New Lunga district: place of desolation

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“” class=”f”>Zambia Daily Mail by Online Editor on 6/17/13

Chief Bwalya Mponda of the Unga speaking people (left) with Lunga District Commissioner Raphael Kauseni. Looking on is Local Government Minister Emerine Kabanshi.

Chief Bwalya Mponda of the Unga speaking people (left) with Lunga District Commissioner Raphael Kauseni. Looking on is Local Government Minister Emerine Kabanshi.

WHILE Zambia has made significant improvements and aims to foster sustainable national development, the living conditions of people remain pathetic.
The living conditions would actually be aptly described as desolate.
Lunga, a new district declared by President Michael Sata on December 30, 2011, is one such place.
A visit to this district would make one appreciate the move taken by President Sata of declaring new districts as a plus from a decentralisation point of view.
I recently accompanied Minister of Local Government and Housing Emerine Kabanshi,  who is also area member of Parliament (MP), on a tour of the district.
Having profiled Ms Kabanshi as the first female area MP since the re-introduction of the multi-party system in Zambia, I recalled her mentioning the urgent need for dredgers to be sent to the area to improve accessibility.
This was an opportunity to see the problems Ms Kabanshi had lamented about.
Lunga, which was hirtherto part of Samfya district, is an island on Lake Bangweulu and Luapula River, and accessibility is a challenge.
The water passages are blocked because of silt and weed, hence Ms Kabanshi’s lamentations over the dredger.
The journey to Lunga took over 12 hours  through the Pedicle Road. The 78 km road is a short-cut from the Copperbelt to Luapula and, in future, to the  Northern Province.
The Pedicle Road passes through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is being constructed through a Public- Private Partnership arrangement between DRC and the Zambian governments.
We arrived in Samfya on the shores of Lake Bangweulu after 18:00hours on Tuesday, May 28, fatigued.
The trip was so tiring that I over-slept, oblivious of the rage from the waters and had it not been for  a call from a colleague, I would have been late the following morning.
Set for Lunga, we all got on the Police and Ministry of Health speed boats. Lunga has no filling station, so we carried 1,000 litres of diesel but the fuel was still not enough.
The journey was four and half hours to our first stop, Bwalya Mponda chiefdom.
First on the schedule was a meeting with Chief Bwalya Mponda
On the agenda was the issue of Lunga being a new district and the removal of subsidies on fertiliser, maize and fuel.
Commenting on the declaration of Lunga as a new district, Chief Bwalya Mponda of the Unga- speaking people said the move to create the new district would bring development to the area.
A teacher by profession, Chief Bwalya Mponda said, “Decentralisation is what is needed in order to bring fair distribution of resources across the country. Decentralisation seeks to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of government.”
In defining decentralisation, the chief said, “It is the transfer of responsibility for the planning, financing and management of certain public functions from the central government and its agencies to field units of government agencies, subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, or area-wide, regional or functional authorities.”
And he was right. The creation of the new district will result in development of infrastructure, which is glaringly lacking.
The school infrastructure is in a deplorable state, there is no infrastructure to house government officers and just to say the least, the housing units for the local people are pathetic.
We spent two nights in this chiefdom and thereafter, we set sail to other islands which included Chafye, Nsamba, Kasomalunga and Kalimankonde.
We were in Lunga for five days before getting back to Samfya.
We visited structures they call schools and looking at them, one may think Lunga is a war-torn district.
In all the chiefdoms we visited in the district, education is a disaster. Parents prefer taking the children away from school and going with them to fishing camps for months. The schools go up to Grade Seven, depriving the children of secondary education.
Lunga district commissioner Raphael Kauseni described the education standards in his district as a disaster.
“We have a lot of work to do in bringing quality education to Lunga District. Education in Lunga is a disaster. The number of school drop-outs is too high, the infrastructure is the poorest in the country and there are no incentives for one to work as a teacher here,” Mr Kauseni said.
From the information gathered, Lunga is regarded as an open-air prison for truant teachers.
Once the Ministry of Education identifies such teachers, they are sent to Lunga to serve their ‘sentence’ and it is the education of the children that ultimately suffers.
Child marriage is another rampant issue in the district. Children are married off at a tender age of 11.
I met one that was married when she was 12 and her husband was a widower.
My husband was once married and his wife died and he decided to marry me after paying Kr300 to my guardians,” the girl said.
But according to Mr Kauseni, education initiatives that help girls to avoid child marriage must be included as the district is being developed.
“Awareness-raising campaigns for parents and community leaders on the benefits of girls’ education are vital if we are to win the fight against child marriage in Lunga.
Other incentives should include scholarship programmes for girls, female mentors and teachers, equipping schools with sex-segregated toilets and providing training for teachers on how to ensure a safe environment for all students,” says Mr Kauseni.
Like the book of Lamentations in the bible, Lunga district is worthy being called a district of lamentations.
In Lunga, whatever you set your eyes on,  it will have a sorrowful story to tell.