JOINING THE DOTS

Zambia 2014 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW: TRANSPORT

Zambia has an ambitious program of multi-modal transport reforms underway that are set to propel the country into greater connectivity both internally and with its neighbors over the coming decade.

Zambia is on the verge of a transportation revolution, with the government attacking the country's transport infrastructure challenges head-on under a number of big-budget initiatives. The country has experienced exceptional growth over the last decade, with an average GDP growth rate of around 6.4% according to World Bank statistics. But the country needs to concentrate on improving the movement of goods and services within the country as well as its connectivity to outside markets. As at 2010, 64.3% of Zambia's total population of nearly 15 million was living in rural areas predominantly involved in subsistence farming. And although there is roughly a YoY 2% migration trend to urban centers, overall the country is sparely populated with a density per square kilometer of 17.39 persons (as at 2010). This means that transportation links are crucial within Zambia, not just for economic development through commerce and tourism, but also to allow for improvements in social services, health, education, and ICT connectivity.

On the international front, the Republic of Zambia sits in southern Africa surrounded by no less than eight countries; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. You can't fight nature, and so Zambia is putting a positive spin on its landlocked status by rebranding the country as “land-linked". The government's aim is to promote the country as a strategic transportation hub for central and southern Africa. This plan includes the Link Zambia 8,000 roading project, Pave Zambia 2,000, options to utilize the country's navigable rivers along with canal development, the reestablishing of a national air carrier, airport modernization, putting more funding into the country's two rail networks, and urban transportation improvements including road and rail commuter services for the capital city, Lusaka.

ROAD TO PROSPERITY

As at 2000, Zambia had a total road network of 66,781 kilometers over a country that is 752,618 square kilometers in size. Furthermore, of those roads only 22% were paved. Link Zambia 8,000 is a $6 billion road improvement project started by the government in 2012 and designed to run through to 2020. By that time the government aims to have built or rehabilitated 8,023 kilometers of roads in Zambia. As at 3Q2014, 1,900 kilometers have been completed. One of the major road transport issues for Zambia is the need to find ways to reduce journey times in order to lower land transportation costs and increase safety. Bernard Mwape Chiwala, the Director and CEO of Zambia's Road Development Agency (RDA), told TBY, “During the design of Link Zambia 8,000 we reviewed the road links … in terms of connectivity between towns, provinces, and regions. We established that in some cases, we had long winding routes and that we needed to create direct road links between provinces." New links between the provinces will avoid the need for constant transiting through Lusaka meaning, for example, that a drive from Chama to Chinsali will become less than 170 kilometers instead of a more substantial 1,700 kilometers via Lusaka. At the same time, Pave Zambia 2,000 is the government's plan to improve roads and pavements in rural and residential areas of Zambia. Equipment has been distributed to the country's 10 provinces, and work has commenced in Lusaka province with the government anticipating that the scheme will assist in much needed youth job creation, too.

Significant bridge building projects are also underway to improve Zambia's road network, both internally and cross-border. Notably, in September 2014 the governments of Zambia and Botswana broke ground on the Kazungula Bridge construction project. With a budget of $259.3 million shared jointly between the two countries, the new bridge will promote trade and integration along the so-called North-South Corridor, and includes new border post facilities to streamline commerce and travel in general between the neighboring countries.

CHANGING TRACKS

Historically, due to the absence of a viable transport alternative, one of the biggest commercial road users in Zambia has been the copper industry. Zambia is Africa's largest producer of copper with production of 915, 773 tons in the period January to November 2013, according to Reuters. Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) currently transports around 108,000 tons of copper annually. However, the majority of production is still trucked by road to ports outside Zambia, such as Dar es Salaam and Durban. Now a change of strategy is emerging that should benefit both the land and rail transportation segments. The threat of theft during road transit is a significant issue for the copper industry, although vehicle tracking systems and the government's Copper Theft Reaction Unit has improved the situation significantly over the past five years. Added to this, transporting large amounts of copper by road causes considerable damage to the country's road surfaces, and with economic growth there has also been a marked increase in road traffic congestion, causing the mining industry costly delays. Against this background, during 1H2014 ZRL has been negotiating with mining companies in the Copperbelt region to build new railway lines directly linking Zambia's copper smelters with the existing rail network. This is part of a wider $120 million government investment program in ZRL's infrastructure and rolling stock, designed to encourage this switch from commercial road to rail haulage.

The other vital player in Zambia's rail transport sector is the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) that runs the 1,860-kilometer track linking Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia with Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It currently transports 380,000 tons of freight as well as one million passengers every year. Like ZRL, TAZARA had suffered from a serious lack of infrastructure investment, remarkably having received no funding from the two shareholding governments since it began operating in 1976. This all changed in 2013 when the Zambian government put $20 million into capitalizing the railway, followed by a commitment of $40 million each from the governments of Zambia and Tanzania in June 2014. The rail link is vital for imports into Zambia for the mining and agricultural industries, including fertilizer products, as well as being another key corridor for Zambia's mineral exports. Added to this, the track runs through terrain not accessible by road, providing a vital link for remote communities as well as touristic possibilities, which Zambia is badly in need of.

Zambia is also in talks over a rail cooperation agreement with South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to allow increased copper exports to be transported via South Africa's Durban Port. Again, this is a step by the government to progress the land-linked concept using the North-South Corridor.

FLYING THE NATIONAL FLAG

The air sector is another area the government is looking to develop, and talks on creating a new national carrier are on the agenda. Yamfwa Mukanga, Zambia's Minister of Transport, Works, Supply & Communications, told TBY in his 2014 interview that, “We operated our own national carrier for about 20 years, and it belonged to the government, but they closed it to let people create their own private airlines. We want it to come back." This is an ambitious plan by the government that would, by its own admission, necessitate private sector shareholding and operational involvement. The government's self-imposed deadline of June 2014 has passed without a new national carrier taking flight. Nevertheless, Ministry of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications recommendations have gone to cabinet and talks are ongoing with large international carriers that might wish to partner with the government. Unfortunately, since 2009 the EU has had Zambia on its black list, banning flights into the EU by any airliner registered in Zambia due to safety concerns. This is an issue that the government is continuing to work through in conjunction with the EU and the civil aviation sector.

Not surprisingly against this background, Zambia's aviation industry is characterized by smaller domestic players, such as Proflight Zambia, which has eight aircraft. These airlines have to deal with extreme seasonal fluctuations in tourist passenger numbers, meaning business travel, particularly from the mining sector, is their only way to remain economically viable. In fact, since 1991, eight Zambian registered airlines have come and gone according to Airline Update.com data. Currently there are three in operation: Africa One, Proflight, and Zambia Skyways.

There are other transport issues that the government will need to address in the medium term to refine its transport paradigm. One such issue is the importation of second-hand cars into Zambia and the negative effects these are having in terms of road safety. Not unsurprisingly, the retailers of new vehicles, such as Toyota, are lobbying the government for an age limit on imported vehicles. At the moment old, poorly maintained vehicles are one of the main causes of Zambia's high road accident rate. In fact there has been a 48% increase in road traffic accidents between 2008 and 2013, with the number rising from 19,727 to 29,118 over that period, according to a recent government survey. But others see the introduction of vehicle age restriction regulations as a bar to the growth of car ownership in the country. Fine tuning Zambia's transportation policy, including the used car debate, will come, but for now the government certainly cannot be accused of shying away from the big money decisions; it's getting on with transport infrastructure building at a pace.