Friday, 8 December 2017

Why aren’t tourists following the wind?



Mr Porro: I'm not running a business, I'm running a passion.

Konkamoya is a picturesque place teeming with game.
Why aren’t tourists following the wind?

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    JACK ZIMBA, Itezhi Tezhi

  • WHEN Andrea Porro got bored running a business as a wildlife photographer and graphic designer in his hometown Milan, Italy, he sold his shares in the company and bought a piece of heaven on the edge of Lake Itezhi Tezhi in the South Kafue National Park called Konkamoya, which literally translates “follow the wind”.
  • Mr Porro is a zoologist specialised in evolutionary biology, but he says he could not find employment in Italy, so he set up a photography and graphic design business which he ran for 20 years with his partner, and then decided to follow the wind.
    “When I reached 46, I decided I can’t spend my life 14 hours before the computer, and when I came here, the owner offered me 50 percent in the lodge, and in one night I decided to sell my shares in my business in Italy and bought shares in Konkamoya,” he says in heavily accented English.
    He now has full ownership of the lodge.
    It is not hard to see why Mr Porro fell in love with this place.
    Konkamoya is a picturesque – a dreamland-of-sorts – place with tented guest rooms cast against still waters of the man-made Lake Itezhi Tezhi with its islands. On a good day, especially in the dry season when many water sources dry up in this wilderness, one can watch large herds of elephant – up to 300 – come to drink from the lake without moving an inch from the bar stool.
    And almost everywhere you look, there are puku grazing lazily. Occasionally, one can see lion and cheetah, hippo and all kinds of birds. The southern part of the Kafue National Park is teeming with wildlife and creates a perfect destination for tourists bringing in the much-needed dollar.
    But Mr Porro is struggling to keep his business afloat. The only thing sustaining this dreamy place is Mr Porro’s passion for wildlife and nature.
    “I’m not running a business here, I’m running a passion,” he tells me as he lights a cigarette.
    Mr Porro’s first visit to Zambia was in the South and North Luangwa National parks, but when he visited this part of the Kafue National Park, he fell in love with it and decided to own part of it.
    “The Kafue is one of the most beautiful national parks in Africa – and I have visited a lot of them. There is biodiversity here that is not equaled anywhere in Africa,” he says.
    Have you visited the Kruger? I ask him.
    “I have never been to the Kruger because there is too many people there, too much traffic and with the tar road and robots and speed traps, that is not a national park, it is a zoo, in my opinion,” he says with sarcasm in his voice.
    But still, bringing in the tourists to this part of the Kafue National Park is not easy.
    “I have to fight to bring tourists here,” says Mr Porro.
    According to the Department of Parks and Wildlife at Ngoma, which oversees this part of the Kafue National Park, international tourist visits to the south Kafue in 2014 were 890, in 2015, 1,124 and in 2016, 1,218 tourists visited the area.
    Although the tally is increasing, it not impressive enough.
    “We are not happy with the tourist numbers, but these could be determined by the number of lodges. We have very few lodges in this area. We need more people to invest in the park because we have a lot to offer in terms of flora and fauna,” says Elliot Kasempa, who is in charge of the park.
    There are only two lodges in an area covering 18,000km/sq. And Konkamoya only has 10 beds in order to keep the overhead costs lower.
    “Our core business is conservation, but we do invite private investors to come and set up lodges,” Mr Kasempa tells me.
    According to Mr Kasempa, the park has identified five sites where investors can set up lodges. But very few people have come forth.
    But why wouldn’t anyone want to invest in the park?
    “The park fees are too high,” complains Mr Porro. “This year I’m going to pay US$44,000 to stay in the park. It means I have to sell 100 bed nights because my rates on average are US$450 per night. Once I have sold 220, then I break even.”
    But his business is affected by many factors he has no control over, such as Brexit.
    Mr Porro says Britain accounts for most of the tourists visiting Konkamoya, but the decision to pull out of the European Union means that many Britons do not have enough money to spend on holidaying.
    Mr Porro now has far fewer bookings from Britain, and is looking to other non-traditional European markets such as The Netherlands.
    And earlier this year, he suffered 20 cancellations when the President declared a state of threatened emergency following acts of violence in the aftermath of the general elections last year.
    And so, he has only sold about 60 bed nights this year.
    Mr Porro says it is hard to compete with the lodges in the game management area on the fringes of the park, because they don’t pay high fees and so can keep their prices lower.
    “That is why there is no investors in the park,” he says.
    He says many investors have shown interest in buying Konkamoya, but they get discouraged when they look at the balance sheet.
    He says a couple from Germany were recently interested in buying the lodge, but when they looked at the account books, they were discouraged.
    Mr Porro says he has lost K7 million in the past seven years.
    He says if nothing changes, he will have to close his business.
    “I will decide in 2020 when my license expires whether I should remain in Zambia or not,” he says.
    The Italian investor also thinks Zambia’s tourism is suffering from poor publicity.
    “Zambia has to invest more to promote the country as a destination, there is not enough money to promote the country,” he says.
    “Every year in Milano where I live, the Botswana tourism agency buys space in the subway to advertise their country as a destination. They don’t advertise the Delta or Moremi or Central Kalahari National Park. They advertise the country and the people in Italy know Botswana as a tourist destination,” he says.
    Mr Porro makes movies using a drone to promote Konkamoya in Europe.
    He says Liuwa National Park is now also famous after Africa Parks and National Geographic produced a documentary on the lone lioness that lived there which was a best seller.
    Mr Porro and other lodge owners have also formed a consortium to try and advertise Zambia as a tourist destination in Europe.
    He spent US$33,000 for marketing in Europe. According to Mr Porro, one of the biggest problems is that the park is little-known.
    Zambia Tourist Agency (ZTA) director of marketing Mwabashike Nkulukusa says the agency this year was given K6 million for both local and international advertising. That is about US$600,000.
    Zambia’s competitors in the region, such as Botswana and Namibia spent between US$8 million and US$12 million.
    “We don’t even want to compare with South Africa which spent between US$80 million and US$200 million,” he says.
    He says 2017 was the worst for the agency in that regard. The ZTA has been allocated K15 million for 2018 (about US$1.5 million).
    But Mr Nkulukusa says the tourist agency needs not less than US$8 million if it has to do catch-up with its competitors in the region.
    And there are other factors making Zambia less competitive with its neighbours.
    “It is a bit more costly to come to Zambia, and this makes our destination less competitive,” says Mr Nkulukusa.
    According to Mr Nkulukusa, the lack of direct flights from market sources is a major factor pushing the price of tourism in Zambia through the roof.
    “Even our local flights are expensive. For one to fly from Lusaka to Livingstone, you have to pay the same fare as if you are going to Johannesburg,” he says.
    The ZTA has now turned to social platforms such as Facebook to market Zambia.
    Mr Nkulukusa says so far, the digital platform has shown a lot of potential, with 35,000 likes on Facebook. If only they can all be transformed from virtual to actuality.
     

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We’re FBI and happy about it


Mirriam with her friend Alisa say they are happy to be lighter.

We’re FBI and happy about it


JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
MIRRIAM Kaziya and Lilian Kalunga sit bubbly at a restaurant in Lusaka. The two sisters are both wearing heavy make-up and above-the-knee dresses. For Mirriam, her dress is short enough to reveal an elaborate tattoo covering her right thigh.
Both women are light complexioned. But they both have not been light-skinned from birth.
Their new complexion is a result of bleaching.
Though still considered controversial by society, Mirriam and Lillian do not flinch talking about their own transformation through skin bleaching.
They both laugh and giggle as they compare their before-and-after pictures on their phones. Mirriam refers to herself as a FBI (former black individual).
“I used to be really dark. I used to look like that man,” says Mirriam, pointing to a man sitting a few tables away.
Mirriam says she decided to bleach her skin because she usually felt bad whenever she was with her friend who had bleached her skin.
“I looked like her maid because my skin was dirty,” she says.
Then Mirriam decided to buy a bottle of serum. That was the beginning of her transformation journey.
It only took about two weeks for Mirriam to transform herself from a dark-skinned woman into what she is today.
She is very happy about her new skin tone.
“I probably look 10 years younger, when I’m 36,” she says.
Mirriam, who now makes and sells skin products, including lightening creams, says a woman’s confidence comes when she has glowing skin.
Her business is now thriving, with over 5,000 clients, not only in Zambia but in other countries as well. She also streamlines videos via Facebook showing how to use her products called Milly Beauty Products.
Mirriam uses mostly natural oils, kojic acid and steric acid to make her lightening products. She avoids using hydroquinone, saying it is bad for the skin.
When asked how she learned how make her skin care products, Mirriam says: “I read a lot on Google. When I’m home I don’t just sit and watch TV, I read about skin care.”
Mirriam’s dream is to grow her business and become a big name like Oprah Winfrey.
And for Mirriam, the transformation goes beyond her skin.
A few years ago, she was struggling to single-handedly raise four children after the death of her husband in 2011.
Overwhelmed by her circumstances, she had resorted to drinking and smoking. When she became depressed, she would usually get on dating sites just to chat with someone.
“I was doing it just to feel like I was in a relationship,” she says.
And to earn some money, Mirriam would patronise bars.
“Sometimes we would sit in a bar with my sister and when men bought us beer, we would not drink it, instead we would take it to the counter and exchange it for money so that we could buy something home,” she says.
But with a steady income through her business, Mirriam is now able to take her children to school.
But she has had to endure the tongue-lashing from people over her decision to bleach her skin and to promote bleaching. Sometimes people have insulted her on social media, but she says what she decides to do to her body is a personal matter.
“I feel good in this skin and no-one should come and tell me that I shouldn’t have done this,” she says. “This is a decision I made and no-one forced me. Even our parents used skin lightening products.”
As for Lillian, she was motivated to change her complexion after seeing her sister transform before her eyes.
“After seeing how my sister had changed, I also thought I should look like her,” she says.
Lillian seems to have hated her old dark skin so much so that she uses a derogative Nyanja term meaning fake product to describe herself before her transformation.
“Nenze gon’ga,” says Lillian as she bursts into laughter.
“I used to look like a girl who came from the village,” she adds.
Lilian says she used to feel bad about her complexion and usually suffered from low esteem.
“I used to feel shy when I went out, I couldn’t even wear something revealing,” she says.
“At least I’m now able to move with my head high,” says the 25-year-old.
Lillian, who is single, thinks men are more attracted to light-skinned women.
“Most men are attracted to my skin now,” she says. “They look at us to be expensive chicks. Any woman would love to look like divas, which we are.”
Lillian says her new skin has taken her to places.
The two sisters say their new look has even earned them roles in local movies, which are yet to be released.
Alisa Siyuni, who is Mirriam’s friend and one of her customers, has also bleached her skin.
Although she was already light-skinned, Alisa says she wanted to become even lighter.
Alisa is now almost the same complexion as her daughter, who is coloured with Caucasian blood.
“It is not a bad transformation,” Alisa says. “I am still a normal human being.”
She is dressed in an impossibly short red dress and readily shows off her new skin tone, which is accentuated by her long wig and heavy red lipstick.
“There is nothing wrong with it as long as there are no side effects,” she says.
Alisa is married and says her husband approves of her new complexion.
“When I started using the cream, my husband didn’t even notice,” she says. “I think he likes what he is seeing now.”
But Banzah Yumba, who is a beautician, thinks women who bleach their skin suffer from low self-esteem.
Banzah, who is dark-skinned herself, says when she was in school, she used to get bullied because of her dark complexion, which made her think that light-skinned women were more beautiful.
“I once entertained thoughts of bleaching my skin when I was a little older,” she says.
Banzah also thinks men get more attracted to light-skinned women, but she thinks it is foolish to judge beauty by the skin colour.
“There is a rush for women to become lighter nowadays,” she says.
Banzah blames the desire for women to become lighter-skinned on the Eurocentric view of beauty propagated mainly by the beauty industry.
“No-one should define beauty for me but myself,” Banzah says assertively.
As Mirriam and Alisa wander away in the crowded mall, they have many eyes rolling their way; people admiring their beauty or perhaps gobsmacked by the shortness of Alisa’s red dress? Or maybe both, who knows?
 

Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


Moonga (left) is worried about the spread of the Mimosa plant. (Main picture) A small herd of the Kafue Red Lechwe with a flock of water birds.


Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


JACK ZIMBA, Monze
BACK in April, while flying from Mongu, I beheld its breathtaking beauty – like a huge canvas painting spread for miles on end.

Even from a thousand metres above, the eyes could only frame in so much of the shades of green broken by shimmering patches of silver, turning to gold as the afternoon sun waned. Such is the beauty of the Kafue Flats.
After coursing for several hundred kilometres from its source at Kipushi on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kafue River seems to just dissipate, breaking up into oxbows, lagoons, tributaries and ponds. The result is this expanse of grassy plains covering an area of 6,500sq km.
Six months later, here I was again crossing the flats, except this time I was not flying over it, but driving through it.
And sadly, the picture-perfect image of the Kafue Flats that I had seen from the skies is not as perfect from the ground.
This grassy wilderness, which is home to the Kafue Red Lechwe, an endemic antelope species, is under threat from human activities and an invasive plant called Giant Sensitive Tree or Mimosa Pigra, a native of Central America. The “sensitive” in its name probably refers to its reaction to touch – the Mimosa’s leaves retract when touched.
The plant is believed to have been introduced by European farmers in the pre-independence period who had settled in the Lochinvar area.
According to Griffin Shanungu, a leading ecologist working for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the increase in the area covered by woody and shrub species in Lochinvar National Park on the Kafue Flats has impacted mammal habitats by reducing the area of grassland.
And here, the Mimosa has no natural enemy, and is armed with sharp spikes to defend itself. The Mimosa has already claimed over 20 percent of the parkland in Lonchinvar, blocking access routes for the Lechwe, while in some instances it has pushed the animal closer to human habitations in the game management area.
Mr Shanungu says studies show that in 1980, the plant only covered about two hactares.
“By 1986, that shrub had covered about 100ha, and now, the cover of Mimosa Pigra is about 3,000ha,” he says.
There is now an ambitious plan to physically remove the plant, although other means such as biological and chemical methods are still being studied.
Mr Shanungu says the spread of the Mimosa is a big conservation issue on the Kafue Flats.
“If it is left unchecked, we face a risk of the entire wetland area within the Kafue Flats being occupied by this plant. It is not eaten by anything, the local people don’t use it for firewood, so if nothing controls it, it will just continue growing. We will wake up one day to find that the huge swath of grassland has been overtaken by Mimosa Pigra and all the animals displaced. And we will lose an animal that is not found anywhere else but here in Zambia, and that will be a disaster,” says Mr Shanungu.
There may be various reasons for the spread of the Mimosa Pigra, but one of them, according to Mr Shanungu, could be the changing hydrology of the Kafue Flats.
The Kafue Flats sit between two dams – the Itezhi-tezhi Dam and the Kafue Gorge – and that in itself may has created problems for the wetland. In many ways, the natural hydrology of this landscape has been altered.
While the two dams answer to the country’s ever increasing energy needs, and account for about 50 percent of the hydroelectricity produced, there existence may have huge negative impact on this ecological area.
“We never used to have this lagoon before. The water used to start from there,” says Wilfred Moonga, the area warden as we stand at the edge of a pool of water.
Because of unnatural flooding, areas that never used to get flooded are now under metre-high water while others have become drier.
According to a 2017 status report of the Kafue River by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the impact of human influences and socio-economic development on the Kafue Flats wetland ecology has largely been negative.
“While the details of the causal linkages require further investigation before conclusions can be drawn, it is clear that the change in the flow regime due to the construction of the Itezhi-tezhi and Kafue Gorge dams for hydropower production has been one of the key drivers of change. Changes in floodplain habitat availability and vegetation community structure, mainly the reduction of the area of grassland which constitutes the original floodplain vegetation and breeding habitat for waterbirds and fish, have had the most direct impact,” the report says.
Mr Moonga says there is need to find a way of regulating the water flow to mimic the natural flooding of the area in order to restore the integrity of the wetland and the animals that depend on it.
Kafue Flats is one of the most important ecological zones in Zambia with unequalled biodiversity, with over 400 bird species. It also supports about one million people and the country’s largest cattle population in Namwala.
The disturbance of the Kafue Flats also spells doom for the Kafue Lechwe.
About a century ago, the Kafue Lechwe roamed these plains in their hundreds of thousand, but now only a few thousand remain to fight a seeming unwinnable battle against poachers who have found a ready market in the capital, and an invasive plant that is claiming more and more of its habitat by the day.
The first documented count of Kafue Lechwe in 1931 revealed an estimated 250,000 animals on the flats. By the 1970s, the six-digit figure had fallen to about 93,000. By the early 1980s, the population had decreased by more than half, and was restricted to the areas protected by Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks and the surrounding Game Management Area.
In the most recent aerial survey conducted by the Department of National Parks, Kafue Lechwe numbered about 28,000.
According to the department, approximately 1,000 Kafue Lechwe are lost to poaching on the Kafue flats annually.
The Kafue Lechwe is now fighting extinction, and is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.
The Kafue Lechwe may not be as iconic as other endangered species such as the rhino, but it is considered as a keystone species of the Kafue Flats, meaning the existence of this ecosystem is hinged on its survival.
“It is easy for us to reverse the negative trends. If we put our resources together and empower the government departments that are working there, we can completely conserve that animal. It only takes protecting it from massive poaching, it only takes us investing resources to remove that invasive plant and the population will start increasing again,” Mr Moonga says.
Without any deliberate action, the lechwe could become extinct in just a few years. The only Kafue Lechwe future generations may be able to see is the life-size sculpture of the antelope in the lobby of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Lochinvar: A lost paradise

Sunset on the Kafue Flats in Lochinvar National Park. Picture by Brian Malama

Lochinvar: A lost paradise

JACK ZIMBA, Monze
THE vehicle did not seem to go any faster than I wanted it to, it was slowed down mostly by the bumpy gravel road we were travelling on. My eagerness was to reach Lochinvar National Park in Monze, Southern Province.

Back in the colonial days, Lochinvar was a private ranch belonging to a Scottish man, but after he left, the land was converted into State land. And in 1972, it was gazetted as a national park.
Home to about 400 bird species and the Kafue Red Lechwe, Lochinvar ought to be a paradise – a top destination for birdwatchers and other tourists.
But arriving at the park gate, something did seem amiss – defaced walls, a dilapidated guard’s house and a non-functional information centre were what greeted us.
Still, park warden Wilfred Moonga, who was leading our small party in his Land Rover, was eager to show me and other visitors what the park had to offer.
After driving through bush, we made our first stop at a hill called Sebanzi, at the edge of the vast Kafue Flats.
We hiked up the hill to the sound of hundreds cicadas and wild birds.
Before Mr Moonga came here two years ago, going up the hill was unthinkable because many local people believed that during the flood season, all the dangerous animals such as snakes found refuge there.
But now, the warden has cut a trail up the hill to allow people to go all the way to the top.
We reached the peak of the hill to find a huge baobab tree that is believed to be 2,500 years old, and we were welcomed by a lone white-backed vulture perched on the branches of the giant tree.
Around the tree on the ground, there were barrows made by aardvarks.
Sebanzi Hill is protected as a national heritage site. Back in the 1950s, an archaeological dig revealed evidence of human settlement dating back to the Iron Age.
From the hill, one can see far across the vast plains, and sometimes see a few animals such as buffalo.
A short drive from the hill took us to the Gwisho Hot Springs, where 60 degrees water flows from beneath a rock. The springs are located on the Gwisho Mound, which is also a national heritage site. Sadly, the area looks unattractive.
Mr Moonga plans to build walkways leading to the springs, and then build pools for people to enjoy hot baths.
The warden has grand plans for the park and he shared them at every stop.
Not far from the Gwisho springs are the Bwanda Hot Springs, whose water is even hotter.
And if the first baobab tree was fascinating to behold, we were in for more fascination when we drove to the second baobab.
Nature has carved a hollow into this one, big enough to accommodate eight people standing.
It is said that during the colonial days, a white district commissioner used the hollow as his office when he came to collect taxes from the local people.
Around lunchtime, we stopped over at the warden’s park house to pick up some food. Occasionally, when Mr Moonga comes here for work, he sleeps in the house. The house is easy to locate, because one can smell it from 500 metres away.
This is because one million bats (well, by Mr Moonga’s estimation) live in the house. And where there are bats, there is bat poop and urine, which produce a suffocating smell.
The bats live in the broken ceiling of the house and then stream out at dusk to go and feed. The floor in the living room was covered with heaps of bat droppings.
During one visit, Mr Moonga told us, he gathered about 70 sacks of bat droppings from the house, which he uses as fertiliser.
And of course where there is such a big number of bats in one place, there is bound to be snakes.
“There is a green mamba that usually stays in the house,” Mr Moonga told us.
One day when he came to sleep, he found a young python curled up in a corner.
Near the warden’s house is the century-old farm house that belonged to the Scotsman.
The house is still standing and Mr Moonga plans to restore it so that it can be used as a lodging house for visitors.
“When I came here, no-one used to come to this place,” he said as he showed us around. “It was abandoned and it had thick bush around it and it was just adventurous boys who would come and smoke and write unprintables on the wall.”
He said the building was in fact earmarked for demolition.
When he was allocated money for a campsite, Mr Moonga decided to renovate the building instead.
After a few touch-ups, the house is almost ready to accommodate guests.
But bringing the infrastructure in this park to acceptable standard will take more than just a creative mind – the park needs a lot of money.
“It is largely an issue of funding, because as you have seen most of the infrastructure in the park is rundown, the area is in a flood plain, so we need a road that is more resilient and we need those tourist facilities,” Mr Moonga said.
The park also lacks resources for operations.
“At the moment we have no operational boat. We haven’t had this for the past three years and this being a wetland ecosystem, we need marine operations,” he says. “That is where the poachers are hitting us hard because they are using boats to come to the other side and we can’t pursue them.”
But because of poor infrastructure, the park can only attract day-time visitors.
Mr Moonga’s dream is to restore Lochinvar as a tourists’ paradise.
“What I would want to see, really, is for Lochinvar to claim its rightful position as a tourist destination because it has the potential,” he said. “Lochinvar used to be one of the premier parks in Zambia and one of the top tourist destinations some years back.”
Lochivar’s infrastructure may be a far cry from paradise, but don’t tick it off your destination list yet.
As we drove out to the open plains, our hearts were warmed to a spectacular sight of hundreds of water birds.
It was the largest number of different types of birds I had ever seen in one place at the same time. There was the glum-looking marabou stock, the elegant wattled crane, African jakanas, crowned cranes, the secretary bird and many others.
“Just the fact that they occur in huge numbers is a spectacle in itself,” Mr Moonga said. “When they take off and then they come to land, it’s just beautiful, you just want to be there.”
Over 420 bird species gather here, some arriving from as far away places as Russia.
“Three days ago, I was in town and I heard the European bee-eaters calling, and I knew they have arrived,” said Mr Moonga with excitement.
But few locals come for birdwatching, most of the visitors are international tourists.
My visit to Lochinvar would have been incomplete if I had not laid my eyes on the Kafue Red Lechwe. And there, among the birds, wading in metre-deep water, was a small herd of the antelope.
The Kafue Red Lechwe may not be as graceful looking as the gazelle or Sable, but its rarity (it can only be found on the Kafue Flats) makes it unique. To think that the animal before us cannot be found anywhere else in the whole world was in itself fascinating.
On the open plains, the treeless landscape offers some of the most magnificent sunsets, with birds returning to their nests adding to the heavenly spectacle.
When in Lochinvar, you have to pray that dusk finds you on the plains, and, for us, it did.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Kipushi: Hard-to-reach place


Stuck in the bush after a tyre puncture.  Picture by Brian Malama.

JACK ZIMBA, Kipushi
RECENTLY, photojournalist Brian Malama and I undertook an expedition to Kipushi which lies at the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our principle objective was to get to the source of the Kafue River.
Kipushi lies north of Solwezi in the newly-created Mushindamo district in North-Western Province.

The place derives its name from the mining town across the border, which bears the same name, but does not mirror its civilisation.

The road to Kipushi is treacherous gravel and although it is only 120 kilometres from Solwezi, it takes about four hours to cover that distance with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
The route is far less enchanting, lined with forests, broken only by small unremarkable settlements.
In many parts of the road, the soil has been pounded into a fine powder by the many heavy trucks that traverse this route, to the extent that even a motor bike will leave behind a cloud of dust.
During the rainy season, however, much of the road becomes a mud pool. Trucks have been known to get stuck for weeks on the road.
There are many telltale signs on the road of trucks that once got stuck. There are metre-deep fallows created by stuck heavy trucks months ago.
Mostly it is the Tanzanian trucks that ply this route, carrying various cargo destined for the DRC. They offload their cargo on the Zambian side and it is then loaded onto Congolese trucks for onward shipment to Lubumbashi, which is about 30km from the border.
One government official at the border told me our customs office collects about US$26,000 every month from this border.
Arriving at the border that afternoon, the first thing that came into our view were the many blue containerised trucks parked near the border crossing.
The state of the road is a major discussion point when you engage with the locals.
“How was the road?” was the frequently asked question.
The impassability of the road, especially in the rainy season, makes hard lives here much harder.
Sometimes, locals prefer using motorbike transport to travel to Solwezi, or they venture into the DRC for their groceries.
The settlement on the Zambian side is one of the drabbest border points I have ever seen anywhere in the country.
Here, the only decent buildings belong to the Immigration Department.
The rest of the buildings are made of mud bricks without plaster.
If you decide to spend a night at Kipushi, you may need to sleep on the other side of the border. This is because there are no decent lodges on the Zambian side.
There are two so-called guesthouses a few metres from the border crossing. One of them offers accommodation for as little as K10 per night. But you have to be ready to sleep on a floor bed with not-so-clean beddings. The building itself is derelict and forbidding, with metal doors that leave gaps underneath large enough to let in a big house cat.
We spent a night at Aunty Rose’s guesthouse, which offers accommodation for K50 per night – the most expensive here. The guesthouse was recommended to us by one of the locals.
Aunty Rose’s guesthouse offers Spartan accommodation with no running water or flushable toilet. The only consolation were the fresh beddings we were given.
And at least the room was fitted with a solar-powered lamp. Electricity only recently reached this far-end of the country, and many buildings are yet to get connected to the grid.
Water is a major challenge for settlement dwellers and at every moment during the day, especially in the mornings and evenings, young men and boys can be seen pushing rickety bicycles laden with containers of water across the border.
We slept that night to the constant humming sound from the heavy machinery at the mine across the border.
The zinc and copper underground mine is owned by the Canadian project developer Ivanhoe Mines and the state-owned Gecamines.
The mine lies within a kilometre of the border crossing point. From the Zambian Immigration office, tall structures at the mine can clearly be seen jutting into the sky.
Many here believe the underground tunnels at the mine run deep into Zambian territory. There is no evidence of that.
There are no proper restaurants on the Zambian side of the border, just makeshift stands.
One popular makeshift bar and restaurant serves boiled goat meat and Congolese lagers – Simba or Tembo. But many Zambians prefer going across the border for drinks.
Twice we ventured across the border for lunch, each time remembering to switch lanes immediately after we crossed the border. Unlike Zambia, the DRC is a keep-right country.
The ladies at the Plaza Hotel restaurant, where we went for our lunches, always served their meals hot and fresh.
The men walking into the restaurant were courteous, greeting us in either Swahili or French.
“Jambo,” the men, who wore heavily-scented perfumes, would usually say as they walked passed our table.
“Jambo,” we would reply.
Swahili is the most commonly spoken language at the border, and many Zambians have learned to speak it, which makes it hard to tell the two nationalities apart.
At the restaurant, we gorged ourselves on nshima served with samaki (fish), plus traditional vegetables. We sat under the gaze of the country’s leader Joseph Kabila, whose portrait hang the wall.
Like many borders around the country, the border crossing at Kipushi is very porous and residents from both sides enter at will, but for two prying journalists, it would have to take a lot of bidding and a good amount of money to bribe border officials.
On a hot August morning, Embu Mbuyamba, my daring motorbike rider and his colleague whisked us across the border. We rode past some neat houses – some double storey.
The old mining town bears signs of the good old days when the mine was flourishing.
“This place used to be very beautiful,” said Embu, who speaks good Bemba.
Embu was born in Kipushi town. He makes his living transporting people on his motorbike.
Up a hill, we swept past a large cemetery in one corner of the town, about a kilometre from the Zambian border.
But even in this seeming peaceful environment, there was a chilling reminder of the DRC’s checkered past of having to deal with insurgency at various points of the country’s history.
Embu told me the Banyamulenge were once very active in this area and carried out a number of atrocities. When their bloody episode came to an end, some of them were conscripted into the regular army.
My heart skipped a beat when one turn into a dust road that demarcates the two countries brought us face-to-face with a Congolese soldier on foot patrol. But he took no interest in us.
I had a great sense of relief once we crossed back to the Zambian side of Kipushi, its drabness notwithstanding.

 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Gabriel Ellison: the woman who kept us posted

Gabriel Ellison


JACK ZIMBA

 GABRIEL Ellison, who died last Tuesday, aged 87, was one of Zambia’s pioneering artists with some of the most famous designs associated with every-day life.
And yet Mrs Ellison, herself, remained a little-known figure, and perhaps not appreciated as much.

This may be largely because Gabriel Ellison was not one to blow her own trumpet or to walk in the limelight.
“She was a very private person,” says Cynthia Zukas, who was a friend of Mrs Ellison’s.
A private person, yet her works scream from the walls of many public as well as private buildings; from the hallways of State House and the sacred walls of the Cathedral of the Child Jesus.
One of her biggest mosaics can be found on the front wall of Protea Hotel on Cairo Road.
But without doubt, her most common art pieces are the national flag and the Coat of Arms.
When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence in 1964, the administration asked Mrs Ellison to design the national flag to replace the Union Jack. She also designed the Coat of Arms and other national emblems.
In the Parliament Building, Mrs Ellison designed the mace, the rod that symbolises the Speaker’s authority, as well as the Speaker’s seat.
And yet, it seems, it was the little designs that Mrs Ellison is most well-known for – the postage stamps.
For about three decades, Mrs Ellison designed Zambia’s postage stamps. To the dot.com generation, that is a small adhesive piece of paper of specified value issued by a national post office to be affixed to a letter or parcel to indicate the amount of postage paid.
Yes, back when the mail box was not an icon on an electronic screen, Mrs Ellison was the group admin who kept us connected, and her little art works – stamps – found themselves in virtually every home.
Mrs Ellison’s stamp designs usually depicted life, especially in rural Zambia, although it is said that some of her human forms actually depicted life around her, even her own maids and gardeners.
Wildlife was also a common theme among her designs – birds, beetles and flowers.
Some of the designs were commemorative, marking important events.
Her stamps became well-sought-after by stamp-collectors or philatelists world over.
“I think internationally it was her stamps that made her famous,” says Mrs Zukas, herself a great artist. “Stamp collectors all over the world used to literally queue up on the day that Zambia produced a new stamp, I mean they were beautiful and quite unique.”
So powerful were her stamp designs that they inspired one village boy who came across them to become an artist.
Now an accomplished artist himself, Victor Makashi counts Mrs Ellison among his mentors in art.
Mr Makashi also says the stamps became tools of communication because of what they depicted.
Among the people who admired her art works was first republican president Kaunda. Actually it is said that soon after independence, Dr Kaunda had requested Mrs Ellison to give him lessons in painting and that he (Kaunda) affectionately called her “teacher”.
Mrs Ellison also authored a number of books and did illustrations for children’s books.
EARLY LIFE
Gabriel Ellison was born Gabriel Ryan in Lusaka in 1930. Her parents met on an apple farm in Canada and later moved to Mexico, where they owned a cattle ranch. During the revolution in Mexico, her Canadian mother was threatened by the regime and the family escaped to England with only two mules and a dog.
In 1910, the family moved to then Northern Rhodesia, her father being part of the public administration.
Gabriel spent her childhood living on various farms and mining areas. During school holidays, she often travelled back to Britain to take up private studies in art.
She later worked in the graphics department in the Ministry of Information.
Ron Found had worked with Mrs Ellison in that department and the two would travel to many countries to mount exhibitions on behalf of the government.
Mr Found though says Mrs Ellison wasn’t much of a traveller.
From 1960 to 1972, Mrs Ellison headed the Visual Art and Exhibitions Section and travelled around the world to international trade fairs and exhibitions. Their work won them a number of awards, including two gold medals in Leipzig, Germany.
Mrs Ellison’s husband, Tony Ellison, was a policeman in the colonial administration.
Mr Found, who had been acquainted with the couple, describes Tony as “very English”.
Tony Ellison had been in the British army during the Second World War and when the war ended in 1945, he came to Zambia. He first served in the mounted police unit at Lilayi before working for the Ministry of Finance.
He later became director of the Zambia State Lottery, perhaps because Mr Ellison himself was a fun of gambling.
According to Cynthia Zukas, Tony Ellison was a great fan of his wife’s works.
The couple never had any children, but Mrs Ellison was very fond of children. She is also said to have been very fond of her servants.
“If there were people who were very close and who she loved, it was her servants and the people in the townships,” says Roy Kausa, who was her friend, although he also remembers her as a moody person.
“But she had a lot of time for her house servants,” adds Mr Kausa.
Mrs Ellison also loved animals, especially dogs and horses. For years, she served as chairperson of the canine club and won awards as a dog trainer.
Mrs Ellison was not just a good artist, she was also a brilliant cook, says Mrs Zukas.
“Whatever she did, she did with perfection,” she says.
Mr Found still speaks about the elaborate birthday cake Mrs Ellison once baked for his daughter.
“When it came to catering, no-one would fault her,” he says.
HONOUR
Mrs Ellison was honoured by both the British and Zambian governments for her contribution to the arts. She was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen of England, while the Zambian government awarded her the Grand Officer of Distinguished Service.
But Mr Kausa thinks she was still not given the honour that she deserved for her service to the country she loved.
Yes, Mrs Ellison did not just design symbols to give Zambia its identity, she identified herself with it, and her love for the country of her birth was unquestionable.
“You could never say a bad word about Zambia. She was always 100 percent Zambian. She was truly a Zambian and she thought Zambia was the best place in the world,” says Mr Found.
After the death of her husband in the 1990s, Mrs Ellison lived for years alone in her house in Kabulonga.
But she later requested to live with Mr Found and his family and sold her house.
“I think the house was becoming too much for her,” says Mr Found.
But it seems moving in with a family did not help her much either.
“She was getting more and more infirm and not able to look after herself very well. My wife would send food to her and more often than not she would give it to her servants, so she wasn’t eating well either,” says Mr Found.
After staying with the Founds for a couple of years, Mrs Ellison decided to go and live with her sister in Johannesburg, South Africa, but it is said that her sister’s upstairs home was not ideal for her and so she ended up in an old people’s home until her death.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Local potato farmers in turf war


WORKERS sort potatoes at Chartonel farm in Lusaka. PICTURE:JACK ZIMBA

JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA and South Africa may be perfectly at peace, but farmers on either side of the Limpopo River may be engaged in a trade war.
Around a table in the boardroom at the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) offices in Lusaka, there is some tough talking from some local commercial and small-scale farmers. Top on their discussion menu is potatoes, and a bit of onions and tomatoes.
This is a fruits and vegetable working group, formulated to lobby Government to protect the interests of local farmers from cheaper vegetable imports.
What is currently worrying the farmers is cheaper imports of potatoes from South Africa that have flooded the local market.
According to the farmers, South African potato markets are currently over supplied due to a bumper harvest in the Eastern Freestate on the back of good rains.
“I have investigated the issues as these potatoes are spilling over into our markets and the market information is that this will continue until the end of August. The Zambian growers cannot compete at these levels and are already selling at below cost of production. The South African farmers are also selling below their costs at the moment,” says Antony Barker, who is director for Buya Bamba Limited.
But over-production and over-supply is South Africa’s problem not Zambia’s problem, argue the farmers.
“The request to regulate imports into the country is of utmost importance, as the Zambian market is a lot smaller than the markets from which imported potatoes are being brought, hence the Zambian market is extremely sensitive to oversupply,” says Mr Barker.
The farmers want Government to regulate the importation of potatoes the same way it has done for crops such as wheat.
“Fruits and vegetables, with a specific reference to potatoes, onions and tomatoes, are part of the staple diet of the Zambian people and there should be no reason why parallels cannot be drawn between the potato industry with the likes of wheat with regards to regulating imports,” argues Mr Barker.
Buy-local campaigners such as BuyZed Campaign have also joined in the lobbying for regulation of potato imports.
Evans Ngoma is the management consultant for BuyZed. He says if Government wants an agriculture-based economy, it should ensure that crop marketing favours the farmers.
Mr Ngoma says Government should not allow what has happened in the soya bean sector to happen in the potato industry.
Prices in the soya bean sector have crashed due to over-supply on the local market.
The farmers also want Government to compel local food chains to stock local produce where it is available.
A representative from Shoprite, which is one of the biggest traders in potatoes, says the store is now buying its potatoes from local suppliers such as Buya Bamba.
Buya Bamba Limited, which operates on an out-grower scheme basis, has grown to become one of the major players in the potato sector. Actually, Mr Barker started as a small potato trader at Soweto market a few years ago.
Mr Barker says the potato sector can grow into a major employer.
“Government has issued many press releases that the economy needs to diversify from being reliant on copper and expand into agriculture in order to help with job creation and to empower the farmers to avoid the mass urbanisation that is taking place. We estimate that one hectare of potato production employs directly or indirectly four people. Therefore, the potato industry alone is employing an estimated 5,000 people,” he says.
One of the biggest potato growers in the country is Graham Rae, who owns Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited (ZRC). The company employs 800 people to work on its tobacco and potato fields.
With his crop almost ready for harvest, Mr Rae is concerned that the already flooded market may affect his US$6 million investment.
“ZRC is about to start harvesting our 2017 crop and I am extremely concerned at the quantity of imported table potatoes on the Zambian market,” he says.
But Mr Rae has even a bigger worry about the imports – biosecurity.
“I investigated the criteria that is involved in importing table potatoes into Zambia and compared them with that of South Africa, and I am completely shocked at the lack of phytosanitary requirements to import table tomatoes into Zambia and surprised at the complexity of the requirements to export into South Africa,” he says.
While phytosanitary regulations allowing importation of potatoes from South Africa are summed up in two paragraphs, Zambian farmers exporting potatoes into South Africa are subjected to a two-page checklist.
“In 2015, Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Limited attempted to export processing potatoes into South Africa but were blocked on the basis of the South African phytosanitary regulations,” says Mr Rae.
“How can the Zambian farmer be competing with the South African farmer in his own ‘back yard’? It must also be noted that Zambian farmers are not allowed to export either to Zimbabwe or to South Africa yet our borders are open to all,” says Mr Barker.
And Mr Rae’s fears about biosecurity are not unfounded. Two years ago, South Africa reported an outbreak of bacterial wilt in the Sandveld region. Bacterial wilt is considered one of the most destructive bacterial plant diseases in the world.
In 2005, the bacteria caused damage in the potato industry amounting to US$950 million globally.
What makes the bacteria even more notorious is the fact that it has many hosts, including soil.
“I request an immediate suspension of the issuing of an import permits for table potatoes until more stringent Zambian import requirements are put in place,” he says.
The other major concern for the farmers is that while it is easier for neighbouring countries to export into Zambia, local producers find it hard to export into markets across its borders.
And it is not only the southern border that the farmers are concerned about, Tanzania also is a major source of potatoes. And the border with Tanzania at Nakonde is one of the most porous in the country. Actually most of the potatoes that are said to come from Nakonde come from across the border.
And with Tanzanian potatoes, they are imported as unwashed potatoes, raising further concern about possible transfer of disease.
Zambian regulations do not allow importation of crops that have soil samples.
Mr Barker wants a phytosanitary laboratory to be set up at strategic places such as Kapiri Mposhi to check agriculture produce entering the country through the Nakonde border.
NO DATA
But critically missing from the discussion table is data. No one can tell the quantity of potatoes the country consumes for any given period of time, neither is it known exactly how much potato tonnage the country produces.
According to Mr Barker, the hactares planted for harvest and subsequent supply into the market from June to March 2018 is estimated at 1,200. This hectareage translates into 65,000 metric tonnes of potatoes.
“I can only know my levels when the borders are closed,” says Mr Barker.
And that uncertainty in the local supply chain is why Government is pussy-footing on regulation, according to one official from the Ministry of Agriculture.
He explains that Government fears creating a gap in the market once it imposes import restrictions, a gap that might cause prices to escalate.
But a representative from the fruit and vegetable association Duncan Chirwa says the traders sell about 1,800 tonnes of potatoes in a year, mostly imported from South Africa.
“At the moment we are getting most of our supplies from SA, which as a Zambian I feel is not good,”
“Our view is that our own agro industry must grow. We import just to meet the short fall,” says Mr Chirwa.
And one thing that the farmers in the group are all agreed upon is that there must not be an absolute ban on the importation of potatoes, but regulation.
Meanwhile, at Soweto market, the traders do not seem to mind which flag is printed on the bags of potatoes on their stands – whether Zambian or South African. It is business as usual.