New gateway to a world of wonder
Plans are under way to diversify Zambia's economy away from copper mining by developing the aviation and tourism industries. Humphrey Nkonde reports.
Income for the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) goes down when the price of copper on the international market falls, leading to budget deficits because the red metal accounts for 80% of the country’s foreign earnings.
The government issued a $1.25 billion bond in July 2015 to reduce that year’s fiscal deficit and it also plans to acquire an additional $1.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
To develop the aviation industry, funds have been sought to upgrade Kasama Airport (KAA), a gateway to several attractions in the northern tourism circuit covering Northern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces.
Notable tourist attractions near KAA include two major waterfalls. Lumangwe, commonly referred to as the miniature Victoria Falls, is Zambia’s second largest, while the Kalambo Falls are the country’s highest, with a single water drop of 221 metres (722ft).
Volcanic eruptions millions of years ago formed the Muchinga Escarpment, resulting in several waterfalls in the northern part of the country.
The escarpment also forms “roof Zambia” with an elevation 2,301 metres above sea level. It is in the Mafinga district, which is also reachable from the airport.
Another physical feature that was created by the volcanic eruption is Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s deepest fresh water lake, which is capable of supporting submarine tourism.
KAA is also not very far from Chishimba Falls, the first point where tourists can be taken when they arrive in Kasama.
The town is the seat of the Mwela Caves, where the early stone-age people, known as the Batwa, crafted naturalistic and schematic paintings on rocks before the Bantu people settled there.
With all those attractions, there is justification for improving infrastructure at the Northern Province’s major airport.
A bituminous runway, measuring 45 metres x 4,600 metres, is under construction by China’s Anhui Shui’an Construction Group.
There are also plans to turn the current gravel runway into a taxiway once the new runway has been completed.
Airport manager, Raphael Sakala, said: “All the Boeing series of aircraft would be able to land at this airport once the bituminous runway has been completed. We are also planning in the next phase to construct another terminal and a modern control tower with a 360 degree view midway of the new runway.”
The government recently released funds to construct a terminal building that has a common lounge as well as waiting halls for both local and international passengers.
The terminal has a VIP lounge for the president, senior government officials and important visitors, and houses offices for the ZRA customs division and the immigration department.
KAA was one of the destinations for the defunct state-owned Zambia Airways during the government of first president, Kenneth Kaunda.
During that time, British Petroleum (BP) Air operated a fuel depot at KAA that supplied avgas, jet fuel and lubricants.
The depot was ceded to the Zambia Air Force following Zambia Airways’ liquidation.
“We are looking for investors to construct a new fuel depot and run it,” said Sakala.
Even before the secondary international airport is fully developed, it has three E-one fire (foam) tenders, a defender British Land Rover and an Iveco ambulance, as safety issues are being taken very seriously.
This follows the transformation of the department of civil aviation into a full-fledged civil aviation authority with technical and financial assistance from the European Union.
Historically, KAA started as a military base for the British Colonial Government. Britain constructed an airfield in Kasama during World War I, but it was mostly used during World War II.
It was converted into a civilian aviation facility after the war and used to be one of the destinations for state-run Zambia Airways after Northern Rhodesia gained political independence from Britain on October 24, 1964.
However, the civil aviation industry in Zambia nose-dived after the government of the late second president, Frederick Chiluba, liquidated Zambia Airways in 1994.
To this day, KAA uses the original control tower from when the facility was a military airfield.
Two dome-shaped Nissan huts, common with military facilities, close to the old control tower, signify the origin of the airport as a military base.
One of the huts, in which a fridge has been installed, is used as a bar and restaurant.
Proflight Zambia, the only local airline with scheduled flights to Kasama, has a small office in the newly constructed terminal building.
The airline uses 12-seater Cessna Grand Caravans; the domestic airline has four services from Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Its flights to and from Kasama are through Ndola’s Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport on the Copperbelt.
Kasama was the town where General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, the commander of German and African troops, who had been assigned to defend German East Africa, now Tanzania, agreed to a ceasefire. To remember the dramatic end to World War I in that part of Africa, the British Colonial Government erected a cenotaph there.
A field gun, the type that was used by German soldiers during World War One, is one of the tourist attractions near the airport in Kasama. It is under the custody of the National Heritage Conservation Commission.
The British instructed Von Lettow-Vorbeck, in the company of German commissioned and non-commissioned officers, African troops and porters, to march to Abercorn (now Mbala) on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
The German commander officially surrendered in Mbala on November 25, 1918 and another
cenotaph was constructed there. Tourists can reach that monument in Mbala as the airfield there has been opened for civilian aircraft.
Kasama, with several nearby tourist attractions, is strategically placed between air hubs in South Africa and east Africa and could, therefore, serve as a refuelling point for local and foreign airlines as well as a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.