TBY talks to Hon. Yamfwa D. Mukanga, MP Cabinet Minister, Government Chief Whip, and Minister of Transport, Works, Supply, & Communications, on improving transport infrastructure.

Hon. Yamfwa D. Mukanga
Hon. Yamfwa Mukanga was the Provincial Governor for the Copperbelt Province—the focal point for mining activity in Zambia. Following the victory of the Patriotic Front in the 2011 elections, he was appointed as the Minister of Transport, Works, Supply, & Communications. After a brief period as Minister of Mines, Energy, & Water Development in 2012, he again became the Minister of Transport, Works, Supply, & Communications.

What role is the government playing in improving the infrastructure in the country to keep up with Zambia's exceptional growth over the last few years?

In order to have proper and sustainable growth, we have looked at various infrastructure projects. We believe that transport is crucial for growth, because without it there will be no sustainable growth. The government has ensured that we execute some of the important projects that will become the economy's backbone in the future. One such project that we came up with was to ensure that the movement of goods and services is improved. To do this, we thought we should improve connectivity in the country, and also connect the country to the outside. We are taught that being landlocked is a disadvantage; however, we are trying to use that position to our advantage by trying to become a land-linked nation, establishing Zambia as a hub for Central and Southern Africa. We believe our position is strategic, because if people want to go to Malawi they have to cross our airspace or our land. The Link Zambia 8000 project will create about 8,023 kilometers of roads across the country. If these are constructed, it will translate into at least three major roads per province. Some will be constructed, while others will be rehabilitated. We want to look at the major roads, and see which will be helpful to us in connecting our country. The roads will link province to province, so that one will not have to pass through the capital every time. There is another project we call the Pave Zambia 2000. Instead of just looking at upgrading the road network, we are also looking at what we can do in the rural and residential areas of the country. Instead of us doing the terminus project, we use pavers. We use small bricks and then connect them to pavers. I have ordered some machinery in every province so that we can do 2,000 kilometers of paved road. We are also looking at improving the feeder road availability in the country, so that goods and services will be able to move more easily. If you look at the opposition, it is more expensive to do business in Zambia than in our neighboring countries. Because of the transit time of containers, transporting one here costs about three times what it would cost in Tanzania. We are looking at how to improve this connectivity. We are also going to create one-stop border posts to improve transit time. In addition, we want to see how best to utilize the bodies of water to which we have access. We are first looking at roads, and then we will go to the water to see how navigable the rivers are. The Kafue River is one of the longest rivers in Zambia, and we are considering developing it for transportation. We are also looking at trains as the cheapest way of transporting bulk and heavy goods. Finally, we have looked at opening up canal areas through dredging.

What plans does your Ministry have to improve air transport?

We operated our own national carrier for about 20 years, and it belonged to the government; however, we closed it to allow the private sector in. We want it to come back. It would be government owned, but we would privatize the logistics behind it. The government should sell shares to the private sector, so we can carry the flag but the private sector can run it, with a lot of shares owned by Zambians. This goes hand-in-hand with the goal of the government making Lusaka a hub for air travel. We have a major project at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to revamp the facilities, which is worth almost $5 million. We have improved the international airport in Livingstone, and it is 97% complete. We will revamp all of the international airports, as we want to transform Zambia from being a mining country to being a tourist destination. I worked all of my life in the mines, but I believe that we need to transform the country from being overly reliant on that sector.

What steps is the government taking to improve the Tazara railway?

Tazara is a gift from the People's Republic of China. It came and partnered with Zambia at a time when our first republican president was in power in the 1970s. It funded the Tazara railway, which runs for about 1,008 kilometers. We transport most of our goods on it; however, there have been challenges in operating it. In order to make it more efficient, we need shareholders to look at the best that can be done. Both management and the board have been looking at ways to revamp the network. We want efficiency in all things to reduce losses, and to ensure that transit times are reduced. In business, the longer the goods stay in the system, the more expensive they are. We want to improve the rate of turnover. Fast movement means one day going to electric trains. But for that, we need investment in the energy sector, and to develop our hydroelectricity potential and capitalize on our natural resources.

In your role as Minister of Communications, what is the government doing to improve the telecommunications infrastructure in the country?

Since our country is a full 750,619 square kilometers in area, network coverage is a challenging area. We have decided to encourage investment, and aim to raise 169 communications towers. That project should be finished by the end of October 2014. Mobile phones today are not just for communication, as there is mobile money and internet to be considered. We are trying to change as a country. We are coming up with an e-government project which will aim to ease communication. We will develop e-learning, e-medicine, and e-buying. We are also trying to improve facilities and ensuring that we set up a databank where everyone can be taught how to enter their data into this system. This way they can just punch in an ID number at the hospital and their data will be there.

Where do you see the transport and communications sector within a decade?

When it comes to communications and IT, there will be no sustainable development unless we utilize technology, science, and innovation. This is important for any developing country. We need to do away with paper, and we need a paperless parliament. We need to ensure that we use the current technologies to improve the country, and for that we need to embrace IT. That is why it will be easy for us to achieve what we want. The transport sector is also key to sustainable development. We aim for the availability of a better transportation network that is cost effective and easy to operate, as the traffic situation at present is terrible. We want to complete ring roads around Lusaka within the next two years, and are also working on a commuter train. It will cut down on transit time and people will not need to drive vehicles.