CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
IF YOU are an ‘all-weather’ entrepreneur who is not afraid of facing adversity head-on, then Lunga district in Luapula Province is your place.
No matter how difficult a place may be to reach or live in, it will always attract adventurous men and women exploring for new opportunities to make money.
There is no shortage of them in Lunga district.
The Daily Mail found some of them at Nsamba Island in Chief Nsamba’s area.
Lunga is a vast expanse of swamp spanning hundreds of kilometres and is the home of the Bemba-speaking Unga people (abaUnga).
It nestles in the middle of Samfya, Milenge, Serenje, Mpika and Chilubi districts.
To restock the businessmen have to travel by boat or canoe to Samfya or Mpika, a trip which takes up to 30 hours if paddling and six to seven hours with an engine boat.
To put up a decent structure for a store or house, they have to transport building materials from Samfya or Mpika by boat or canoe.
Business is currently at its lowest as a result of the drastic drop in the fish catches – fishing is the main source of livelihood for the Unga, who live on islands scattered across the swamps.
Intensified conservation enforcement by the government, which has led to a serious reduction in poaching of mainly the endangered black lechwe antelope and wild birds, has not made life any easier.
In the wake of the serious depletion of fish stocks and increased policing by the Department of Wildlife and Game Parks, there are few traders flocking to Lunga from other districts.
Therefore, there are fewer islanders with money to spend.
But this has not discouraged businessman Felix Munyembe from settling at Nsamba Island from Kazembe village in Mwansabombwe district.
Mr Munyembe ‘migrated’ a year ago after years of unsuccessful trading in dry fish.
“I used to travel to Chisokone Market in Kitwe and Kasumbalesa in Chililabombwe, but I was making little progress because of the high costs involved and inadequate capital,” he shared.
Chief Nsamba has welcomed Mr Munyembe and given him a permanent place where to conduct his business.
Initially, he was making and selling fritters but has since diversified into other lines of business in response to local demand.
“I live in harmony with the community here at Nsamba. They call me ‘Bashifyalowa [father of sweet things]’ because I sell sweet fritters. At first it was the children, but even the adults later started calling me by the same name. It’s funny, but I have accepted it,” a smiling Mr Munyembe said.
During the interview in his makeshift ‘tavern’, customers Nason Pongwe, Isaac Yombwe and another man were ‘relaxing’ over bottles of opaque beer chibuku called kantobo.
Mr Munyembe is now moulding blocks to build a permanent structure to serve as a bar-cum-restaurant to increase income.
“I also buy rice from the local people, which I resell in Samfya. When I used to be a fishmonger, life was very difficult. Most of the time I was struggling to look after my family,” he said.
But he says he is now able to keep his children in school and send some money to the family each month through mobile cash transfer in Samfya or Mpika.
“I intend to bring my family here to live with me,” Mr Munyembe said.
He is happy that the district council has built a market at Nsamba harbour with waterborne toilets and urged the local authority to commission it.
When it is time for restocking, Mr Munyembe travels to Mpika, which is nearer.
Jamu Kapayi, who owns the biggest and most decent store at the harbour, moved to Lunga from Samfya in 2014.
He runs a grocery shop with a solar- \powered deep freezer stocking cold to frozen mineral water, different alcoholic and soft drinks, a barber’s shop and a small charcoal-fueled bakery.
Like Mr Munyembe, the Unga people have nicknamed Mr Kapayi “Bashimabanshi” [father of buns] because he sells buns.
“I built this structure last year. It’s tough because we rely on boats and canoes to bring in building materials and new stock from Samfya. Sometimes it takes two days,” he said.
“The Ungas are very good people. They have welcomed me and they call me Bashimabanshi. I have accepted the name.”
Young Sydney Malama moved to Lunga in 2015 from Chief Kabinga’s area in Mpika, Muchinga Province.
He says despite slow business, he has no intention of going back.
“Business is very tough here as there are no traders coming from Samfya anymore. It’s them who bring the money the villagers use to buy things from our shop,” Mr Malama, a married man and father of four, said.
He deals mainly in clothes, which he buys from Nakonde.
“I buy clothes for men, women and children in Nakonde. From here, I travel by boat to Mpika, where I board a bus to Nakonde,” Mr Malama explained.
The second ‘most prosperous’ businessman at Nsamba Island is Thomson Mundolo, a ‘son of the soil’ from Mwanjelwa village.
Mr Mundolo has been running his well-stocked store since 1990.
It is packed to the rafters with assorted merchandise, including grocery, food, clothes, kitchenware and hardware.
“I was just a fisherman. I saved the money I was earning from selling fish and started this business. I get merchandise from Lusaka and Nakonde via Mpika. Movement is not easy here.
“We pay paddlers between K100 and 150 for the boat when going and when coming back.”
Mr Mundolo, who lives behind the shop with his family, also complained about slow business as a result of reduced traffic of traders from Samfya.
“Here, we depend on fish trade. When there is good business between fishermen and traders from Samfya, we also have good business. But there is little money now because the Ng’umbo and Kabende people from Chifunabuli and Samfya have finished the fish. The situation becomes even worse during the fish ban,” he said.
Mr Mundolo cited other challenges as clogged and shallow water channels, lack of electricity, a clinic that has become too small for the growing population and lack of reliable water transport.
He also mentioned poor mobile phone network.
But despite all these odds, Lunga’s resilient businessmen are not going anywhere soon.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka