SADDENED by the missed socio-economic opportunities that accrue from hosting of the Kuomboka â€“ one of the countryâ€™s magnificent cultural events – organisers and the traditional authority resolved that this yearâ€™s ceremony would be held, with or without adequate rains.
The Kuomboka, the ceremony in which the Litunga, the King of the Lozi people, migrates from the Lealui Zambezi floodplains to the higher ground at Limulunga, has not been held for three years.
In 2014, the ceremony was postponed following the death of the Queen, Moyo Imwambo, while in 2015 and 2016, poor rainfall rendered holding of the event impossible.
The three-year lull has evidently had a huge toll on local people who rely on one of Africaâ€™s crowd-pulling ceremonies for their economic lifeline.
Irene Muyenga, who chairs the 20-member strong national organising committee, says business people look forward to making profits at the ceremony.
Ms Muyenga says items like baskets, misisi (kilts), rice and fish sell in large quantities, and lodge owners also benefit from the event which lasts a week.
â€œThey [business people] sell once a year to the people who come there. People have felt the absence of the Kuomboka,â€ she said.
Besides the commercial imperative of the ceremony, abundant rainfall also means improved food security as the local people are able to grow enough crops both in the plains and upland.
Rice, for example, grows so well in the plains that it is believed the Zambezi floodplains have capacity to feed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with the grain.
Cassava and sorghum are grown on the highland, which is mostly semi-arid.
According to Ms Muyenga, the organising committee, in conjunction with the traditional authority, has not spared any efforts in ensuring that the ceremony is held.
The canal through which the Litunga navigates has already been dredged as the organisers left nothing to chance.
Fortunately, the country has received favourable rains this year and the Zambezi plains will flood yet again.
In getting ready for the ceremony, the organising committee has started strategising to ensure that this yearâ€™s event is memorable, what with the must-see Mongu-Kalabo road which is touted as an engineering feat.
Ms Muyenga, whose traditional title is Induna Ingunde and is responsible for, among other things, quality preparations for the ceremony, says apart from the national organising committee, other organs in Kabwe and the Copperbelt are also providing input.
Provisionally, a budget of K700,000 has been drawn up, with Zambeef Products Plc, the countryâ€™s largest integrated agribusiness and food processing company and one of the largest in the region, staking K50,000.
Ms Muyenga said the organising committee is relying on the goodwill of the corporate world and individuals to help meet the budget.
The budget is expected to cater for a royal banquet, paddlers, t-shirts, chitenge materials, paint for the Litungaâ€™s barge and other boats as well as the regatta.
To set the fundraising machinery in motion, the national organising committee is planning a dinner dance at Lusakaâ€™s Hotel InterContinental on February 25. This is the flagship fundraiser for the Kuomboka.
Other fundraising activities whose dates will be advised soon include a corporate madalas football match as well as an inter-cultural game.
Ms Muyenga says the corporate world should invest in the re-incarnation of the Kuomboka ceremony and make it the biggest ever.
She boasted of her committeeâ€™s accountability saying in the past, they refunded the money to major donors when the event was not held.
With thousands travelling for the Kuomboka ceremony, Ms Muyenga says need has arisen to erect permanent facilities such as toilets and terraces.
Toilets are expected to be built at the Limulunga palace as hordes want to have a glimpse of the Lozi King after emerging from the royal barge.
Some toilets are earmarked for Lealui for visitors who go to see off the King as well as those who escort him as he begins the journey to Limulunga.
Currently, the organisers hire mobile toilets.
The organising committee is also planning to build terraces along the Zambezi River closer to where the royal barge docks to forestall the near pandemonium which characterises the Litungaâ€™s arrival from Lealui.
A conference room is also being planned for Limulunga to accommodate the huge number of visitors who go to see the Litunga. The Kashandi, where the Litunga meets his guests, is small for the comfort of hundreds of people.
Beyond the ceremony, the organising committee wishes to see visitors to historical places in Western Province as part of cultural tourism.
The must-see places of historical significance include the Lwatile, the first school in Western Province, and Sefula School for the Blind.
Lwatile, just like Sefula and Lealui palace, which gets submerged during the rainy season, need to undergo a facelift.
Induna Mukulwakashiko, who is the acting Ngambela (Prime Minister) has assured: the 2017 Kuomboka ceremony is certainly on.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.