Analysis: NAWA MUTUMWENO
SURROUNDED by eight countries, Zambia now prides itself as being ‘landlinked’ as opposed to ‘landlocked’.
For many years, its lack of easy access to the coast has been seen as a bottleneck in as far as trade facilitation is concerned. With massive construction of infrastructure being undertaken, Zambia’s unique position is now seen as a blessing.
Government, through the Ministry of Transport and Communication, is in the process of devising a new transport policy which seeks to transform the country into a regional transport hub. This places Zambia in formidable stead to reap from the trade and investment benefits that would evolve thereof.
As the ministry rightly observes, the country will benefit greatly from the plan as it would ride on the regional advantage in terms of business opportunities.
“Zambia ought to exploit its geographical vantage point by creating a regional hub suitable for all forms of investment, considering the fact that its centrality taps into COMESA, SADC and the Great Lakes region, which account for more than 600 million people. Now, that is a ready market for all sorts of business in the area,” Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba says.
Apart from developing the National Transport Policy (to promote sustainable development of all modes of transport), other initiatives include devising the National Transport Master Plan and the National Communications Master Plan. This is meant to chart the path to an efficient and integrated transport and communication future of the country.
The past few years have seen the country embark on major and ambitious infrastructural development plans such as the Link-Zambia 8000 project set to upgrade and construct inter-district roads, upgrade of airports, railway and maritime transport.
The Link Zambia 8000, the Lusaka 400 and Copperbelt 400 road projects are continuing while work on the US$240 million Lusaka City Traffic Decongestion Project (funded by co-operating partners) is expected to start this year.
The Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway was recently launched. This is a road of great economic importance as it is a gateway to Zambia’s northern market. The recently completed Mongu-Kalabo road will spur trade with the country’s western neighbour, Angola.
In a bid to transform the sub-sector into a preferred viable and efficient mode of transport, the Railway Development Strategy has been formulated. This strategy focuses on making railway transport more cost-effective and the most preferred mode of transporting cargo.
The plan is to reduce the wear and tear of roads and lower maintenance costs and extend roads’ lifespan. A statutory instrument (SI) has since been introduced to the effect that 30 percent of heavy and bulk cargo should be transported by rail.
According to Mr Mushimba, Government has invested in modernising, expanding and rehabilitating Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL)’s infrastructure and machinery, including rolling stock, TAZARA and reconstructing inter-mine railway lines.
Government has started developing the 388.8km Chipata-Petauke-Serenje railway, which will link the country to two regional corridors – Dar es Salaam and Nacala. To this end, in September 2016, Government signed an engineering and procurement construction (EPC) contract for US$2.3 billion with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
Another project is the construction of the US$1.2 billion Chingola-Solwezi-Jimbe line by the North-Western Railway Company. This will service and provide modern alternative copper trade routes from Dar es Salaam and Durban.
The US$991 million 192km Nseluka-Mpulungu railway line is on the cards with a view to boosting trade in the Great Lakes region and around Lake Tanganyika. Detailed engineering designs for this project will be presented to Government soon.
There is also the 200km Livingstone-Kazungula- Katima Mulilo railway line, whose preliminary feasibility study indicates that it will cost about US$824 million; and the Kafue-Lion’s Den (Zimbabwe) railways line, which awaits feasibility studies.
There are plans to establish an inland water transport authority to steer the water transport development agenda, with Mpulungu Port undergoing a modernisation programme through infrastructure upgrade.
Upon completion, the facility will see increased volumes of trade and accommodate bigger transport vessels to carry people and goods in the Great Lakes region.
Water transport is a fundamental mode of movement, especially in rural areas of the country.
The national flag carrier, Zambia Airways, which was liquidated in 1994, is set to fly to the sky again this October in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, an aviation leader on the continent. Through the planned aviation strategy, Zambia seeks to reclaim its status as a preferred tourism destination in Africa and the world at large.
According to official statistics, Zambia’s status as a preferred destination has nosedived to 116th in the world, 16th in Africa and 9th in sub-Saharan Africa. This is attributed to cumbersome flight connections and costs.
Performance of the sub-sector is poised to improve once the new Kenneth Kaunda and Copperbelt international airports are finalised, making the country an efficient and effective transit link to major destinations on the continent and beyond.
With strategic planning, Zambia can indeed become a regional transport hub. Concerted efforts should be made to make this dream a reality.
The author is a freelance journalist and, media and public relations consultant.