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Rural Zambia Lagging In Development Assistance - 2003-11-20

In Zambia, rural areas have a more difficult time receiving development aid than communities closer to urban centers. Parliamentarians representing those areas say they face obstacles delivering on promises of assistance. English to Africa reporter Kellys Kaunda visited Mwinilunga, about 900 kilometers northwest of capital Lusaka and filed a report:

Mwinilunga District is divided into two constituencies – the east and the west. The district is about 21,000 square kilometers with a population of about 125,000.

The people of the eastern constituency have just held a by-election to choose their representative in parliament following the resignation of the incumbent.

The parliamentarians representing rural constituencies say the challenges they face in bringing government programs to rural areas are almost insurmountable. They speak of the vastness of the constituencies, lack of passable roads and a scattered population.

Ludwing Sondashi is a member of parliament representing rural residents. Mr. Sondashi, who is also the minister of works and supply, was the campaign manager for the ruling party in Tuesday’s by-election.

He says, "It is very difficult for a member of parliament to tour. Speaking for myself, it used to take about three weeks of intensive going round the area calling for meetings at specific areas like schools in order for me to meet my electorates. That is a very big problem."

In some areas, parliamentarians have to cover more than two hundred kilometers to reach all the voters. When they do reach them, MP’s say they occasionally receive a hostile reception because people blame them for the government’s failure to improve their standard of living. They have no access to clean drinking water; they have inadequate schools and the few health centers available are located too far from their homes.

Since Zambia got its independence from Britain in 1964, most rural areas have remained largely underdeveloped.

The first government led by former president Kenneth Kaunda attempted to address the problem. It encouraged people in the rural areas to live together in communities to facilitate the delivery of social services. However, the policy made modest gains in only two of the country’s nine provinces.

The government of Zambia’s second president, Frederick Chiluba, introduced the rural electrification program intended to increase economic development. However, only one rural area called Chiengi, in the northern region of the country, benefited.

Analysts say the efforts have not been pragmatic enough to address the huge imbalance that exists between the quality of life in rural areas and that in urban centers. And yet most rural parts of Zambia are endowed with natural resources such as land and rivers and lakes that can support agricultural activities.

In addition, the rural areas are home to some of the country’s most important national heritage, such as the source of the Zambezi River. The river begins in a thick forest of Mwinilunga from the bottom of a tree that fell many years ago.

From that small hole, the river runs through several countries including Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, and pours its waters into the Indian Ocean.

The river is a source of water and fish and helps produce electricity. For tourists, it’s the river on which the mighty Victoria Falls is located.

Analysts say, it’s one of the greatest ironies of development in Zambia - that the country is so underdeveloped while it sits on natural wonders that have the potential to change the lives of its people for the better.