Duty calls in underdeveloped Sikongo

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BENEDICT TEMBO, Kalabo
KABANDA Mwangala, a human resource officer at Sikongo District Council, personifies the challenges of development

in the new district.
Mr Mwangala’s desire is to upgrade his professional qualifications so that he can serve the local authority efficiently.
To this effect, he is studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration at the National Institute for Public Administration (NIPA) in Lusaka.
However, his goal is being marred by a myriad challenges ranging from lack of internet communications to the long distance to fulfil school obligations.
“School assignments and reading materials are sent through email but we have no Internet facilities,” narrates Mr Mwangala.
Lack of Internet connectivity means that Mr Mwangala has very little contact with his research supervisors. This is aggravated by the fact that the service by the only mobile provider, Zamtel, is erratic.
Apart from the poor mobile network, Sikongo is not yet connected to the national electricity grid.
This means that people in this district created in 2013 have to rely on solar energy.
Lack of electricity means students like Mr Mwangala cannot study at night.
“Sometimes, a student like me can miss the examinations if there are changes on the school calendar or timetable,” moaned Mr Mwangala.TRANSPORT
Lack of a direct bus service between Sikongo and Lusaka entails that Mr Mwangala has to hitch-hike up to Mongu or Kalabo at a huge cost.
It costs K120 to commute a distance of 60km between Sikongo and Kalabo.
When he is travelling from Lusaka, Mr Mwangala usually spends a night in Mongu or Kalabo.
“I am sponsoring myself, it is expensive due to travelling long distance from Sikongo where I am working to NIPA in Lusaka,” Mr Mwangala complained.
For the man who has previously worked for the Chongwe District Council, living in Sikongo is a challenge.
It is both boring and stressing for a man who was used to social media because in Sikongo, he cannot access WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter.
Beyond this, Mr Mwangala is slowly coming to terms with the lack of proper sanitation facilities. He has no option but to resort to using pit latrines as there are no waterborne toilets in Sikongo, let alone running water.
But for Sikongo council secretary Maybin Mulenga, the hardships are bearable having gotten used to such environments.
After enjoying relatively good life in Luanshya, Mr Mulenga was tasked to pioneer the establishment of Shiwang’andu District Council in 2013.
From Shiwang’andu, he was transferred to Chavuma in North-Western Province where he spent two and a half years.
He has been in charge of Sikongo District Council for two months and has already settled.
Mr Mulenga said Chavuma and Sikongo share the same geographical locations because they are on the Zambezi plains.
While Chavuma is sandwiched by the Zambezi River, Sikongo is on the west bank.
Apart from not being on the national electricity grid and poor Zamtel connectivity, Sikongo’s other challenges include lack of office space and residential accommodation.
“The local authority is renting one of the grass-thatched houses. The district administration operates from some offices which were put up a long time ago. Other departments operate from the police camp. It is not clear as to when the infrastructure will be completed,” said Evans Lombe, the local authority’s senior accountant.
There is, however, good reason for optimism, as there is progress on some of the infrastructure Government has been building to spruce up Sikongo.
The district administration block is roofed, so are the 10 medium cost and the 20 low cost houses.
However, the civic centre is still at slab level as the initial contract was terminated.
“The contract was terminated and given to another contractor,” Mr Mulenga said.
The police station has been there owing to Sikongo being a border town but houses need to be rehabilitated as they are run down.PROJECTS
The local authority has embarked on some projects to address gaps in the district.
It is constructing a lodge to provide quality accommodation. Three of the 20 chalets have been completed.
The council is also building a conference hall for chamber meetings and public functions such as weddings and workshops.
Currently, the council holds its meetings at Sikongo Primary School as it has no chamber.
Mr Mulenga said the conference hall will end the inconvenience the local authority is causing to the school.
“We are also opening up township roads to help property developers access their plots easily. It will also curb squatting,” he said.
The local authority has procured 25 bins which it has placed in trading areas and public institutions to promote the “Make Zambia Clean and Healthy” campaign.
Mr Mulenga said the council has also procured a tractor and trailer with a disc harrow which are available for hire by the public.
With Sikongo being conducive for rice production, the tractor is expected to be an incentive for increased production and generate revenue for the local authority.
“The famous Mongu rice is from Sikongo,” he said.
There are plans to build houses, offices and offer space for commercial developments such as shopping malls and dry ports along the Angolan border.
The local authority is implementing a water supply and sanitation project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and rehabilitating boreholes at schools and health centres.
District administrative officer Munalula Mufaya said Sikongo also needs a radio signal.
Sikongo, 32km away from the border, is near Angolan towns of Hangana and Malundu.
The district has great potential for cross-border trade and rice production.
While the Angolan side has established border posts, Zambia has none and Government is losing out on revenue.
Angolans come to Zambia to buy groceries and agricultural produce.
Zambians buy cheap fuel and alcoholic beverages from that country.
“The biggest challenge is accessibility, we hope the contractor (building the Kalabo-Sikongo road) who is already on site can speed up,” Mr Mulenga said.
Currently, Sikongo can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles.
Lack of electricity is also hampering trade as business people cannot store perishables.
“Supply lines have been there for some time but there is no substation (transformer). Zesco says the project is for REA (Rural Electrification Authority),” Mr Mulenga said.
Lack of electricity and a poor road network have been cited for the high cost of living in Sikongo.
Goods in Sikongo – on the western side of Kalabo lies Sikongo – are two to three times the cost in Mongu and Lusaka.
Despite the challenges faced by residents of this little-known and largely underdeveloped district bordering with Angola, Mr Mulenga is confident Sikongo will be the preferred destination in Western Province when most of the fundamentals will be in place.
With Stefanutti Stocks and Consolidated Contractors Company Joint Venture awarded the contract to construct the 85 kilometres Kalabo-Sikongo-Angola Bordergate, residents of Sikongo await mobile phone providers and the power utility to unlock the economic potential of this remote outpost which conjures images of desolation.
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