BENEDICT TEMBO, Kalabo
PATRICK Mukonda, a businessman, recalls how cumbersome and costly it was to ferry goods from Lusaka to Kalabo, partly using water transport from Mongu to Kalabo.
Mr Mukonda, who runs P.M. Kamaya and Sons General Dealers in Kalabo, said he incurred a lot of handling charges while the cost of transporting goods was almost double.
He hired trucks from Lusaka up to Mongu where the goods were offloaded at Mulamba Harbour where they were re-loaded on the boat en route to Kalabo.
â€œWe used to spend a lot of time on water (on Zambezi River), we used to spend about two to three days (to reach Kalabo),â€ Mr Mukonda narrated in Kalabo recently.
Samuel Masiye, who owns Uncle Sam Enterprises, echoed Mr Mukondaâ€™s sentiments.
â€œBefore the completion of the road (Mongu-Kalabo), we used a lot of money to ferry goods,â€ Mr Masiye, locally popularly known as â€˜Koshoâ€™, said.
However, the plight of traders and travellers between Mongu and Kalabo is a thing of the past following the completion of the construction of the road-bridge.
Mr Masiye said the cost of ferrying goods has reduced between 40 and 50 percent.
â€œNow we hire trucks direct to Lusaka for about K8,000. Previously, transport hire from Lusaka to Mongu was around K7,000 and then another K5,000 or K6,000 on hiring the boat.
â€œEven these other people (passengers) used to pay K120 on the boat between Kalabo and Mongu. Now they are paying K30 or K50 depending on the mode of transport,â€ Mr Masiye said.
Mr Masiye, who sells groceries, said even the prices of goods have gone down because the cost of transportation has drastically reduced.
Following the construction of the road-bridge, there is very little in terms of price of commodities between Kalabo and Mongu.
Traders who export goods to Angola used to hire boats for about K15,000 to K20,000 but the opening of the Mongu-Kalabo road has helped a lot.
Traders transport their goods by road to Kalabo and then hire vehicles to take them to Sikongo and then into Angola.
It takes about four hours by road from Sikongo to Angola.
Kalabo District Council secretary Alina Banda said the reduced time in transporting people and goods between Mongu and Kalabo is a huge achievement.
Ms Banda expects an upsurge in infrastructure projects in Kalabo following the opening of the road because contractors used to spend a lot of money transporting building materials.
â€œWe have a number of contractors on board, this will enhance faster implementation of Constituency Development Fund-financed projects,â€ she said.
The council has since started upgrading its guest house near the civic centre to take advantage of the huge traffic of people into Kalabo.
Ms Banda expects the economic status of Kalabo to be enhanced.
â€œPeople are buying things directly from Lusaka, which is enhancing economies of scale,â€ she said.
The opening up of Kalabo, which was isolated from the rest of Western Province, has started attracting investors.
â€œWe have [as a council] received a number of investors. One investor wants to set up a filling station to enhance the economic status of Kalabo,â€ she said.
Most shops at the main market which had closed have been revived and some are being constructed.
With luxury buses operated by Juldan and Red Bomber, a host of mini-buses and taxis serving the Mongu-Kalabo route, the council wants to build a bus station.
The council has also changed its business plan by acquiring a 36-seater Rosa minibus, replacing the speed boat it has parked at the civic centre.
Ms Banda said Zanaco has shown, willingness to set up base in the district which currently is only serviced by NATSAVE, which opened in 2014.
The coming of banks means that money will be revolving within the district.
District commissioner Frida Luhila is excited that Kalabo is growing because, before the road was constructed, there were fewer people trading.
â€œWe have also seen a lot of sugar, maheu and cooking oil going into Angola,â€ Mrs Luhila said.
Superior Milling has expressed interest in opening a branch in Kalabo following a feasibility study conducted by its managing director, Peter Cottan, who was in the district recently.
The Mongu-Kalabo road, one of Zambiaâ€™s engineering marvels, is a tourist attraction as people from various places go to admire it.
The road has also contributed to tourist arrivals in the Liuwa National Park where the concessionaire African Parks is building lodges.
Kalabo Member of Parliament Chinga Miyutu said the Mongu-Kalabo road is serving the people in his constituency very well.
â€œIt has lightened the burden of travel. Weak people would stay without going to Mongu. At no time did we pay less than K100,â€ Mr Miyutu said.
Now the people of Kalabo have the liberty to go and shop from Shoprite in Mongu and return the same day.
The road has restored dignity to travellers between Mongu and Kalabo because during the rainy season, they and their merchandise used to get soaked while on boats.
Mr Miyutu said the road has also reduced the cost of handling because in the past, traders used to pay two to three times by the time their goods reached Kalabo.
The legislator is happy that with the burden of travel behind Kalabo residents, it should now translate into cost saving which they should put to go use.
In the past, it was impossible to travel between the two districts the same day and most people were forced to sleep over.
Mr Miyutu wants the people between Mongu and Kalabo to use the road 24/7 instead of just congesting it during the day.
Western Province chief medical officer Andrew Silumesii said the Mongu-Kalabo road has improved the referral of patients from Kalabo and Yuka hospitals to the next level of care by being evacuated to Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu.
â€œWhile in the past it took four to six hours, it now takes less than an hour to transport a patient from Kalabo to Mongu. Time is always of essence in an emergency response,â€ Dr Silumesii said.
In addition to the decrease in the turn-around time for referral, significant savings on the cost of transporting patients have accrued to Kalabo district health management team.
â€œThis includes savings on the maintenance of motor vehicles whose wear and tear was much greater before the construction of the road. The transportation of medicines and medical supplies was previously a serious challenge. This has greatly improved,â€ he said.
Due to difficulties previously experienced in getting to Kalabo, health workers largely deemed Kalabo to be a remote district and therefore many shunned working there.
â€œThis perception has changed and health workers are increasingly being attracted to work in Kalabo. Supervisory and technical support visits by the provincial medical office to Kalabo are now easier to conduct. The access to health services by the population has been improved, especially for people living close to the road,â€ he said.
On the down side, Dr Silumesii said a number of road traffic accidents have been recorded on the road and mainly attributed to over-speeding. This is an issue that all relevant stakeholders should work at addressing in order to prevent road traffic accident-related fatalities.
The 34 kilometre Mongu-Kalabo road built in the Barotse plains has 26 bridges across it, with the longest bridge named after Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II, the current leader of the people of Western Province.
The long-awaited road cost about US$286.9 million and was constructed by Avic International, a Chinese company.
The construction of the most expensive road infrastructure in the country so far was strenuous as it encountered numerous challenges which had threatened the delivery of the project to the people of Western Province and particularly those in Kalabo.
The first attempt to construct the Mongu-Kalabo road started in 2002 by Consolidated Contractors Company.
The embankments and culverts were swept away by the floods of 2003 and 2004.
President Lungu commissioned the road on April 28 this year.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Kalabo