Zambia 2014 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: LINK 8000

Upgrading the road network is now a top government priority, to improve the movement of goods and passengers around the country.

Link Zambia 8,000 is the mother of all governmental projects, a plan to leave behind the old colonial-era roads and once and for all bring a first-world road network to Zambia. The target is to build 8,023 kilometers of new or rehabilitated roads before 2018 in order to vastly improve transportation within the country, especially in rural areas, in addition to enhancing the country's connections to its regional neighbors. Link 8,000 is President Sata's brainchild to transform Zambia from a landlocked into a land-linked country. “Transport is crucial for growth, because without it there will be no sustainable growth," the Minister of Transport Yamfwa Mukanga told TBY. He estimates that once the 8,023 kilometers are complete, this will translate into at least three major roads per province. The Minister envisions the initiative—representing a $6 billion investment—as the catalysis to allow Zambia's industries and exports to flourish.

All sectors will benefit from the reduced time and costs for transportation, and greater diversification of the economy will be possible with a much improved transport infrastructure to support it. This should include the development of value-added industries in-country, to shift away from the current reliance on primary exports, such as tobacco, copper, and maize. For example, Sebastian Kopulande, CEO of the Zambian International Trade and Investment Centre (ZITIC), told TBY that Zambia is, “exporting groundnuts instead of exporting peanut butter, and is happy to export sunflower seeds instead of cooking oil."

Having said that, agriculture is expected to be the sector that benefits the most from the Link 8000 project initially. It will make it easier to reach out to small-scale farmers; a critical consideration given that agriculture makes up 70% of Zambia's work force, yet the sector remains underexploited. And, it is not just about better, faster, and cheaper access to their markets and suppliers for these farmers. Small-scale rural entrepreneurs will benefit from better roads in terms of day-to-day business necessities, such as being able to visit their bank. Moreover, their families will benefit from access to healthcare and educational facilities that are currently unreachable due to the non-existent or inadequate road network.

The construction, manufacturing, and mining sectors will also enhance their efficiency thanks to the project, which equates to laying a road surface of twice the distance between New York and Los Angeles. Road congestion and delays in the Northwestern and Copperbelt Provinces due to the number of mining trucks on the roads is becoming an issue for the companies operating in those areas. Imtiaz Sheikh, Projects Director of Altech Netstar which specializes in vehicle security and tracking systems for industry commented to TBY that, “If you go north to the mines, you will find maybe 50-60 trucks in a convoy. This shows you the economy is working. And being central, Zambia sees a lot of action." For the mining industry Link 8000 can't come too soon as the existing road surfaces are also inadequate for heavy industry transportation needs.

Safety is another concern partly due to out-of-date road design coupled with insufficient maintenance. These factors have contributed to extremely high accident rates on Zambia's roads. The World Health Organization ranks Zambia as the 11th most dangerous country in the world in terms of traffic fatalities. And according to The Times of Zambia traffic accidents are the third leading cause of death in the country behind AIDS and malaria. Link 8000 is expected to be a major contributor to improving road safety in the country.

The Link 8000 program will run for eight years, finishing in 2020. By that time Zambia will be much closer to being truly land-linked, something that both the populace, the economy, and its neighbors should feel the benefits of.