KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka
OFTEN times, the role of military institutions becomes prominent in war situations or whenever conflicts arise. But this is not the case for the Zambia Air Force (ZAF).
ZAF is the air force of Zambia and the air operations element of the Zambian Defence Force. Following the creation of the Republic of Zambia in 1964, the former Northern Rhodesian Air Wing was renamed as the Zambia Air Wing which lasted until 1968 when ZAF was then established.
The primary missions of the Air Force are to defend Zambia’s borders and protect its airspace. In addition, it provides various forms of air support to other government departments.
It also flies reconnaissance, trooping and transport missions for other members of the defence force and airlifts medical supplies and personnel to inaccessible areas.
The organisation provides emergency transport whenever needed, with the more recent ones of providing support in transporting ballot boxes and personnel during general elections and relief operations in flooded or drought prone areas.
Two years ago, the Zambia Air Force opened its doors to innovative ideas, with Air Commander Lt Gen Eric Chimese urging members of staff to participate in offering solutions on various policies to enhance the growth of the organisation. During a board meeting aimed at discussing the vision 2020, Lt Gen Chimese said various contributions and proposals should fall within the existing Government’s broader policies.
“Our resolutions should be consistent with what is provided for in the civil service and particularly the defence force.
“In the past few years, there has been a number of improvements in ZAF especially in the area of equipment acquisition and conditions of service, so we should use this meeting to match the policies with existing equipment and Government approved conditions of service for ZAF personnel,” Lt. Gen Chimese says.
Since then, ZAF has continued to carry out reforms aimed at repositioning itself to suit not only the air power needs of the country but also the commercial needs of the public.
The Air Force has since opened its doors to the public, and people are able to access services that were restricted to ZAF personnel.
At the just ended 91st Agriculture and Commercial Show, ZAF, for the first time exhibited what the institutions offers on their commercial side.
Many show-goers were surprised to know that ZAF is able to hire aircrafts and helicopters for commercial services.
The air force has also opened its doors for the utilisation of the various conference and banquet halls and sports facilities.
“There is need for the public to utilise commercial services and business facilities at affordable rates being offered by ZAF,” deputy director of public relations Chondela Manjimela says.
In an interview at the just-ended Zambia Agricultural and Commercial Show, Lieutenant Colonel Manjimela said the ZAF command decided to exhibit at this years’ show to present to the public what the air force does in peace times.
“We have the air transport facility which the general public can hire; we have passenger aircrafts such as helicopters and planes. Additionally, the air force has leisure places such as banquet halls that can be used for conferences, weddings and any functions.
“These facilities are all modern, of high standards and secure, and they are affordable comparing to what is prevailing on the market,” Lt Col Manjimela said.
He said the air force is making a meaningful contribution to the economic development of the country.
“We also have the Air Power Band and brass band that can be hired. There is also sports facilities such as Nkoloma Stadium, which has even hosted international events including high profile football matches,” Lt Col Manjimela said.
Surely, ZAF is looking outside the box as the institution seeks to re-align its operations and tackle the country’s socio-economic realities head-on.
Actually, what was exhibited at the show may seem to be little but it is a pointer of what is to come from ZAF.
Besides its core mission of securing the country’s air space, the ZAF has embarked on various reforms to enable the institution becoming more relevant in the coming years.
In his official address to parliament in September 2015, President Lungu said for Zambia to attain a transformational culture, it should not be business as usual. “All institutions need to think beyond their core business as a measure of sustainability,” he said. One institution which is embracing the transformational culture initiative is ZAF under the command of Lt Gen Chimese.
In a bid to generate its own revenue and reduce over dependency on the treasury, ZAF has embraced a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative to implement some developmental programmes. The PPP Act Number 14 of 2009 was enacted to promote and facilitate the implementation of privately enhanced infrastructure projects. The Act facilitates for removal of undesirable restrictions on private sector participation in provision of public services, and the development and operation of public infrastructure. Against this background, ZAF is undertaking an infrastructure development plan to develop commercial and social facilities for its Twin Palm, Lusaka, Livingstone and Mumbwa bases.
The immediate benefits include ownership of quality infrastructure to give the Air Force the capacity to raise own financial resources, and take care of the ZAF routine financial requirements from the intended facilities.
The Twin Palm infrastructure development plan involves construction of a ZAF college, a hotel, offices to let, a sports complex, a housing complex, a shopping mall, fire fighting station and a maintenance workshop. Other aspects of the project will be houses for sale to ZAF officers and the general public at a reasonable cost, a fuel service station, conference and convention centre with helipads (helicopter landing sites).
ZAF has since registered a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the ZAF Projects Company Limited to manage the intended facilities with its partners. Ultimately, the company will be the sole administrator of these facilities once the concession period is over. With these initiatives of providing commercial services to people, it is understandable that ZAF is among the few institutions that have refused to hide under the guise of limited resources as a reason for not progressing, but able to think outside the box and face challenges as they arise.