21 December 2012

Zambia: Creation of Chitambo District Elates Lalas

DURING the commissioning of a mini-hydro power station in Chinsali, President Sata announced the creation of seven more districts in three provinces, among them Central. Chitambo was one of the districts.

What joy and relief, therefore, filled the hearts of the Lala people when President Michael Sata, on December 6, 2012 assuaged their anxiety.

As former area Member of Parliament, I wish to share the excitement of this momentous declaration with the people of Chitambo, and especially on behalf of the chiefs Chitambo and Muchinka who for many years have longed for such a status.

It is my desire that the technocrats in Kabwe will heed the presidential directive to immediately liaise with all the stakeholders, political parties and their royal highnesses in order for them to establish the centre where the boma would be located.

This is a coup de grace for me personally .

In the 1870s following the death of missionary Dr David Livingstone at what is today known as Chipundu, his friend Chief Chitambo dispatched nearly 70 gallant men of the tribe to accompany his body to England. From London they returned with gifts of 69 muzzle loaders to the Lala land.

However, history sometimes can be cruel, especially if one does not possess the muscle. Today only four names among them Chuma and Xavier appear to have accompanied the body to London.

In appreciation of that, the British felt the need to build a hospital at the site but the idea was scuttled by the prevalence of mosquitoes' and the hospital was moved to its present day site.

But not to abandon the area totally, a clinic was built for the people and later a memorial at the place where the missionary's remains were interred.

For many years, the area was consistently blessed with missionaries from Scotland which also sent doctors to run Chitambo Hospital before UNIP took over. The author was blessed to have been in the last intake at Chitambo Mission School which closed its doors in 1966 when a nearby school was opened at Mabonde.

At independence in 1964, the new nationalist Government of Dr Kenneth Kaunda created its first resettlement scheme at Katikulula, 10 kilometres from Chitambo Hospital. I recall when Mr Mudenda as Minister of Agriculture made a stop-over at our Young Farmers Club en route from Katikulula to encourage us.

Further, Chitambo also benefited from Dr Kaunda when they upgraded Mukuku Road, the now famous Tuta, to bituminous standard to cut reliance on Pedicle Road and reduce the suffering incurred by people inflicted on them by 'bakaboke' (Congolese police) including unorthodox fines even for baldness, 'insekete' (puffed cheeks) and pot-bellies, events exploited in song by the late musician Emmanuel Mulemena.

These developments, therefore, are the landmarks of centuries. Many have been critical of PF and President Sata's creation of new districts.

They have grossly misunderstood the concept and classified it as mere politicking. This is a venture that must be taken seriously because it meant to bring out the latent potential in many areas of Zambia and Chitambo is no exception.

There were fears that once the Pedicle Road is tarred and the distance is shortened by the people going to Luapula, Tuta would now become a white elephant.

Chitambo already has amenities which given district status will greatly improve. It lodges one of Zambia's oldest hospitals going by the same name, a high school, Mukando, and two rural health centres one of which Gibson or Lulimala was constructed only two years ago.

Serenje District was too vast. Now making Chitambo a district would ease the administrative bottlenecks being experienced. Under the envisaged Patriotic Front Government's Decentralisation Policy, areas like Chitambo with immense natural resources will develop faster.

The district status is a boost to the people of the area. Unlike Serenje, Chitambo has the largest water reservoir in Lulimala swamp stretching all the way from Luapula to Mpika, rivers Luombwa and Mulembo and tributaries Chitikilo, Njelele, Mpulumba and Kasanka.

Near the old Kafinda palace, there is a cataract near the Synerman farm that can easily accommodate a mini-hydro-power station to feed the entire Chitambo district.

In any case, this being a long-term project, the distance from the main Zesco grid and sub-station at Pensulo is less than 60 kilometres to Mulembo, assuming the area was chosen to house the district. Why Mulembo, this is basically the central place and major axis to economic activities in Chitambo.

Apart from abundant water supply, Mulembo is a stone throw away from Kasanka National Park and at its feet is located the Darwin Environmental Research Centre built at the entrance to the park.

It is 30 kilometres to David Livingstone Memorial Site and about 50kilometres to the scenic Tuta Bridge on the Luapula River.

Those like me who went to school in colonial times and early independence will recall that among the pre-historic paintings taught were at Nsalu caves. They are still there in Chief Muchinka's area suspected to be replete with precious minerals. A farmer from Mkushi, suspected to be secretly mining in the area, was ferreted out when Serenje District Council threatened to repossess the land. Hurriedly, he settled arrears and paid land rates upfront and started cosmetic ranching.

When fully developed, Chitambo will compete with Livingstone in tourism activities. The area already boasts of an aerodrome constructed by former Kasanka National Park manager Edmund Farmer who still flies tourists using his small planes to the park and makes transfers to other parks.

Historians and researchers could visit Lulimala to see the pre-historic dyke (lwimbila) that kept the marshy area from flooding and kept at bay wild animals from attacking the people. After its destruction, the area is now prone to flooding.

The town if built at Mulembo will lie close to the elephant path, a picture to behold when the pachyderm make their pilgrimage from Kasanka to Luvushi Manda, another game park, in Chiunda Ponde.

It will also see the resurgence of tourism activities at Chibakabaka (the lake that dazzles) on the border with Chiunda Ponde in Muchinga Province.

Kasanka ceased operations at Chibakabaka in 2004 when a former politician in the Chiluba administration instigated Chief Chiunda Ponde to reclaim the site. The man failed to run it and it was left at the mercy of vandals who uprooted the structures left by Kasanka to the chagrin of German tourists.

Why has President Sata's declaration been well-received in Chitambo? Why has it brought so much joy?

First, all institutions will receive a new lease of life and attention. The hospital, rural health centres and clinics and learning institutions will henceforth receive direct financing from Government.

The district will be able to budget and plan its development as against now when they receive secondary grants.

The construction of Government offices and residences for officers and private developers will create employment for the people, both long and short term.

Added to this is the prospect of a new farm bloc and a sugar plantation in Chief Chitambo.

At the advent of African rule in South Africa, many boers trekked to Serenje. Many were given lands in the present day Nansanga farm bloc and His Royal Highness Chief Chitambo demarcated vast plots which accommodated several others.

However, the peaceful transfer of power forced the farmers to return to South Africa. The farms are beckoning while the expanse of open land on both sides of Tuta Road is open for massive agriculture.

Telecommunication is a source of frustration for the people. Many have their handsets but these are immediately stored away after leaving Kobola and remain stashed until another trip back to Serenje or Samfya, no matter how long it takes. It could mean the waiting is now over. So the area will seriously need mobile phone services to get closer.

This will also facilitate the opening of banking facilities in the area.

The area is collectively endowed with rich natural resources. Mixed farming is predominantly practised in Chief Muchinka which is largely hilly, while Chief Chitambo, lying in the Luapula valley is potentially rich in cassava growing, rice and citrus fruits as well as millet and finger millet. Cattle have also been introduced in the area.

A bridge which was being constructed at Kasuko was suspended when the financiers, Zamsif halted construction simply because project officials allegedly misused part of the money. This was meant to shorten the distance of travellers to Chitambo Hospital from Kafinda and vice versa. The new district would now ensure completion of this project.

Once the bridge is completed a road will be constructed to link up Katikulula resettlement scheme to the farms in Chitambo and ensure its electrification.

Another major road for resurfacing is current ring road from Chito at the border with Muchinga. It goes down to Chipundu by-passing Chibakabaka and Musangashi and joins at Mupopolo Clinic at Chalilo, branching off on the left to join Tuta Road and going to Livingstone Memorial on the right.

Presently, people from Chiunda Ponde find it easier to travel to Serenje for business than going to Mpika. The availability of proper business houses at the new boma will benefit them greatly.

The people of Luombwa who have been cut off from the rest of Chitambo should be breathing a sigh of relief. Now they can see a prospect of a bridge being constructed at the river that would ease their travel.

Clearly, the envisaged boma is welcome to many and only a demented individual can oppose such goodwill. If the PF Government will not complete construction, the declaration will not be reversed even by any other government in power. It is better to support the declaration now than chew the gut later.

President Sata means well. The so-called Tiger economies of Asia were created by people with strong visions and dreams, many of them known dictators. Today they are the envy of the world while those who relied entirely on democracy are tottering on collapsing economies.

It does not augur well for any leader, mainly those in opposition, to simply criticise any move the President introduces, but rather should tell the nation how they can better such innovations. Every Zambian knows how Zambia was far better off at independence compared to South Korea or Malaysia.

Zambia has now the opportunity to clearly shout WE CAN DO IT!

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