Elias Mwape

Director and CEO, Road Development Agency (RDA)

Elias Mwape, director and CEO of the Road Development Agency (RDA), is paving the way for better trade and accessibility across Africa. Over the last decade, roads in Zambia have significantly improved but as the government turns to international and private public partnerships, Zambians will soon see the completion of key new projects. Here, Mwape discusses the agency’s innovative developments and its strategy to continue supporting Zambia’s fast-growing economy

www.rda.org.zm

What are the Road Development Agency’s main priorities?

The RDA is mandated in the Public Works Act No. 12 of 2002 to provide care and maintenance for Zambia’s public road network. It oversees construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance of roads and bridges and includes quality control. Due to the vast nature of our road network and other competing needs, we are concentrating on a core network of 40,454 km. This is the backbone that will support the country’s socio-economic growth.

As an important feature of the government’s development agenda, we intend to implement various road programmes and projects. Some of these key projects, which we are currently prioritising, include the Link Zambia-8000 Project, the Pave Zambia Project, the Improved Rural Connectivity Project, an aqua bridge project, as well as other projects based on the PPP model across the country. We are also working on upgrading and rehabilitating roads in Lusaka and the Copperbelt region. The total cost for the project in the Copperbelt, which is called the Zambia Township Project, will be around $481 million. There is also the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway, which will also have a significant impact on the country’s transportation network.

 

What is your vision for the future of Zambia’s roads?

Our vision is to assure we deliver a good road network across the country to support socio-economic diversification and reduce poverty. By the time we become a prosperous country, we will have a road network to match. A good road network will improve our access to markets. It is well-known that roads facilitate agriculture, manufacturing and other economic activities. Therefore, the RDA is supporting the government’s agenda to diversify the economy, which is very dependent on copper mining. With a good road network, farmers will be able get their produce to market. Moreover, we can’t further develop our tourism industry without improved roads and the much talked-about industrialisation process cannot happen without having a good road network.

“By the time we become a prosperous country, we will have a road network to match”

The RDA has been in existence for around 15 years. How would you describe the evolution of the country’s roads since then and this agency’s role in making the change happen?

The agency has truly evolved into a forced to be reckoned with since its creation, and for the last 15 years the agency has substantially improved Zambia’s paved road network. The government has taken important steps through the RDA to enhance roads. This can be attested to by the $200 million financial agreement aimed at improving the rural and federal roads within a period of 10 years.

For the first time in the history of Zambia, township roads in parts of Lusaka have received a facelift through a project called the Lusaka 400. In the first phase, we upgraded 365 km of roads, something which caused property values to increase in the city. This was also timely as Zambia is seeing a lot of second-hand vehicles brought in from abroad. We are currently in the second phase, in which we are targeting 160 km of township roads in Lusaka. So far 19 km have been completed.

 

What are some of your key projects that connect Zambia internationally, and why are they important?

Zambia is in the heart of Africa, surrounded by eight neighbours, so having a good road network in this country is especially strategic. Because of this, the government prioritises key trade routes that connect us. This includes the north-south corridor at Kazungula, near Zambia’s border with Botswana, and roads near Nakonde, close to the Tanzanian border.  

Currently, we are focusing on the Kazungula Bridge Project because as things are, traffic is being held up by the Zambezi ferry. This slows down trade, so we are going to construct a bridge over the Zambezi River and a one-stop border facility. This means that if you are travelling from Botswana to Zambia, you will only have to stop once, rather than on both sides of the border. The same goes if you are travelling from Zambia to Botswana. The project will cost about $200 million. It is progressing well and is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2019.

Another major project will create a shorter route to the Port of Mtwara in Tanzania from the east. This is already the best route from Lusaka to Malawi, and it will eventually connect to Mozambique. The government is also looking to develop the western corridor – improving the connection to Walvis Bay in Namibia to facilitate trade.

“Zambia is in the heart of Africa, surrounded by eight neighbours, so having a good road network in this country is especially strategic”

What has been your most significant accomplishment as director of the RDA?

At the top of the list is the Mongu-Kalabo Road. This was a very challenging project. It cost around $286 million, and it’s only 34 kilometres. The floodplain posed a challenge to previous attempts at starting a road there, and we were the first to be able to do so successfully. During the first attempt at building a paved road, it was washed away and resulted in a loss of around $15 million. This time a more robust design was used. It’s a source of pride because it’s a masterpiece of a road.

 

Zambia recently started construction of a $1.2 billion mega-road project to connect the Copperbelt projects in partnership with Chinese financing and companies. How important are these international tie-ups to improve the country’s roads? And are there other opportunities available for international partnerships?

Zambia is the one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and microeconomic policies favour direct investment. International collaboration is key in ensuring that the country taps into global technological knowhow and financing to undertake such mega-projects. As a country, I don’t think we can afford it using our own resources. But it is critical because we are a transit country, so better roads will bolster both inter-regional and national trade. There are many opportunities available for partnerships with the UK. We know from experience that UK companies are very good at providing professional services such as road design, construction and supervision of the roads. We haven’t seen much participation in terms of financing however, so that is another area presenting opportunities for UK investment.  

 

How important are Public Private Partnerships for the country’s road development?

Since the enactment of the PPP Act, we have signed one concession agreement. We would say that it has been successful. This project is just starting and the design is on-going.

INFRASTRUCTURE

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«International collaboration is key in ensuring that Zambia taps into global technological knowhow and financing to undertake such mega-projects»

How has the implementation of more toll booths throughout Zambia helped enhance the system?

The government enacted the Tolls Act to collect revenue on the Zambian road network. This programme started in November 2015, charging heavy road vehicles of more than 6.5 tonnes at points of entry and bridges.  This will enhance local revenue collection, as we can’t construct roads without maintaining them. We’ve designed a maintenance strategy that involves local resources. Tolls have contributed to raising revenues for maintenance in particular, but also for construction. We earned 470 million kwacha in the third quarter of 2017, which is about $47 million.  

 

This year, construction began on the $21 million road in Itezhi-Tezhi and is the first-ever climate-resilient project to be built. Please explain how the agency is incorporating climate resilience and other innovative projects.

Zambia is very vulnerable to climate change and the government has partnered with the African Development Bank to ensure that strategic roads are highly climate resilient. In the case of floods, we want to improve infrastructure so that the roads are not easily washed away. This project began as a pilot project, and now we want to learn more and develop roads that will able to withstand the effects of climate change. Even after construction, we want to make sure that maintenance is sustainable. That’s why we are implementing a model of output performance based on contracting, where the contractor will not only rehabilitate the road, but also maintain it for three years to make sure it is viable. We want to apply this model to the Zambezi basin and other areas of the country that are prone to flooding.

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