Nyirenda: One man’s quest to end accomodation problems in Luangwa

Jesper Nyirenda

“I CAME to visit relatives with my wife two years ago but we had a challenge to find where to sleep. So we decided to drive back to Lusaka. When we went back home I decided to venture into tourism business by putting up this lodge,” says the 40-year-old businessman, who is also a transporter.

He may have a small name in Zambia’s tourism industry, but Jesper Nyirenda has taken a bold step to fight accommodation crisis that is hindering growth of the sector in Rufunsa and Luangwa districts, the areas which are endowed with various tourist attractions, CHARLES MUSONDA reports
“I CAME to visit relatives with my wife two years ago but we had a challenge to find where to sleep. So we decided to drive back to Lusaka. When we went back home I decided to venture into tourism business by putting up this lodge,” says the 40-year-old businessman, who is also a transporter.
Jesper Nyirenda’s dream is to see his lodge, whose construction has reached an advanced stage, meet modern requirements of both local and international guests.
Situated in a unique setting close to the Luangwa and Zambezi Rivers, the area boasts of hosting two of the country’s biggest rivers. On the eastern side of Luangwa the district, Zambia shares boarders with Mozambique along the Luangwa River while on its southern side is the mighty Zambezi River which Zambia shares borders with Zimbabwe.
The area usually has high temperatures and quite erratic rainfall. The socio-economic status of the people in the district largely depends on activities in the two rivers and these include fishing, reed harvesting, transportation; and most of the people are involved in subsistance farming
It is reputed for producing tasty fish species and most of it caught from the two rivers find its way in the markets of the major towns and like Lusaka.
Harvesting reeds from the Luangwa and the Zambezi rivers has a significant bearing on the economy in the area as they are used to weave mats and other basketry products which are either transported outside the district or sold at the local market, mostly near the Luangwa Bridge.
A few minutes stop at Luangwa Bridge is enough for one to sample the delicious Luangwa fish and an array of mats and other basketry products weaved from the reeds. Owing to high traffic flows between Lusaka and eastern provinces the layby spot is always active and traders, mostly fishmongers, operate on a 24-hour basis.
Additionally, the area is rich in vast wildlife resource, and tourism is one of the most important aspects of the economy in the area. It has a total of 60 animal species and 400 types of birds, making it an ideal tourist destination.
This is the tourism potential that Nyirenda has opted to tap into because although the district has lodges, they are not enough to meet the demand. This writer and other members of the Sunday Mail crew were forced to spend a night in the car and in tents pitched outside at Bridge Camp in Luangwa.
According to Mr Nyirenda, no one has come up with the idea of constructing tourism facilities, especially in Mpanshya area, where his project is located in Rufunsa, near Luangwa.
“I started [building] before this area was declared Rufunsa district…I was motivated by the fact that there is no good resting place here. At first I had challenges with the locals because many of them raised a number of questions like who gave me the land and where I was getting the money from. But now they are appreciating because they have never seen a local entrepreneur do something like this.
“I really want to be part of the UNWTO [United Nations World Tourism Organisation] general assembly but I don’t know how to market this place,” the soft spoken Mr Nyirenda said.
He said the area boasts of major tourist attractions like the Lower Zambezi National Park, Luano Game Management area, and the Muchinga Escarpment and the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers confluence.
“This area is good for game viewing, mountain climbing biking and horse rides and we need to open up for mining, which is currently being done illegally but the major potential is in tourism,” he said.
He said so far he has employed 10 locals at construction stage and will employ many more once the project is complete.
He also thanked the PF government for embarking on construction of the Luangwa Bridge-Feira Road, saying the development will improve movement of people between Zambia and Zimbabwe as people to move from Zimbabwe without passing through Lusaka.
“It will be a boost to our tourism industry,” Mr Nyirenda said.
However, despite the road project being one of the best ways to develop the area, Mr Nyirenda feels the Government must look into problems of electricity and water reticulation.
Mr Nyirenda said the other challenge hampering tourism development is lack inadequate sensitisation by the Ministry of Tourism on how small-scale entrepreneurs can benefit from available incentives to boost their trade.
On his business roots, Nyirenda said he started some 12 years ago after inheriting a 10-ton truck, after which the Food Reserve Agency contracted him to ferry maize. He said later he diversified into construction when Venture Communications subcontracted him during erection of masts for mobile phone services.
“I have always thought that being a business you have to drive forward and I was overseeing plans to build the lodge. I started some time ago to do something somewhere and I settled for this one. I have received support from my family and friends. The only problem I have faced is to do with financial challenges because we are just seeing some people getting loans from the CEEC[Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission],”he says.
“Otherwise I would like to expand this project and service more people who would like to come to Mpanshya area because there is potential in terms of tourism, game viewing and we have the Lunsemfwa and Luangwa Rivers that provide excellent tourist attractions,” he said.
Revealing the secret behind his success in business, Nyirenda says: “If you identify a certain business stick to it and grow in that business. The second secret is financial discipline because we have seen people with money buying expensive vehicles. That is where many Zambians are missing it. Then the other one is trust; you have to be trusted in business.”
He said due to his strict adherence to these three business principles, he is now a proud owner of a 30-ton truck and has  bought two brand new ones to increase the fleet.
Nyirenda added that Zambia has potential to develop even more than other countries in the region but the problem is that many Zambians embrace the dependency syndrome as the easiest route to prosperity.
“Let’s work hard with full force because laziness is what is killing us. If you are in employment, ensure that when you get paid you invest some of the income. It is better to save than to spend everything,” he added.
And commenting on Nyirenda’s project, Chief Mpanshya urged him to do more to help create jobs for people in his chiefdom.
“He should build more rooms because when we have activities that attract outsiders, we always have an accommodation crisis. This place is small and my people can’t find other employment opportunities. This is a good idea and that is why I gave him the land,” said the chief who was found watching construction activities at the project site.