Prevention is better than cure: the case of roads in Zambia

This article is directed at political leaders in Zambia. They could learn one or two things from the son of peasants. We who grew up poor in the villages and having only one pair of khaki uniform for three years from grade 5 to grade 7 never let a small tear in the uniform, particularly in the buttocks area, to develop into a Grand Canyon because then, your buttocks would be exposed and you would be a laughing stock of the entire neighbourhood. So we used to patch up every tear which appeared or threatened to appear. And we kept that one uniform for years including wearing it during the first days of high school at Canisius Secondary School. Prevention was better than cure.

I also lived in North America for 40 years where I saw governments repair roads after every winter because cracks developed during the winter season due to severe attrition of climate in that season and the application of corrosive salt that melted the snow/ice for cars to drive safely. The cracks were never allowed to blossom into several Victoria Falls. There were also the legal suits against governments or threats thereof if cars got involved in accidents caused by the disrepair of roads.

I also taught a course at York University entitled, “Urban Economies” which compared urban planning and urban maintenance systems from around the world. Thus my advice to Zambian politicians on road repairs is not theoretical or guess work or intellectualizing. I lived it in the village and in North America and taught it as well. And I am not the only one who has these credentials. Many politicians have also seen or experienced the same in their lives and travels to many countries.

How and why did the politicians leave Lumumba road in Lusaka to be so cracked up in 54 years of independence without any methodical patching up as we did with our one pair of khaki uniform for longevity? Cars and trucks that travelled on Lumumba road appeared to be dancing in a bouncy fashion to avoid potholes as if they were negotiating fields of landmines. It goes the same for Mungwi Road and many other roads throughout the country. Rural roads are the worst. Rural Zambia has not enjoyed the benefits of independence of 54 years and the majority of the people live there. In urban areas, shanty compounds are the worst treated in terms of gaping potholes and the majority of urban populations live in shanty compounds. Who exactly is enjoying the fruits of independence? Today we will only talk about road repairs.

Lumumba and Mungwi Roads in Lusaka are now under repair but that Marshall Plan-type operation would have been unnecessary if the roads were mended at intervals like we used to mend our khaki uniforms or the way North American governments mend the roads after every winter. The current road repairs are so expensive and are causing so much road bottle-necks, inconveniences and severe loss of income to businesses located along them because some of the businesses cannot operate, they are closed off. These massive and sudden road repairs also promote corruption by kickbacks through tendering and overpricing. These reverberations could have been avoided if the repairs were done continuously.

We are expected to be grateful because these works are being done. In North America governments are expected to repair roads and don’t expect to be thanked. It is their job. They don’t start saying “Sonta epo wabomba”. Do fathers ask their children to thank them for feeding them? It is the father’s job. In terms of the government, it is not their money. It is us taxpayers who own that money. And we should benefit from our money. What have the governments been doing in the past 54 years to let these roads dilapidate this much? The question should in fact be, “Sonta what you haven’t done but that you should have been doing continuously in the last 54 years” like we used to mend our one pair of khaki uniform to last for a long time at very minimal cost because the tears would be small and manageable. Who is in these governments that can’t think? Who advises these governments that can’t think?

There are potholes at the base of the rump going to Great East Road from Kabwe roundabout. Why can’t those be repaired now? There are potholes at the junction of Kafue and Makeni roads. Why can’t they be fixed before they assume the characteristic of the Kafue gorge? Why on earth can’t the government fix the road potholes/ landmines on the Kafue-Mazabuka road, part of the chain of the most important road in Zambia? These are only examples. There are mendable potholes throughout Zambia, including the countryside.

And whatever new roads are being repaired, why can’t they be durable? The road from Choma to Livingstone is durable. It was last repaired by Grinekar. Where is Grinekar now? The road from Monze to Choma was last repaired by JJ Lowe and is durable, where is JJ Lowe now? CFE repaired the road from from Chikankata turn off to Monze, where is CFE now? The last repair of the Kafue-Mazabuka road where there are Kafue Gorge-type potholes was done by China Hinan. I hope the repairs, if they ever take place, won’t be done by China Henan or its equivalent from China.

While we are at it, a question arises: why can’t Zambian roads be enjoyed by all those who live in Zambia? We are leaving out pedestrians when we build our roads. We build them like the colonialists did, who built roads without sidewalks. Zambia is not only for those who drive cars. Politicians have been abroad and have seen that pedestrians have wide spaced sidewalks where they can walk, or run or cycle with their family and friends or alone. They pay taxes as well. And drainages are covered to prevent people from throwing garbage and mosquitoes from nesting in the water and spreading malaria and other diseases. Garbage is collected once or twice a week to prevent outbreaks of diseases. You can’t leave garbage piling up for 54 years and expect a healthy population. Garbage piling up in open drainages lead to floods during the rainy season. You have the army and National Service that have never fought a war and only engage in parades in ever changing fancy uniforms. Put them to work to clean garbage and repair homes in shanty compounds and to repair potholes on a continuous basis. They will earn their keep that way. Money for all projects is no problem because money is flushed around during campaigns and we know we have it judged by the major road repair projects going on on Mungwi, Lumumba and Great North roads and the building of police compounds by AVIC International. We know Zambia has money. It just goes somewhere else. Don’t divert that money. Put it to good use.

Needed repairs to our infrastructure are not limited to roads. The traffic signs at Lumumba and Mumbwa roads have been out for sometime. The traffic lights at Lumumba and Los Angeles have been out for over two months now. The traffic lights at Kafue road at Makeni Mall and Kafue road and Makeni road are not working. Why? We can’t fix simple traffic lights and we are talking about involvement in nuclear technology and we station traffic police officers who should be fighting organized criminality identified by the Auditor General and the Financial Intelligence Centre. Let’s get to work folks. Zambia must be enjoyed by all those who live in it.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa enjoyed teaching the course on Urban Economies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email: munyonzwe.hamalengwa@zaou.ac.zm.

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