BELIEVE it or not, Monze open air prison has since inception in 1998 operated in total darkness due to lack of electricity.
Despite being one of the country's vital security installations, staff and inmates at the prison have endured a life without enjoying the full benefits derived from connectivity to the national grid.
The prison, holds a total of 71 inmates and 16 prison staff, has over the years grappled with challenges such as, poor lighting, obsolete heating and cooking facilities (due to lack of electric stoves), among other challenges faced simply due to lack of electricity.
But, some of these challenges being experienced by the inmates and Prisons staff due to lack of electricity will soon be addressed with the connection of the K15.2 billion Mwanza-Kasaka rural electrification project in Monze.
This project is being carried out by the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) as part of their 2012 grid extension projects.
According to Zambia Prison's Service Commissioner Percy Chato, this electrification project will greatly benefit the prison in many ways but most important enhance security.
Mr Chato explained that the electrification of the prison will benefit both staff and inmates, because services such as health care provision will be enhanced, and the living conditions for staff and inmates would also greatly improve with access to electricity.
He said that the Zambia Prison's Service is currently constructing another prison facility opposite the Monze open air prison.
"The connection of electricity in the area will also benefit the new prison structure that is currently under construction, and electricity will enhance the health and welfare of prisoners and staff at both prisons," he explained.
Mr Chato also explained that despite the lack of electricity at the Monze open air prison, staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the absence of adequate lighting, did not pose any security threats to the surrounding communities.
"We have never experienced any security threats at the prison, as a result of lack of electricity, because the prison staff were always alert and at hand to ensure they improvised ways and means to enhance lighting to ensure optimal security", he said.
The new prison structure will accommodate 160 inmates, with a total of about 65 staff, whose houses, will have connectivity to the national electricity grid.
Mr Chato also explained that once electricity is connected to the prison, skills training programs such as carpentry, tailoring and agriculture activities will be enhanced.
"We hope to intensify our agriculture activities to improve food security at the prisons, through improved irrigations facilities, and we also hope to enhance industrial training skills for our inmates such as carpentry and tailoring," he explained.
Among other beneficiaries of this project, include schools such as Monze East, Lukamantano, Miyoba, Namakube, Sikabenga, Chona, Mujika, Malambo and Ntambo.
Others are Nabukuyu, Njola, St. Patricks, Mwanza, Kasaka, Chongo, Malambu and Kalundu schools.
Apart from the education sector, Chona and Mwanza rural health centers (RHC), as well as Chona market, Njola agricultural and trading centers, as well as Chief Mwanza'a palace, will all benefits from the multi-billion Kwacha project, being undertaken by Kalijee construction.
REA corporate affairs manager Justin Mukosa explained that the Mwanza-Kasaka rural electrification project is the biggest project among 20 other similar grid extension projects being under-taken by REA country-wide.
Mr Mukosa explained that in Monze alone, over 24 sites will be electrified, upon the completion of the project, which is scheduled to take about 39 weeks.
He also explained that other parts of the country ear-marked to benefit through similar projects under the 2012 grid extension projects include Kapiri Mposhi, Chingola, Chililabombwe, Katete, Petauke, Chipata, Mwense, Kawambwa, Kafue and Kasama.
Mr Mukosa explained that the Mwanza-Kasaka electrification project involves the construction of a total of 67.7 kilometres of 11 kilovolts (KV) over-head lines from an existing line at Kaumba basic school, which will supply power to Malambu and Kamuzhya basic schools, and a farming settlement area.
Mr Mukosa said the total cost for the country-wide 2012 grid extension amounts to K149.4 billion.
This project has elated the government, as evidenced by the signing ceremony by Monze district Commissioner Lucia Mwiinde, who welcomed the move by REA to electrify 24 sites in Monze East constituency.
Ms Mwiinde is convinced that the long awaited project of electrifying rural communities in Monze will up-lift the living standards of people in the beneficiary communities.
She explained that the connection of electricity to public institutions such as rural health centres and schools will ensure increased access to health and education for the people of Monze.
She reiterated government's support for developmental projects such as the rural electrification projects being under-taken countrywide by REA.
"Government has keen interest in this project because it is a viable project which our people be glad to embrace and look after," Ms Mwiinde emphasised.
The district commissioner commended REA and the Japanese investors for ensuring that the said project came to fruition, and implored the contractor (Kalijee Construction) to ensure that the project is started and completed within the stipulated 39 weeks timeframe.
Speaking during the signing ceremony to mark the start of the works at the Mwanza-Kasaka project area, Monze District Education Board Secretary Peggy Chilema said the education sector was one of the largest beneficiaries of rural electrification.
Ms Chilema said the project which is aimed at up-lifting the standards of living for both teachers and pupils would also give impetus for retention of teacher in remote areas.
"Fewer teachers are vying to work in rural areas, because of lack of power. Now that electricity is being brought closer to them, more teachers will be willing to work in these areas."
And REA provincial electrification officer Joe Silavwe reiterated his organisation's mandate of providing electrical infrastructure to rural areas of the country.
He assured the communities that all unskilled labour would be sourced locally.
"All unskilled labour will be sourced within the project areas, and all who are employed will be provided with protective gear," he explained.
Mr Silavwe cautioned the community to guard the infrastructure jealously to ensure that the installations are not vandalised.
"Vandalism will compromise the integrity of the project, and it will prolong the completion of the project, therefore, I am urging all of you to report cases of vandalism to relevant authorities."
He implored the beneficiary communities to ensure that they complete internal wiring of their homes before the project is commissioned, to ensure that they also reap the benefits of access to electricity.
Mr Silavwe's calls for internal wiring of individual house, was also echoed by Zesco area manager for Monze Clement Kuyela who cautioned the communities against engaging unqualified electrician to carry out wiring of their houses.
He explained that the power utility would not connect houses whose internal wiring will not meet the minimum requirements by Zesco.
It is clear that projects such as rural electrification are well intended for the overall development of rural communities.
In as much as these communities may be elated by such projects such as these one, a sense of community ownership of the project is critical, and as such communities should ensure that investments of such nature are well protected against vandalism.
If well harnessed by communities, efforts by REA to increase access to electricity among rural communities from the current three per cent to 51 per cent by 2030 will ensure the much desired development of rural areas.