By Hicks Sikazwe
Zambia and Tanzania share many business and cultural similarities. They share transport links and enjoy common banking services in some border towns.
But one Zambian town whose business is thriving on Tanzanian goods is Kasama, a northern town 858 kilometres north of the capital Lusaka.
A visible feature that strikes a first time visitor to Kasama, the capital of Zambia’s largest of the ten provinces (Northern), is the flood of Tanzanian goods being sold in markets and other outlets in the rural district.
They are found everywhere, among hawkers, mobile and immobile vendors creating an anchor of the ever growing informal sector, now a key contributor to the country’s economic activity..
They range from flour, washing powder, soft drinks, liquor, juices, tyres, tubes, even fruits rice and beans.
“The advantage is that these goods which come from Tanzania are cheap, all one needs is a small amount of money as capital to buy the items and begin a business,” a local resident Cyrus Mazimba said in an interview recently.
Adds Mzimba, “for five years I have been buying rice from Tunduma (a border town in Tanzania) which I have been reselling here either pre-packed or in entire 50kg bags. The money raised from the business has helped me send children to school.”
It is not surprising that Tanzania’s goods are awash in Kasama. The town is the first major stop in Zambia for the Tanzania Zambia Railway (TAZARA) train from Dar es Salaam.
Tazara is railway line jointly owned by Zambia, Tanzania and China. It connects Dar es salaam in Tanzania and Kapirimponshi, in Zambia a stretch of 1,860 kilometres.
Tazara was built by the Chinese government in the early 1970s at the height of Zambia’s support for the liberation struggle in Southern Africa as a new export route for the country.
When Zambia boycotted use of the Southern route for its copper exports, in protest against apartheid in South Africa and the hostile white settler regime in neighbouring Rhodesia (now independent Zimbabwe), Kaunda had to seek alternative passage for bringing in goods and taking out others to outside markets.
The solution was to build the 1860 kilometer railway track from Dar es salaam in Tanzania, to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.
At Kapiri Mposhi, the Tazara Railway line links up with the Zambia Railways track built in colonial days to ferry copper from the Copperbelt passing through, Lusaka, and Zambia’s Southern province to South African ports.
As the copper was being ferried from Zambia, some of it was left in Rhodesia’s (Zimbabwe then) and South Africa’s foundries before the bulk could be taken to bigger foundries in Europe to process the red metal.
Today after the situation has normalized and the Southern route reopened as a more convenient and cheaper passage for Zambia’s exports, Tazara continues to be an anchor and additionally helping to bring goods into Zambia from Tanzania ( and elsewhere) part of which have flooded Kasama.
The goods are brought in cheaply, especially that a lot more items find their way into Zambia through the border town of Nakonde by buses, trucks even by cyclists living in villages sharing the border with Tanzania.
Others are smuggled or even brought in by people who traverse between Zambia and Tanzania to pick up imported Japanese vehicles from the receiving port of Dar es salaam to owners back home.
“In general goods from across the border have provided employment for most of our youths who are able to raise some startup capital to set up shelter for selling cheap Tanzanian goods,” Says Mazimba.
Bertha Nakamba, a marketer in Kasama says she has been selling Azam flour, washing powder, and a fruit juice drink called Embe, and she admits, “I cannot complain. At least I manage to put food on the table for my three children.”
Embe fruit juice is bottled by a Dar se salaam based food procession company, Bakhresa, a subsidiary of Azam producers of the flour mostly exported to Zambia.
Broadly, Kasama remains a reliable lever for flouring business and more potential growth within the district, the province or the rest of the country.
The district floats as an axis for promotion of tourism since its communication network, by air or road provides access to some of the key areas either developing or have potential for development. Kasama provides air links to Lusaka, Ndola, Mbala and Mansa in Luapula province along with good supporting roads to the above areas.
Tourists who need to visit some of the key tourist spots such Kasaba bay in Mbala, Kalambo falls, Mwanyonga falls, also in Mbala will not have difficulties to get there either by road or by plane.
Visitors will also easily get to Chishimba falls a few kilometers from the town, Lumange Falls or Kabweluma falls will not have challenges to get there. The Chishimba falls hosts the hydro electricity power plant which provides lighting to Northern Province.
Government recently refurbished and upgraded the power plant(Chishima) along with the Lunzuwa power outlet near Mpulungu. The latter is supplementing power in Kasama and other parts of the province.
Kasama has a potential to boost regional trade as Northern provinces borders three countries, Tanzania, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There are opportunities to strengthen cooperation in agriculture, construction and other sectors.
At the moment Zambia is fighting off smuggling of maize into the DRC Malawi and other places within the region. Setting up proper trade deals in border areas such as the three points named in Northern Province can help end smuggling of goods and bring in foreign exchange for Zambia.
Tazara is a unique example of such a deal; the railway line continues to provide reliable transport for people in Zambia and Tanzania. Farmers in Northern Province use Tazara to take their produce to markets, while traders from Lusaka, Copperbelt use the track for business going up north.
What therefore is needed is to see Zambian goods selling proportionally in Tanzania, DRC and Malawi, while at the same time goods from the above countries should be seen being hawked not only Kasama but elsewhere in this country, as a way to provide employment here and strengthening regional integration.
Is a Zambian journalist who holds a Masters Degree in Mass Communications from the University of Leicester in the UK and a BA in Communications Science from the University of South Africa, Pretoria. He is a former Deputy Editor in Chief of Times of Zambia, the country’s oldest daily newspaper, where he worked for almost 30 years. He has written widely locally and abroad He has practiced journalism for close to 40 years. His MA thesis was on Media and Democracy.