Nairobi to Lusaka, Part II

Dar es Salaam is a pleasant town in late June. I had only been there once before, back in 2011 when I stayed for a day and a half to catch the Tazara. I didn’t like it then because of the heat and humidity (humidity is up there with cats – I am allergic – on the list of things I cannot stand). But this time round it was nice, I managed to walk around town marveling at the pillars of concrete and glass that are rising up in every corner of the city. The construction boom puts even Nairobi to shame, enough to make me think that the suggestions that Tanzania may soon eclipse Kenya as the place where all the action is in East Africa are not that far fetched after all (see image and this piece).  Image

My only complaint was that a prime section of the beach front still remains under-utilized, although this might be because of the presidential palace nearby. I hear you can’t drive there at certain times of the day (Stop channeling Mugabe, Bwana Kikwete. Also, let Chadema be). Oh, and I did manage to drive on the Kibaki road. I thought it was a new road, but it is not. Sections of it are actually pretty bad. Apparently, the Tanzanian government is planning an upgrade soon. I also drove past Mwalimu Nyerere’s home. It made me respect the man even more.

I arrived in Dar late on Tuesday night after many hours of travel by bus. On Thursday morning I was scheduled to continue with the second leg of the journey to Lusaka. I was at the bus stop by 5:45 AM, still sleepy. I had stayed up late the previous night, watching the Confederation Cup matches of the day, reading and writing my Saturday column. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my seat.

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Dar’s public housing units. For a moment I thought that the choice of color was meant to discourage applicants. Until I saw the pink public housing headquarters. Some of the units are in really nice parts of town.

The bus left the station promptly at 6:15 AM. Tanzania is huge. From Dar es Salaam to the Tunduma border is about 931 kilometres. The drive to the Zambian border took a total of 16 hours.

As I said in the previous post on this trip, I regretted taking the bus. If you want to travel overland between Dar and Lusaka, take the train. It is a million times more pleasant. There is a restaurant and a bar (that serves Tusker) on the train. There are bathrooms. And you have a bed. Plus the train is just slow enough that you can read and truly appreciate the empty Tanzanian countryside.

But the trip wasn’t all gloomy. The scenery was still enjoyable. Sections of Tanzania are quite hilly, with amazing views of cliffs and rivers and rock formations. At some point past Iringa I saw what seemed to be the biggest tree plantation in the world. For miles and miles all I could see were rows and rows of trees. And when there were no trees there were rows and rows of sisal. Someone is making bank off the land in that part of the country.

Also, western Tanzania is a lesson on how hard it is to achieve economic development in the context of a sparsely populated country. Such situations make it impossible to reach everyone with the grid and water pipes. Either the government has to wait for demographics to work its magic (again, see figure above – and be sure to check out this story on the Africa-driven demographic future of the world) or provide smart incentives to accelerate the process of urbanization.

For those who went to high school in Kenya, journeying by land through Tanzania reminded me of Ken Walibora’s Siku Njema. I felt like I was retracing the steps of Kongowea Mswahili. Some day I would like to go back and spend some time in Morogoro and Iringa. By the way, Siku Njema is by far the best Swahili novel I have ever read (which reminds me that it has been eight years since I read a Swahili novel. Suggestions are welcome, preferably by Tanzanian authors). It is about time someone translated it into English for a wider audience.

We reached Tunduma some minutes past 10 PM. The border crossing to Nakonde on the Zambian side was closed. Some passengers on the bus left to rent out rooms for the night. I decided to tough it out on the bus with the crew and a few other guys. Desperate for something warm to eat, I had chicken soup and plain rice for dinner. The “restaurant” reminded me of the place in Tamale, Ghana where Vanessa and I got food poisoning two months earlier. But I was desperate. I quickly ate my hot soup and rice and hoped for the best.

ImageI crossed the border early in the morning on foot. The bus had to wait in line for inspection and to pay duty for its cargo (It is at this point that I learned that the bus was actually going all the way to Harare in Zimbabwe). I am usually very careful with money changers, but perhaps because of my tiredness and lack of sleep the chaps in Nakonde got me.

If you ever cross to Nakonde on foot wait until you are on the Zambian side to exchange cash at the several legit forex stores that line the streets.

The bus finally got past customs at noon (on Friday). In Nakonde we waited for another two hours for more passengers and cargo.

I took the time to get some food supplies. Lusaka was another 1019 kilometres away. 

By this time I was dying to have a hot shower and be able to sleep in a warm bed. It was cold. Like serious cold. And Lusaka was still another 14 hours away.

I slept lightly through most of the 14 odd hours. In between I chatted with two Kenyan guys that were apparently immigrating to South Africa, with little more than their two bags. They said that this was their second attempt. The previous time they found work in Lusaka and decided to stay for a bit before going back to Nairobi. They were part of the bulk of passengers from Nakonde who were going all the way to Harare. Apparently, this is the route of choice for those who immigrate from eastern and central Africa into South Africa in search of greener pastures.

Before it got dark we saw several overturned trucks on the road. I slept very lightly, always waking up in a panic every time the driver braked or swerved while overtaking a truck just in time to avoid oncoming traffic. My only source of comfort was the fact that the driver was a middle aged man, most likely with a family to take care of and therefore with a modicum of risk aversion.

I arrived in Lusaka at around 4 AM, more than three days and 2871 kilometres since leaving Nairobi.

I said goodbye to my two Kenyan countrymen and rushed out of the bus as soon as I could. On the way to my hotel I couldn’t stop thinking how much I would like to read an ethnography of the crew of the bus companies (and their passengers and cargo) that do the Dar to Harare route.

At Lusaka Hotel that morning I had the best shower I had had in a very long time. And slept well past check out time. I had two months of fieldwork and travel in Zambia to look forward to.

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TAZARA Pictures (Preview, see link to original post and more pictures below)

Richard White's Railroaded proved to be an appropriate reading for the trip

Leaving Dar es Salaam

Most of the two-day ride was across the empty countryside

Mbeya is the biggest station before Kapiri. We broke down here for almost 5 hours

Of course the picture collection wouldn't be complete without the African sunset

Just a reminder of who built the railway line

Kapiri Mposhi, final stop on the TAZARA line

The original post is here. More of the pictures are here.

Sata is Zambia’s president-elect

NB: Still hoping from airport to airport and will give my reaction to the Sata victory when I finally get back to Palo Alto on Friday evening Pacific Time.

Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front is the new president of Zambia. Mr. Sata beat incumbent president Banda after getting 43% of the declared results in the just concluded general elections in Zambia.

As was expected, the high turnout (from the numbers I have, low 60s), favored Mr. Sata. In the last election turnout was a dismal 45%.

For more of this read the Post.

 

outcome of Zambian elections remains uncertain

The Zambian elections remain a toss up.

So why is this so?

See this earlier post for reasons why the opposition might fail to dislodge MMD from power.

In addition, it is hard to tell what will happen because of PF’s campaign strategy of “don’t kubeba” (don’t tell them). Realizing that it is being outspent by spades in the election, PF has adopted a tactic of actively encouraging Zambians to falsify their party preferences. They’ve urged their supporters to attend MMD rallies, take their money and chitenges but not tell them who they are voting for. It remains to be seen if this strategy has achieved its goal or not.

Here are a few scenarios that might play out in tomorrow’s polls:

  • High turnout with PF winning: A high turnout will definitely favor the opposition Patriotic Front (PF). With a high turnout the party will be able to run up the numbers in urban centres and give the ruling party, MMD, no chance of making up for the gap with rural votes.
  • High turnout with MMD winning: An MMD victory after a high turnout will create a tricky situation. The numbers would simply not add up. Mr. Banda has lost enough ground in the last several months (including most crucially in Western Province over the Barotse Land Agreement) to make it very difficult for him to win after a high turnout. This scenario presents a high likelihood of violence in urban areas and particularly in the Copperbelt.
  • Low turnout: A low turnout will almost certainly result in an MMD victory. With a low turnout the PF will not get enough votes to beat MMD’s overwhelming presence in the rural areas. There will also be little likelihood of violence since voters will have revealed their preference for the status quo. This is not an entirely strange outcome since the Zambian economy has averaged a growth rate of over 6% in the last three years.

It is hard to tell which scenario will play out tomorrow. It all hinges on the turnout numbers.

more on the zambian elections

Check out African Arguments for a brief backgrounder.

The election remains too close to call, which means that Banda is winning.

Given how stacked things are against the opposition, they can only win if they do so convincingly. If it is close (like it was in 2008 when the president won by just over 30,000 votes) the electoral commission will be under immense pressure to hand the ruling party, MMD, the win.

Mr. Sata (the main opposition (PF) candidate) has urged his supporters to stay at polling stations to monitor the tallying and relay of results. I understand there will be an NGO-led parallel vote tallying (but which won’t be publicized because of govt. sanctions). I hope I can get a hold of these results before the end of the week. The electoral commission of Zambia has promised to release the results within 48 hours of the polls closing – that is Thursday evening.

In Lusaka everything is slowing down in readiness for the elections. There is a sense that there will be isolated violence in some parts of the city but nothing too serious. From what I gather the Copperbelt is the region most at risk of election-related violence. People there have (or believe that they do) the most to gain if PF wins (The Copperbelt is also majority Bemba. Mr. Sata is a Bemba speaker).

The MMD’s privatization drive (of the mining sector) since the early 1990s has hit this region the most. Many lost their sinecures in parastatals;  free medicare and schooling disappeared; and there is also a sense that foreigners are benefiting at the expense of ordinary Zambians in the region. Mr. Sata has promised to channel more resources from the mining sector into social programs and a more aggressive job drive.

This is largely campaign hot air but it appears to be sticking. The MMD will be lucky if it gets even a single parliamentary seat in the Copperbelt.

Zambian Elections

UPDATE:

The conference (organized by the SADC observer mission and donors) on the upcoming elections was a non-starter, with only Neo Simutanyi (Zambia’s preeminent political scientist), giving a talk that had significance. The rest of the conference was full of NGO-ese hot air. None of the major political parties had representation at the conference, even though this was SADC’s “fact finding” conference about the state of play in the elections.

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Zambians will go to the polls next Tuesday.

According to the latest (and most reliable) opinion poll conducted by the Center for Policy Dialogue President Banda is leading the pack with 41%, followed closely by Sata at 38%.

I am attending a mini-conference tomorrow on the elections (academics, observers, NGOs, political parties, etc will be in attendance) and will report back after I get views from those closely involved.

The poll cited above predicts an MMD victory for the following reasons:

  • Incumbency advantage: MMD is using state resources, including government workers, in its campaigns. Road repairs are all over the place, with Banda’s picture and the words “Your Money at Work”, on billboards next to every project.
  • Divided opposition: Mr. Banda is polling a dismal 41%. A PF-UPND united front would almost certainly guarantee a victory for the opposition. But egos and personality politics remain a key barrier to opposition unity in Zambia. Some have claimed that MMD and UPND have a clandestine pact to deny PF victory in the polls. Post-election coalition building will reveal the veracity of these claims.
  • Opposition has ignored rural areas: In many parts of the rural areas you would be mistaken to think that MMD is the only party taking part in the elections. MMD posters and campaigners are everywhere. The opposition has, however, mostly concentrated its efforts in the urban areas. I recently had a chat with a PF operative who admitted that they strategy is to run up the numbers in the urban areas so that even if Banda rigs the rural vote he still won’t be able to beat them. The PF’s target number among urban voters is 2.7 million. There are slightly over 5.1 million registered voters in Zambia. Interestingly, there will be about 2.3 million new voters who did not take part in the last presidential election (turnout was a dismal 41%. Banda was elected president by only 18% of registered voters!!).
  • Fear of Sata: Underneath all the campaigning there is the fear that Sata is unpredictable and dictatorial. Many in the private sector fear that he might try to change things too fast and end up messing up everything. Some admit that they will vote for Banda merely for the sake of continuity.

I agree.

An MMD victory will however be a blow to the consolidation of Zambian democracy.

Since dislodging UNIP from power in 1991, MMD has increasingly become autocratic. Intolerance of the opposition and One-Party-Rule mentality is back in vogue. Indeed, many in its ranks are former members of President Kaunda’s court, including Vernon Mwaanga – derisively known locally as “Master dribbler” – who is notorious for being the brain behind MMD’s electoral manipulations.

Many of the founders of MMD have since decamped to PF.

Zambian elections

The Zambian elections will be held on the 20th of this month.

The main candidates are incumbent President Rupiah Banda (RB) and opposition leader Michael Sata (Sshhh, don’t kubeba). The two are running on the MMD (movement for multiparty democracy) and PF (Patriotic Front) tickets respectively. Both parties have fielded parliamentary candidates in all constituencies. PF is widely expected to take the urban areas and most of the developed parts of the country. MMD’s stronghold is in the rural areas.

Many on the streets of Lusaka and other parts of the country – well mostly along the railway line coming down from Nakonde – believe that it will be a close election.

They also think that if it were truly a clean election Sata would win.

MMD knows this and has been distributing chitenge and other goodies like there is no tomorrow. This has prompted PF’s slogan of don’t kubeba (don’t tell them); which asks voters to take the chitenges and money but not tell MMD that they are truly PF. I have seen pictures of women in the Post in which women have two chitenges on: a PF one covered by an MMD one.

Because of the deep skepticism over the integrity of the upcoming elections many in Lusaka think that there might be disturbances if PF does not win.

More on this soon.

THE TAZARA (TOTAL TIME: 2 DAYS 1 HOUR 26 MINUTES)

UPDATE: The photos to accompany this post can be found here.

Note: I will post some photos to accompany this post as soon as I get to a place with a faster internet connection. The post is from Friday, September 2nd.

Over the last two days I have been on the TAZARA from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri-Mposhi. The ride lived up to my expectations, despite the many unexplained delays along the way – the longest was a 4-hour wait in Mbeya (where we stopped either to have the engine serviced or wait for the other train from Zambia).

The train was rather old and showed years, if not decades, of disrepair. That said it was clean and livable. The sleeper coaches had two bunk beds each and were swept twice over the whole journey. They had pillows, a bed sheet and a blanket for the beds. The bathrooms were cleaned every few hours by the tireless crew. The train had lounge and restaurant cars. The lounge had a bar with an assortment of beers from Kenya and Tanzania (I had Tusker the whole way). The restaurant had a limited menu of rice or chips and beef or chicken. In the morning they served breakfast of egg, sausage and sliced bread with tea. Food is served both in the restaurant and in the passenger cars.

The view along the way was fantastic. The Tanzanian side was sparsely populated while the Zambian side was almost empty. We were unfortunate to pass through Selous Reserve (in Tanzania) during the night so we didn’t see any wild animals on the way. Perhaps the ride from Zambia back to Dar passes through the reserve whilst the sun is still up. But animals aren’t the only natural attraction on the Dar-Kapiri line.

The stunning beauty of the Tanzanian and Zambian countryside more than made up for not having seen any wildlife. The sunrise and sunsets were spectacles to behold. The mountains and rolling hills also provided great views. And then there are the smooth endless rides across the plains of northern Zambia between Mpika and Serenje and again onwards toward Kapiri-Mposhi. 

The ride also exposes the endemic poverty in rural Tanzania and Zambia. Quite frankly this was the low-point of the two days.

And it is not just the grass-thatched structures that betrayed their occupier’s meager incomes. At every stop kids with their whole bodies covered in dust would run along the tracks screaming “kopo kopo” (kopo is Swahili for bottle) in a rather bizarre re-enactment of The gods Must be Crazy. People on the train threw empty water bottles, sweets and other items at the kids. Some of them begged for money from the handful of passengers on first and second class cars in the rear of the train.

Day One (Tuesday-Wednesday): 



The departure from Dar was delayed.

The previous day I had missed my Akamba bus out of Nairobi in the morning (I overslept and even my older brother’s valiant attempt to get me there on time did not help) and so had to fly to Dar in order to not miss the Tuesday afternoon train. I arrived in Dar on Monday at around 2 PM in the afternoon. Traffic was terrible. I could not find accommodation at the first three places I checked. The fourth place looked rather sketchy – enough to spook even a true Nairobian like me.

So I settled for the pricier Rainbow Hotel close to downtown. The room was very nice – it had a hot shower, air-conditioning and satellite TV. It also had an over-priced restaurant on the second floor that served very well made Indian food. 

On arrival in Dar and before going on my hotel hunt I asked the Taxi driver to take me to the train station so I could book my ticket for the next day. The lady at the counter calmly told me that the train was fully booked (first class) until the following Tuesday.

I did not have a week to spend in Dar so I pleaded with her, to no avail. She directed me to the coach class counter with the option of upgrading to first class along the way. I was not wiling to risk sitting in coach for two days. So I bought a first class ticked for the 6th of September (a week later) but decided to try my luck anyway the following day (Tuesday) in case there were any cancellations.

The next day the same taxi driver drove me to TAZARA two hours before the 2 PM reporting time. He then asked one of the luggage handlers if there was any way we could get a ticked before the 2 PM departure time. The man directed us to the office of the stationmaster. It is in there that the lady in charge called the ticket office and asked the person on the other end of the line to sell one Ken Opalo a ticket in first class for the 2 o’clock train. She then took my other ticket. No questions asked.

Because of my desperation to take the TAZARA, I had just been robbed of US $80. Thanks very much TAZARA.

It turns out this is an elaborate scheme: The lady at the counter puts up a sign saying that tickets are sold out until the following weak at which point passengers must see the stationmaster and pay a premium for available tickets. This elaborate scheme has its glitches. For half the trip we had in my compartment a guy who had been sold a ticket in a women only compartment. He slept on the couches in the lounge car the first night.

Departure time was 4.30 PM. In just under two hours dusk was upon us and with it came the darkness that is the African countryside at night. I tried reading but promptly fell asleep. I was however woken up by the loud snoring for the guy on the top bunk and couldn’t go back to sleep for the better part of the long stop at a town called Mrimba.

Wednesday morning I was up by 6.30 AM. I read until the breakfast guy came to the compartment. Thereafter I continued reading until the 4-hour stop at Mbeya where I managed to get off the train and stretch my legs. After Mbeya I went to hang out in the lounge and read a bit more until it was dinner time. By the time the sun set I was so tired that I fell asleep as soon as I finished dinner.

Day Two (Thursday):

Thursday morning I woke up at 5.35 AM. One of the guys in my compartment was getting off at Kasama. He and I had build a sense of camaraderie since leaving Dar es Salaam several hours earlier. He is a globe-trotting businessman and evangelist from Kasama – the Capital of Zambia’s Northern Province. He passionately assured me that Michael Sata will win the Zambian presidential election in three weeks and that the opposition “will not accept anything but victory.” The opposition slogan is “Don’t Kubeba” or don’t say.

The main opposition party is urging its supporters to take all the government money being dished out but not say who they’ll vote for. We helped him offload his many bags and gifts for his family through the window of our compartment. The train then left for Mpika.

Northern Zambia is mostly empty. For hours upon hours we did not see much except trees and the occasional telephone masts and power lines. Human settlements were rare and far in between. The long monotonous ride offered me time to read Railroaded by Stanford’s Richard White. The book provides an excellent account of the political economy of the development of North America’s great transcontinental railroads – I believe that at its inception in the 1970s TAZARA had the same dreams of linking the continent of Africa from coast to coast.

Soon the lunch waiter came knocking. At this point the ware of being in a loud and shaky contraption for almost two whole days was beginning to show. People were quieter. The train was emptier. Everyone was dying to get to Kapiri-Mposhi. I had my last meal on the train – kuku na wali. I then went back to reading in anticipation of the last stop at Kapiri-Mposhi. Even the fact that I still had another leg of the journey to Lusaka (this time by bus) and that I had not yet confirmed my accommodation once I got there did not interfere with my sense of accomplishment. In a few hours I was about to have endured one of the longest train rides in the world.

We arrived at Kapiri-Mposhi at 4.56 PM. The whole journey had take exactly 2 days 1 hour and 26 minutes. The two days without a shower or change of clothes was definitely worth it.

Now I had to endure another one and a half hour bus ride to Lusaka.

As I mentioned above the train schedule was rather unpredictable. But I managed to note down the times on which we arrived at some of the main stations along the way. Here is the schedule for the August 30th train from Dar to Kapiri-Mposhi:

Dar es Salaam 4:30 PM

Nzenga 5:38 PM

Watu 6.00 PM

Kisaki 8.21 PM

Mrimba 11:30 PM

Makambako 8:30 AM

Kangaga 10.08 AM

Rujewa 10:30 AM

Inyala 1:28 PM
Yore 1:53 PM

Mbeya 2:14 PM (we stopped here for 4 hours!!)

Mabrizi 6:33 PM

Idiga 7:05 PM

Tanduma-Nakonde 10:00 PM (Tan-Zam border. We left at 11.15 PM)

Kasama 5.35 AM (Central African Time. The rest of the times below are also CAT)

Mpika 8.45 AM

Kalonje 10.23 AM

Serenje 1.03 PM

Kapiri-Mposhi 4.56 PM

TOTAL TIME: 2 DAYS 1 HOUR 26 MINUTES