DOREEN NAWA, Chipata
THE story is perhaps familiar to a lot of people on how the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Southern Rhodesia in 1965 affected Zambia which was only months old as an independent country.The UDI turned to be a major blow for Zambia because it had been tied to the southern African trading system since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Zambia’s external trade depended on the Rhodesia Railways and was routed through South Africa and Mozambique; copper was exported through the ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth and Beira and imports were mainly sourced in South Africa, until the establishment of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, when the Southern Rhodesian industry developed and became the main supplier of the Zambian market. But products not available in South Africa and Rhodesia continued to transit through the ports of South Africa and Mozambique.
Yet, only five weeks after UDI, Zambia’s access to these routes was cut off. The country had to spend the ensuing five years trying to divert its imports and exports from the southern African ports mainly to the port of Dar es Salaam.
But so much has changed since then with all the countries in the region gaining majority rule and opening up to regional integration.
As the countries move towards regional initiatives such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Co-operation (SADC), ways of overcoming southern Africa’s regional transport hurdles continue being sought.
One of these initiatives involves connecting Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the Nacala Corridor which links them to the port of Beira, located about 1,200 kilometres north of the Mozambican capital of Maputo. This is the port that handles the import and export cargoes for Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and even the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Zambia, the route connecting to the Nacala Corridor is the Lusaka-Mwami Border road which has partly been rehabilitated in line with the expansion plan on the Nacala Transport Corridor in SADC.
In 2013, the government of Zambia contracted Condril and Mota Engil construction companies to rehabilitate the 375 kilometre stretch from Luangwa Bridge to Mwami Border, at a cost of €168.7 million.
The road project is co-financed by the European Union (EU) through the European Development Fund (EDF), which is a grant, and loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the French Agency for Development (AFD) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The road is one of Zambia’s major plans to open new trade routes.
The current state of this road shows quality works.
Some users interviewed say the rehabilitated road has increased traffic through Eastern Province to the coastal port of Beira.
A Malawian truck driver, Edwin Banda, describes the road as a perfect link within the southern Africa region.
“I wish the works on the Luangwa-Mwami Border road can be extended to cover the Luangwa-Lusaka road and also the Katete-Chanida border road. I say so because from my understanding, this road project is meant to open the Nacala Corridor to Beira, in Mozambique, but without working on these missing links, then the connection will not make sense,” Mr Banda says. “The dream will not be realised.”
Mr Banda says poor infrastructure leads to the cost of transporting goods in the region to being high.
“I have been a truck driver for 32 years now and from my interactions and experience, I have come to learn that SADC goods compete less with those from other regions on the continent because of poor transport facilities,” he says.
Musonda Chitala, a Zambian truck driver agrees.
“A poor transport system acts as a non-tariff trade barrier,” Mr Chitala says before adding that indeed, bad roads cost lives.
“I know what a bad road can do to a family, a community and above all the region. On several occasions while on the road delivering goods, I have witnessed a lot of fatalities. I can safely say that the region’s road fatality share is huge, all because of the bad roads.”
But it is not only the truck drivers who appreciate the importance of a good road network.
Marjory Simwamba, a crossborder trade, says the Luangwa-Mwami Border road has now eased her movements between Lusaka and Blantyre in Malawi.
“Before the road was done, travelling from Luangwa to Mwami Border was taking over six hours by bus, but now, we take three to four hours, which is good for us as traders because the longer you spend travelling, the more expensive it becomes,” Ms Simwamba says.
Chipata City Council Mayor Sinoya Mwale says connectivity and low-cost transport facilities like good road networks provide opportunities for any country and increases their accessibility standard.
“Transport and communications systems have an important bearing on economic integration and development because they can be significant non-tariff barriers,” Mr Mwale says.
He says reducing the distance between people, markets, services and knowledge or simply getting people connected is a great part of what economic growth is all about.
There is a very strong positive correlation between a country’s or indeed region’s economic development and the quality of its road network.
The National Authorisation Office, which is under the Ministry of Finance and is mandated to manage funds from the EU through the European Development Fund, is impressed with the road works on the Luangwa Bridge-Mwami Border road.
Co-ordinator Chasiya Kazembe says the Luangwa-Mwami Border road will make a crucial contribution to economic development and growth and bring important social benefits on the Nacala Corridor as well as Zambia.
“…A [good] road network is crucial in economic growth. Roads open up more areas and stimulate economic and social development,” Ms Kazembe says. “Road infrastructure is the most important of all public assets.”
The Zambian government in particular has nevertheless made significant efforts to improve the road situation connecting the Nacala Corridor as seen in the speedy rehabilitation of the T-4 also known as the Great East road.
DOREEN NAWA, Chipata