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Zambia's Northern Province Cited for its Investment Potential

Since Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent tour of eight southern African nations, Zambia has instituted programs intended to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as part of a wider development strategy. Voice of America’s Kellys Kaunda accompanied a Zambian government minister who was exploring investment opportunities in the country’s northern province. Kellys filed this reporters notebook on his impressions of the journey.

Most of Zambia’s rural areas are huge open spaces. Although much of the land is suitable to agriculture, a large portion lies idle. Zambia’s northern province is no exception. Part of the land is under cultivation but a larger portion is still virgin.

Northern Province Minister Lameck Chibombamilimo introduced me to Lake Tanganyika, shared by countries of the Great Lake’s region which include Tanzania, Zambia, the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda.

We drove to St. George Harbor to board a boat to explore the lake and arrived around 9 am. I noticed a number of fishermen that I was told had been on the lake since the early morning hours. On the shore, there was a small group of women holding dishes. They had come to wait for the fishermen to buy fish for resale.

Chibombamilimo says this is the first area of potential investment that remains largely unexplored, “There are hundreds and hundreds of different species of fish in this lake. We need to exploit this resource so that we may improve the living standards of the people of this area.”

There are fishing companies that operate on the shores of the lake. They have storage facilities for the fish. The fish are later transported mainly to the capital, Lusaka, about a thousand kilometers away.

Sardines in particular are dried and sold by the lakeside where an informal trading area has emerged.

We boarded the boat along with several officials to explore the second deepest lake in the world, located in the Great Rift Valley.

The weather was good for sailing and the waters were calm. We set sail, wearing safety gear, to see one of the region's most important lakes. As we approached, I noticed that the shoreline was bare except for trees and grass.

Occasionally, structures of abandoned lodges emerged -- living testimonies to investments attempted but failed for reasons locals say they do not know.

Chibombamilimo says the shores are perfect sites for camping lodges, even international standard hotels. He expressed delight, saying “Look at these open spaces overlooking the lake, who would not like to build here? Who would not like to come and spend their holiday in a place like this with well built lodges?”

The minister referred to similar shores in places like Zanzibar where lodges and international standard hotels are built. The beaches there are places of leisure as guests and tourists relax in the sand and shallow waters of the Indian Ocean. Restaurants overlook the shores with guests taking in the view spread before them.

Chibombamilimo said Zanzibar’s example is possible for Lake Tanganyika. Breath-taking views include places such as Crocodile Island -- so named because of its shape.

Once a local businessman sought to buy the Island but controversy arose over where the inhabitants would be relocated.

Observers say when the issue of displacing local people is not resolved with cooperation from the communities involved, development suffers and possible investment is lost.

Lake Tanganyika offers the possibility of surfing and water skiing -- activities common in similar lakes and seas. Local people here say the only persons presently using the lake for these activities is a Zambian family of Asian origin.

Perhaps one of the much talked about investment possibilities is the Lake’s Harbor. Several ships from Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania dock here to unload -- and take on -- goods and passengers.

Chibombamilimo says the harbor has the capacity to contribute more to Zambia’s economy as well as those of other countries that share lake Tanganyika’s waters. He said, “What we need is to pump resources in expanding this harbor so that much bigger ships could dock here and do business here.”

The governments of the countries surrounding the lake have set up an authority to explore investment possibilities and the general management of the lake to maximize its potential benefits. Observers say lake Tanganyika offers a perfect opportunity for the surrounding countries to move forward the concept of regional integration.