EDITORIAL COMMENT: Binga gets a major kick-start for development

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Binga gets a major kick-start for development | Herald (Top Stories)

President Mnangagwa hands over a key to Chief Siansali during the commissioning of fishing rigs at Binga Centre — Picture: Tawanda Mudimu.

Binga has had a hard time for far too long and it is now right that President Mnangagwa has brought it up to the top flight on the to-do list for the Second Republic, whose proud motto is development for everyone with no one left behind, and that includes Binga.

The inherited problems were large. Binga was the extreme south of the Tonga-speaking community, with most of it in Zambia, although the people in that area were able to make a reasonable living with the Zambezi River, using the annual floods to get their fields fertilised and fishing in the river.

One advantage in the colonial era was that the settlers did not want their land. Sleeping sickness made it difficult for cattle ranching and the complexities of crop farming needed a lot of local knowledge.

The climate was hot and malaria needed a great deal of care. But that lack of colonial interest also highlighted the environmental difficulties.

Then came Kariba Dam in the 1950s. This was needed, but very little was done for the people, although a major effort was made to move the game out of the valley that was to be flooded and strenuous efforts were made to clear large areas of valley floor of trees to make a decent fishing ground, again for settlers with boats.

The people were largely dumped on higher ground that was less fertile than the valley floor and except for some missionaries and the odd dedicated official little was done, although chunks of land were reserved for national land, such as the gap between high and low water along the lake shore, which made things more difficult.

Even a vaguely basic road across the district came late and that was mostly gravel.

After independence some efforts were made. For a start education was upgraded and in a very imaginative move the then Minister of Education tackled one serious local problem, the shortage of teachers generally and the serious shortage of Tonga-speaking teachers, particularly in the in primary schools, by opening colleges to anyone from the district who had the basic entry qualification of an O’ Level certificate, even if there were better qualified students from other areas.

A handful of dedicated wildlife and health scientists and technicians made a determined and fairly successful effort to beat back sleeping sickness and malaria and primary health care came to Binga.

But economic development was still dubious, although the road was moderately upgraded, although it is only in the Second Republic that a serious effort has been made to bring the northern national highway up to full standard.

A boat and ferry service down the lake came in, largely as the result of an aid programme, but without the necessary maintenance and replacement programme to back it up.

At least one piece of colonial nonsense was quietly forgotten. Fifty years ago there were even tourist brochures extolling the “primitive” people living in harmony with nature and smoking mbanje, forgetting first the huge dislocation of the creation of the lake and then the appalling colonial health care and education system.

But economic growth has been slow, and although the people were given access to the resources this did not mean that they could exploit them.

President Mnangagwa has been changing this. For a start he became the first head of Government to actually visit the district, and you need the person at the top to see for themselves.

He quickly noticed the “left behind” nature of the district, and having a working knowledge of Tonga picked up in his youth in Zambia must have helped.

For a start practical access, not just theoretical access, to resources was required for economic development. Land reform never came to Binga since there were no large farms to carve up and re-allocate. But there was a lake, a very large lake.

This week he returned, with 25 fishing rigs, not the promise of rigs but the actual rigs floating in the water: his usual insistence on actions not words.

Of these 21 were allocated to communities through chiefs, 17 in Binga district and four to the neighbouring area in western Kariba, with four more allocated to women’s and youth groups. A major start.

There will need to be some juggling with licences and fishing quotas, but these sort of come under the same rules as land reform. These will start pumping cash into communities.

The stop-start development of infrastructure, and Binga has not been immune to the lack of maintenance in recent decades, was seriously addressed with instructions given to end the stopping and push hard with the starting, turning the rather-good expert plans into the roads and the rest.

Binga Rural District Council gets $408 million in devolution funds this year, a good start to the additional local programmes.

The vocational college now moves to the top of the list, so the skills base required for the new economic development can be put in place. Binga people have worked on rigs, just not owned them, so a fair group of skills is available, but they need to be up there at all levels.

One important set of skills is the maintenance and repair of rigs, a sort of never-ending continuous process. The expert can come in for the big stuff, but the day-to-day cleaning and greasing and adjustments have to be available in the crews and done properly.

So just as tractor mechanics and drivers are needed in cropping areas so rig mechanics are needed on the lake.

With money starting to come into the communities all the other businesses that can follow also need skilled people, on site in the villages.

President Mnangagwa even worked on the special linguistic needs with a determination to put a school of nursing into Binga hospital. When you think about it this is a priority.

When you are lying sick in a bed, or being stitched up after an accident or a crocodile bite, you really need a nurse who speaks your language, not just one you might understand at a push.

And that means local people need to be trained as nurses. They are also more likely to remain in the area, so solving two problems with one teaching institution.

The President plans on returning, putting Binga on his regular round of inspections around the country and he made it clear he wants to see significant progress, and we have no doubt he will see that and able to mark his next visit with the next things to be opened or commissioned. Binga is getting the attention it needs.

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