BRIAN MALAMA, Lusaka
FOR years Zambia has seen its lack of linkage to coastal areas as a disadvantage in terms of international trade.
But this may change by 2030 as the country, which shares borders with eight countries, attempts to leverage its competitive advantage in trade through its geographical location.
Those who see Zambia’s central location in southern and central Africa as a blessing in disguise in terms of trade, now view the country as being ‘land-linked’, as opposed to being ‘land-locked’.
With the ongoing construction of roads and railway projects on the drawing board, Government is working at creating land links to Zambia’s eight neighbours and beyond the country’s borders.
For this reason, the Ministry of Transport and Communication is in the process of crafting a new transport policy aimed at transforming Zambia into a regional transport hub.
By virtue of being a regional transport hub, Zambia stands to benefit from inherent trade and investment opportunities.
If the plan comes to fruition, all major players in the various transport sub-sectors and industry are poised to gain from the 600 million people in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Great Lakes region.
Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba says Government will ensure that Zambia becomes a regional transport and business investment nerve centre.
“Zambia ought to exploit its geographical vantage point by creating a regional hub suitable for all forms of investment considering the fact that its centrality taps into COMESA, SADC and the Great Lakes region which account for more than 600 million people. Now that’s a ready market for all sorts of businesses in the area,” Mr Mushimba observes.
Regarded a haven of political stability, the centrally located land-linked Zambia offers triangular excellent transit routes to sea ports in east Africa, south-west Africa and South Africa.
Furthermore, a number of regional transport corridors traverse from north to south and east to west and vice versa.
Prospective investors in different economic sectors have a lot to gain in terms of transporting and marketing produce to major regional markets. Via Zambia, they can reach about 600 million people within 2,000 kilometres.
In a quest to transform Zambia into a regional hub, the Ministry of Transport and Communication is also in the process of finalising the National Transport Policy designed to promote sustainable development of all modes of transport.
Furthermore, the ministry has reached an advanced stage with the National Transport Master Plan and the National Communications Master Plan.
This is aimed at asserting and defining the path to an efficient and integrated transport and communications future of this country.
Zambia has in the last five years embarked on major infrastructural development projects such as the Link-Zambia 8000 project targeting the upgrading and construction of inter-district roads, upgrading of airports, railway and maritime transport.
The ministry is looking at re-establishing the national airline – Zambia Airways- through partnerships with other countries or airlines willing to offer favourable terms and conditions.
Government is also developing an aviation strategy to, among other things, reclaim its status of as preferred tourism destination in Africa and the world at large.
Zambia has slumped to 116th in the world, 16th in Africa and number nine in sub-Saharan Africa as a preferred destination, a situation that could be attributed to flight encumbrances and the cost element.
Some neighbouring countries have gone as far as advertising the Victoria Falls as a seventh natural wonder situated in their country.
If Zambia becomes a regional transport and business hub, it is also likely to become the preferred tourism destination.
Once the Kenneth Kaunda and Copperbelt international airports are completed, Zambia will mop up all other passenger and cargo airlines through convenient and efficient transit services to all major destinations.
With the Railway Development Strategy, the country plans to create a railway network that should transform the sub-sector into a preferred viable and efficient mode of transport.
The new strategy will look at making railway transport more cost-effective and the most preferred mode of transporting cargo.
This is intended to reduce the wear and tear of roads. It is also expected to lower maintenance costs and extend the lifespan of roads.
Mr Mushimba said Government has invested in modernising, expanding and rehabilitating the Zambia Railways Limited infrastructure and machinery, including rolling stock, and the TAZARA permanent way and reconstruction of the inter-mine railway lines.
In this sub-sector, Government has embarked on developing the Chipata-Petauke-Serenje railway, to link the country to two regional corridors-Dar es Salaam and Nacala.
In September last year, Government signed an engineering and procurement construction (EPC) contract to the tune of US$2.3 billion with China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC).
Construction works are only expected to begin once the money has been made available.
The other is the construction of the Chingola-Solwezi-Jimbe line on the border with Angola by North-Western Railway Company. This US$1.2 billion project is aimed at serving and providing modern alternative copper trade routes of Dar es Salaam and Durban in South Africa.
On the drawing board is also the Nseluka-Mpulungu railway on a 192km stretch, expected to cost US$991 million.
This route is expected to boost trade in the Great Lakes region around Lake Tanganyika. Detailed engineering designs for this project will be presented to Government soon.
The other upcoming project is the Livingstone-Kazungula-Katima Mulilo railway. A preliminary feasibility study indicates that the 200km railway will cost about US$824 million.
Then there is the Kafue-Lion’s Den (Zimbabwe) railway line whose feasibility studies are still underway.
Government is currently working on legislation and institutional frameworks in the maritime sub-sector. The Ministry of Transport and Communication seeks to establish an inland water transport authority to drive the water transport development agenda.
Mpulungu Port is under a modernisation programme, and infrastructure upgrade is on course.
Once completed, the facility will increase volumes of trade and accommodate bigger transport vessels to ferry people and tourists in the Great Lakes region.
In some parts of the country, water transport plays a pivotal role in the movement of people, cargo, farm produce, farm inputs, goods and services. This is common in the wetlands regions of Luapula, Northern, North-Western and Western provinces.
Government envisages to achieve all these ambitious goals by 2030.
With the support of the private sector, Zambia stands to morph into a regional transport hub, a development that could possibly spur economic boom and growth.