs to travellers. Her business depends on the volume of traffic on the road.
Ms Chiputa, who sells soft drinks and water, said she decided to start selling from the entrance to the road because she is assured of good business.
A fisherman, Imasiku Kalaluka, said the new road has made his business more profitable because he is able to reach the market while the commodity is still fresh.
Mr Kalaluka said previously, he used to ferry his fish to the market by water, but the journey was longer and hence this had a negative effect on his perishable goods.
â€˜â€™As things stand now, Iâ€™m able to bring fish to Mongu early in the morning and in the evening every day on my bicycle. And Iâ€™m happy about it,â€™â€™ he said
And speaking when he launched the Mongu-Kalabo road, President Lungu said the road which is an engineering marvel, will facilitate the development of economic sectors such as farming, fishing and tourism in Western Province.
â€œMost of us are aware that our people in this area are actively engaged in fishing, rice growing and livestock farming. The construction of this road will also enhance tourism activities in Liuwa National Park,â€™â€™ he said.
The President also urged the Barotse Royal Establishment in collaboration with the provincial administration and the Road Development Agency to come up with sensitisation programmes that will help the locals take good care of the road infrastructure.
President Lungu was joined at the occasion by the Litunga, Lubosi Imwiko II, who made a rare public appearance.