MWILA NTAMBI, Chiengi
TOURISM is one sector that observers say has great potential to contribute to economic growth in Zambia.
Apart from being home to the Victoria Falls, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Zambia has many other unexploited tourism sites spread across the entire country.
In trying to expose the untapped tourism sites, Government sometime back embarked on an initiative to promote tourism in the countryâ€™s Northern Circuit in a bid to increase the number of visitors to those places.
Luapula Province is part of the Northern Tourism Circuit and although efforts have been made to expose the various tourism sites in the area, the challenges that were identified as being responsible for the low number of tourists, have remained pretty much unattended to.
Some of the challenges include; poor roads leading to the tourism sites, lack of adequate and quality accommodation for tourists and inadequate marketing of the areas in question among other reasons.
The picture is not different in Chiengi district in Luapula Province.
Situated 350 kilometers from Mansa, the provincial capital, and 1, 200 Km from Lusaka, the national capital, Chiengi has immense potential to contribute to the growth of the countryâ€™s tourism sector.
The district is home to the beautiful Lake Mweru, which is shared between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The long sandy beach in the district is an experience that the adventurous would want to experience.
The beautiful waters of the lake offer an opportunity for adventure in water sports such as boat cruising.
Apart from the lake, Chiengi district is also home to salt pans locally known as â€˜ku ngâ€™ansaâ€™ where people extract salt.
The traditional way in which the salt in question is made can provide tourism experience for the inquisitive eye.
Other than that, the district is also home to the mysterious Kabwe-Katenda stone, which partly defines the culture and identity of the Bwile people of Senior Chief Putaâ€™s area.
The Kabwe-Katenda stone not only provides an opportunity for tourism in Chiengi, but also creates an opportunity for researchers and archeologists to learn more about the Bwile culture and why this stone is significant to the people in that area.
Elizabeth Mwenya, a resident of Puta village in senior chief Putaâ€™s area, feels the tourism potential of Chiengi needs to be harnessed.
Mrs Mwenya, a retired teacher and mother of five, observes that water sports can be promoted in Chiengi which is home to one of the largest lakes in Zambia, Lake Mweru.
Apart from the Lake, she says tourists, both local and international can learn something from the way the Bwile people of Chief Putaâ€™s area traditionally extract their salt.
â€œTourism does not have to be extra ordinary. It just requires people with ideas to make it tick. Otherwise, the nature around this area is something to marvel at,â€ she said.
Chiengi also has historical landmarks such as the Mukelenge rock found in Senior Chief Munungaâ€™s area.
Apparently, the rock in question, was used as a hiding place by the first Senior Chief Mununga during the time of war between the Shila people, under Senior Chief Mununga and the Lunda people of Mwata Kazembeâ€™s area. And so, the rock is an important historical landmark that can be used as a tourist attraction.
Despite all the potential that Chiengi has in terms of becoming a tourism giant, the district is far from attaining its rightful status because of a number of challenges.
To start with, access to Chiengi has been hampered by the deplorable state of the Kashikishi-Lunchinda road, which links Nchelenge and Chiengi districts. Although, there is only a distance of 98Km separating the two districts, the journey between Nchelenge and Chienge takes about three hours or even more.
Most of the renowned public service buses that travel to Luapula have now abandoned the Chiengi route and only go up to Nchelenge, fearing the state of the road, especially with the onset of the rains.
The Mitsubishi Rosa bus that dares to reach Chiengi only goes there twice in a week on Mondays and Fridays.
This means that those that desperately want to travel to the area will have to rely on taxis that charge K130 between Nchelenge and Chiengi.
There is no comfort in travelling using the taxis in question because they are always overloaded with people and luggage.
Furthermore, the district has no filling station and has to rely on fuel from Nchelenge district.
Most tourists are usually particular about the kind of accommodation and service they are offered when they visit a place.
Unfortunately, the hospitality industry in Chiengi is still in its infancy because most of the lodges in the area are below par in terms of acceptable standards.
To compound the problem, the area has no piped water despite having a lake in its vicinity.
Residents have to rely on wells and in some instances, boreholes for their source of water. This poses a risk in terms of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Apart from the water issue, there is very limited choice when it comes to cuisines offered at the lodges in question.
Real tourism includes exploring the foods common to the area being visited and so lodge owners have a lot to do on that score as far as promoting local foods is concerned.
Lodge owners also need to include international cuisines on their menu in anticipation of the diverse backgrounds of visitors.
Currently, that is not happening and many reasons can be advanced as justification for this.
The lodge owners say they fear buying food that will not sell because they are not sure of receiving visitors that will demand international cuisines.
â€œSticking to the status quo seems to be the wisest thing anyone can do,â€ one lodge owner said.
But again, everything goes back to the road. If there is a good road, people could easily drive to nearby Nchelenge or even as far as Mansa, and stock up their kitchens in anticipation of visitors.
But with the current state of the road, one would rather stay safe than be sorry.
The area also needs standard salons, barber shops, laundry places, restaurants and even lodging places for it to realise its full tourism potential.
When there are necessary facilities, it is easy to market a place. Authorities therefore, need to work on the road leading to Chiengi as a matter of urgency. Lots of fish is caught in Lake Mweru both in Chiengi and Nchelenge and for it to be easily transported to the market, a good road network is paramount.
As long as the Kashikishi-Lunchinda road remains in its current state, the tourism potential in Chiengi, like many others places in Zambia, will remain just that: potential.
In order for this potential to be harnessed, rehabilitating the Kashikishi-Lunchinda road should be the starting point.
A good road will obviously open up the area for a lot of opportunities in commerce and trade.
It is up to the stakeholders involved in managing Chiengi to put their heads together and ensure that they get rid of one of the major obstacles of tourism in the area and that is the deplorable road between Nchelenge and Chiengi.
MWILA NTAMBI, Chiengi