Our 1st trip to Africa was in 1993. We toured the capital city of Harare, the Eastern Highlands, Victoria Falls and several game parks in what was then one of the continent’s bright spots: Zimbabwe. Among the highlights of that trip was a canoe safari from the dam on manmade Lake Kariba to Chirundu on the Lower Zambezi River, which marks the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was a memorable 3 days floating downstream toward Mozambique, drinking beer while keeping an eye on the crocodiles and hippos on the shoreline or waddling in the shallows. We were instructed not to navigate between a hippo and its escape route to the river’s banks. It is well known that they are responsible for more human fatalities than any other African animal, mosquitoes excluded.
In the 1950’s Zambia and Zimbabwe, along with Nyasaland (now Malawi) were part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a self governing British colony. Independance came in the early 60’s. When we visited in ‘93 Zambia was Zimbabwe’s poor cousin. As of 2017, thanks to the ruinous policies of Robert Mugabe, the country’s respective fortunes have been reversed. On the surface it seems incredible that so many of these African nations fall victim to despotic leaders and corruption. An honest look at human nature and the political systems in place is a step towards an explanation. What is infinitely more incredible is that we can look GNP numbers up on the Google machine while sitting in a tent near a village where getting a cold soft drink is a challenge!
The tour is heading southwest now as we head to Namibia on the Atlantic side of Africa. TDA calls this 7th section of the Tour the Zambezi Zone.
This segment began with a ride out of the Malawian capital of Lilongwe into Zambia: 158 km, yet another border, SIM cards, $ exchange, 2 milkshakes each, a flat tire repair and a swim in the pool (!!!) at camp all before dinner. Continuing along the Great Eastern Road, the major artery to Lusaka, 2 demanding days brought us alongside the Luangwa River. From our camp we could see Mozambique across the river, which flows south into the Zambezi at a point where Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet.
Over beers with Nick, an Irishman here riding with us who has knowledge of local geography and has gone “rogue” on this tour before, noted that we could paddle the 75 km downstream to the Zambezi and relive the memory of yesteryear’s canoe safari. By the look of the villages of huts we have been cycling past, simple roadside vegetable stands and endless sacks of labour intensive charcoal for sale indicating the subsistence farming existence of the local people, it is hard to imagine that much would have changed along the remote shores of the Zambezi in the 26 years since we were there. Indeed, with the troubles in Zimbabwe keeping tourists away, it is quite possible that things may have moved in the wrong direction.
Alas, even if this was a legitimate opportunity for us to go back in time, we are clearly past our “best before date” and have our hands full with the agenda at hand. A couple of days later Nick did find some other takers for an extra curricular route to Lake Kariba, from where they intend to take a ferry and eventually catch up with us at Victoria Falls. We love the initiative.
Zambia’s relative fortune became apparent as we neared Lusaka with signs for a future hospital and a Chinese operated “department store” that didn’t look anything like the primitive villages we had just emerged from. The city itself is clean and modern with outsized shopping malls and a casino all financed by the Chinese. An outspoken taxi driver ranted that the country is being “given away”. Western powers seem to be alarmed at the Chinese influence in the region. Here is a quote from Lubinda Haabazoka, president of the Economics Association of Zambia:
“The Government’s goal is to improve the lives and standard of living for Zambian citizens, to provide them with industry, jobs, hospitals, roads, and build the foundations of an economy that will thrive for a generation. China builds projects on time and offers up the capital to achieve this. It really is that simple. If Europe and America seek to have more skin in the game when it comes to their future geopolitical influence in Africa, then invest, lower trade tariffs, and help us build infrastructure by encouraging your businesses to invest. The ball, as they say, is firmly in their court.”
It is really that simple. Walls? Tariffs? We’ll leave it at that.
The landscape in this country is reminiscent of the Adirondacks in terms of greenery and mountains. The days have been demanding: high mileage, vertical and heat. On the last ride into Pioneer Camp, on the outskirts of Lusaka where we are enjoying a day off, a wrong turn on to a dirt road had us grinding through deep sand for some “bonus” kilometres, suffering in silence. Suddenly, a herd of 20 or so impala sprung across our path, gone as fast as they appeared. Smiling, we pedalled on.
Thanks for reading.