Back in Zambia

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The road from Lusaka’s airport to town has seen a spate of new buildings pop up or improved, most notably Manda Hill shopping mall, which has been upgraded from a dingy 70s style shopping dungeon to a hypermodern, South African style, two floor mall, with all the obligatory South African chains, as well as a few local favorites. And a two story car park, and now two food courts.

When Niamh and Iived in Lusaka in 2009/10, Lucy and Hussain did/not/did/not/did stay together, first to get married in early 2012. Then, due to a sad family incident on Hussain’s side, back in India, their wedding was postponed to August 2012. Niamh and I were to be best man and bridesmaid, though not in that order. I was originally going to merge a business trip to Dar with my visit to Lusaka, which would make the cost for Niamh to fly in from Kampala more palatable.
Then, when we checked for flights connecting in August, the going rate for an economy round trip ended up being 850 USD. With a round trip from Kampala to Joburg being a mere 550 USD and over 1000km further along (1500km by road!), this was too absurd to be acceptable. I was likely to go alone.

Though, since Niamh and I left Lusaka, several long distance airlines have expanded their network to also fly to Lusaka, regional airlines to Lusaka are still a minority. Ethiopian and Kenya fly, but at fairly extortionist rates. Zambia airways went bankrupt years ago, shortly followed by their phoenix Zambian airways, this year followed by *their* phoenix Zambezi airways. Recently, Precision Air, a regional airline trying to be something of a pricefighter, started flying to Lusaka from Dar, with a stopover in Lubumbashi, DRC. It brings, to my knowledge, the count of regional airlines flying to Lusaka to four, SAA being the fourth.
Still, there are a few lower cost airlines operating in east Africa, though they’re not yet heading to Lusaka, technically not in east Africa, mostly, focusing on the east African market proper. I predict Rwandair will be the competent airline that will bring prices down in the region over the next few years, though a strong competitor will be fly540, recently bought by an EasyJet subsidiary.

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I expect to travel back to Kampala overland, a staccato journey, almost due north, of over 2500 kilometers.

Niamh and I once took the train from Kapiri Mposhi, two hours north of Lusaka, to Dar. built by the Chinese as the result of a communist promise and with the aim to easily export copper from Zambia, through Dar, to China, the ride takes about two days and is not too inconvenient, even though, as a couple, you have to either rent a whole cabin, or accept traveling in same sex compartments.
Gross mismanagement has meant the railway line has tethered on the brink of bankruptcy for years. The Chinese were, two years ago, ready to pump in over 105 million Dollars, on the condition that indigenous management would be replaced by Chinese expats.
Nothing ever came off it. The railway line is making losses, simply because too many bigshots siphon off too much money.
Currently, three shipments of goods trains are stuck along the TAZARA railway line for running out of diesel and personnel hasn’t been paid for two months.

More long distance airlines flying in to Zambia, and Zimbabwe still being a bit of a mess, has seen the tourism sector in Zambia grow. Most notably, the two backpackers on the edge of downtown are now five, with the one I’m staying in, Kalulu, being a near facsimile of the former favorite, Lusaka Backpackers. Complete with rowdy young tourists, local middle class party goers, overly loud drum and bass, an outside bar with somewhat overpriced food and drinks and a reasonable pool.

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But, escaping after a night only, I’m heading off to Kitwe, in the Copperbelt, where I need to be taught a dance before I can attend the wedding.

The Copperbelt is the economic heart of the country. Mining is the word, international business is the game. However, as the mining industry is very much facing outwards, the companies foreign, the high ranking managers expat, perhaps that is why Ndola is littered with huge billboards that are all empty, advertising the possibility to advertise, making it appear that there is no real local market.