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Lundazi: Small town with big dreams

THE call of a muezzin inviting the Muslim faithful to prayer announces the break of dawn over Lundazi and the town awakes to familiar scenes and sounds – bicycle bells, motorbikes and a horde of farmers queuing for payment at a local bank.    
But much of life here passes by like a movie in slow motion; almost predictable. Lundazi is also unpretentiously welcoming, although it has an almost decrepit look that has only recently improved with a network of freshly tarred roads.
Situated 182 kilometres from the provincial capital Chipata, Lundazi is now the northernmost district in Eastern Province, after Chama was sheared off to form part of the newly-created Muchinga Province.
Box One Kanele is the penname for Lundazi. Box One refers to a postal number in the district, while Kanele is an adulterated form of the word colonel. It is said the locals could not pronounce the word correctly back when the town was an outpost for the British colonisers.
The town still has a number of relics of the colonial era in form of buildings, including a castle modelled on a Norman castle built by a district commissioner in the late 1940s. The castle now serves as a private hotel and is the only remarkable and memorable building in the town.
But the face of Lundazi is fast changing. The district is currently undergoing rapid housing development on its rolling hills, perhaps testimony to a booming local economy.
And there are even grander plans by the local authority to have better planned residential and shopping complexes in the town.
Council secretary Boyd Kaoma was eager to share with this author plans for the future Lundazi town, driving him to a large piece of land reserved for a whole new town centre, complete with a shopping mall, bank and a high-cost residential complex to be called Kanele.
The new town centre will sit on a plot of land where the airstrip is currently located. The airstrip will move to another site away from residential houses.
Designs for the new shopping centre have already being done awaiting approval, while the initial budget for the project has already been approved, according to Mr Kaoma.
Another piece of land has been demarcated for low density residential called Sunny Dale Garden.
Construction of a new district hospital is nearing completion, while a big project to build an airport is being planned six kilometres south-east of the town. Land for a third bank has already been allocated.
Lundazi is now vying for municipal status.
“We are on Concorde speed to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place and get that status [municipal],” says Mr Kaoma.
Although the image the council secretary was trying to paint of the future Lundazi town seemed farfetched, there was a lot of optimism in his voice.
Agriculture is what drives the economy of Lundazi.
The district is one of the highest producers of maize, cotton, groundnuts and tobacco in Zambia. The district produces about 200,000 tonnes of maize every year, accounting for about 20 percent of the national output.
This comes off the backs of an estimated 68,000, mostly small-scale farmers in the district.
Maize, cotton and tobacco bring an average of K150 million to the district every year, according to Philemon Lungu, who is district agriculture coordinator.
And this figure does not include the informal trading that takes place between farmers and unofficial crop buyers who flock to the district from Lusaka and other urban areas.
“There is money in Lundazi” is a common confession of those with a business sense who trek to the district every harvest season to buy crops.
But for all its crop production, conspicuously absent from this district is tertiary industry. All the crops produced in the district leave as raw material.
Lundazi also has a good measure of gemstone. Semi-precious stones such as green and pink tomalin, red garnet, aquamarine and quartz can be found here.
In the past, the district attracted many foreigners from West Africa, Senegal in particular, who came in search of the precious stones.
Small-scale mining is still taking place in various parts of the district and attracts a few foreigners, including Chinese.
Much of the mining is done informally and even illegally and there is no revenue gain for the district, according to district administrative officer Mukule Banda.
Geographically, Lundazi is divided into two regions – the plateau and the valley, which lies in the Luangwa valley west of the district. Three chiefdoms lie in that region, these are Mwanya, Kazembe and Chitungula. A larger population of the district lives in the plateau region.
In 2010, the district’s population stood at 323,000 with a projected growth rate of five percent. The district also has a large transient population of people seeking business opportunities.
The Ngonis, Tumbukas and Chewas are the three ethnic groupings found in Lundazi, although the town itself is cosmopolitan and it is not uncommon to hear languages such as Bemba being spoken.
There is also a sizeable population of Asians who have settled and established businesses here from as far back as the 1940s and form part of an active Islamic community numbering about 1,500.
There is very little interaction between the plateau and valley people, more so during the wet season when the roads become impassable.
This situation became apparent during the recent presidential election when poll materials and personnel had to be transported by helicopter.
A new road that will link Lundazi to the valley region is planned under the Link Zambia 8000 project. Once completed, it will ease access to the national parks as well as open up Eastern Province to the northern part of the country.
The valley region is also less productive in terms of agriculture; this is mainly because much of the land lies within a game management area. As such, the valley region is said to be chronically food insecure.
But what the valley region lacks in terms of agriculture, it makes up in wildlife and tourism, although much of it is untapped potential.
The district is home to Lukusuzi National Park and Luambe National Park.
Although it is one of the smallest national parks in Zambia, Luambe has huge potential with a variety of animals including elephants and the cheetah.
Lundazi also borders both North and South Luangwa national parks to the west, Zambia’s wildlife gems. Both national parks can be accessed by road from the district and sometimes tourists stopover in Lundazi en route to the two national parks in Mambwe district.
Cross-border trade
To the east, the district borders Malawi and there is a lot of cross-border trading in Lundazi with neigbouring Malawi. In fact, it is not unusual to find money changers selling the Malawian kwacha at Lundazi’s main bus station. The border with Malawi lies just 16 kilometres from the town.
Strangely, though, some of the goods imported from Malawi such as washing detergents and beverages are actually manufactured in Zambia. For some unexplained reason, it is cheaper to source them from across the border than locally.
The district also taps its hydro electricity from Malawi. However, power outages lasting several hours and sometimes even days are common, especially during the rainy season. This is still much better than 15 years ago when Lundazi relied on a diesel generator for electricity.
It is hard to talk about Lundazi and not mention the matola or bicycle taxis that form part of the local transport system. It is such an organised transport system that there is even a spot where the two-wheelers wait for customers. It takes a bit of courage to jump at the back of one, though.
It is past 18:00 hours and the call of the muezzin reverberates across the town once more, escorting the residents back to their houses and surrounding villages. For the Muslim faithful, it is time for evening prayer.

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