THERE is a street in the heart of Lusaka’s Central Business District (CDB) that surpasses all manner of understanding in the way business is conducted, and this happens on a less than five kilometers stretch of road they call Freedom Way.
Not even freedom, in the strictest meaning of the word can denote the lawlessness, callous, care freeways and attitudes that go with the mayhem that presents every single day.
If liberty, emancipation, release, delivery, pardon, amnesty, extrication, manumission, non-confinement, discharge, reprieve, exception, immunity, relief, absolution, impunity or derogation is the embodiment of what is in the name freedom, then the city fathers ought to quickly think up a new name for this iconic ages old street.
I have heard tales and fables, read quite a bit of the history of the horrors that motorists and pedestrians alike endured as users of the now northern circuit highway they called the hell-run in the 60s; nothing of that perilous and hazardous road comes close in any way to what has become of the modern day Freedom Way.
A special privilege, or right of access, familiarity, name it, I have searched the English dictionary to see what can equate to the state of affairs on this highway in hell, but none can come close to fitting the description of Freedom Way.
For those who may not be too familiar with the geography of Lusaka, Freedom Way is one of the four main streets that form part of the CDB of Lusaka, running parallel to one another in the Northern to Southern direction.
The more familiar of these roads are Cairo road, Cha-Cha- Cha and Lumumba roads. Freedom Way is the last but one street running from the Easterly to the Westerly direction.
In fact, it runs as a dual carriage way spewing motorised traffic into Ben Bella Road in what has over time been called the South end and into Kalambo Road on the North end.
Maybe to start with, my conversation about this iconic road which dates back to adolescent Lusaka, I guess in the early forty’s or somewhere there, is that, it’s existence as a neat quiet road has been compounded by the phenomenon of street vending which arose with the liberalisation of the economy in the early 90s and a population boom thereafter following the demise and mining meltdown of the copper –belt (privatization)
Year after year, the streets of the Lusaka CDB were slowly colonised by this army of street vendors and your guess is as good as mine what the catastrophic fall-out has been.
As early as 2014, the Patriotic Front (PF) government had conceded that indeed there was a problem of street vending in the country which had gone out of control.
Then minister of Local Government and Housing Emmanuel Chenda said his government did not at the time have any policy to guide the operations and management of street vending in Zambia.
He told parliament then that government was consciously thinking about the matter to find the best solution to the problem of street vending that had gone out of hand that, even the construction of a new market would not solve the problem.
”We should be realistic and realise that the matter has grown out of hand, which is why as government, we are investing in a survey that would help control and eradicate street vending in Zambia’s major towns,” he said at the time.
Now, whether that survey was commissioned or it failed to yield the desired results it was intended to bring forth, only the PF can tell us, and except, of course, for what we are seeing today, we can only conclude.
The vexing problem of street vending brought forth brisk trade not only in the sale of green vegetables, but, the sale of food stuffs that include fresh dairy products such as beef, pork, fresh fish, name it.
Of utmost concern was the illicit trade of alcohol ranging from opaque beer, hard home -made brews such as Kachasu, spirits, (Tujilijili) and of course open trade in hard substances such as cannabis and yes indeed, cocaine and other psychotropic substances.
With such large numbers of traders on the streets come the issues of hygiene. The design of the old city of Lusaka only provided for one set of public conveniences, and that is on the Katondo street near the Lusaka Hotel. This in essence, meant that, there was a serious crisis on our hands. Where did the growing army of vendors withdraw to seek the services of toilets?
The alley ways became the first point of call for the call of nature. These areas became the new halls of stink and filth, posing yet another health calamity on our hands. That still remains a nightmare for both the city fathers and health authorities. It is a wonder that such hygiene and water borne diseases have eluded the city for a while now.
Crime is one of the attendant issues that have arisen with street vending. Dare not leave your car doors unlocked as you slowly meander in the clogged street, or in a carefree way engage in conversation with your phone pinned on your earlobe because you soon become a statistic in one of the Police posts dotted around the city Centre. It is no hogwash, it is that real, it is a fact nobody can deny.
And yet with all this, what everyone seems to forget sometimes, all the time including myself, is that the issue of street vending has evolved into a delicate political leveraging point. Both the opposition and sometimes the ruling politicians have tried to use this latent power base to their advantage and hooray! the illegal vendors turn out to stay, they are always the winners.
Have you not ever wonder that, no sooner than the authorities make a policy statement on the way out of this quagmire, than there is a counter decision made superseding one made earlier; usually citing human rights, consideration of other sources of bread and butter issues, hence a softer approach, more humane manner to dealing with the menace.
All is good, and yet the problem remains and the vending continues. And as long as we continue to buy this or that from the street vendors, we are all in for the long haul.
Along with the street vending comes the problem of congestion caused by no other than our beloved mini- buses and their beloved side-kicks, the ngwa-ngwazis or call boys.
To illustrate this, I will give you a snippet of what a may call a snippet of my routine to the office which is housed in the heart of the city along the now infamous Freedom Way.
Not a bad street but the most affected as far as congestion is concerned.
Every morning I start my journey from the suburbs of Kabulonga/Ibex Hill and if you are lucky to weave through traffic on the Kabulonga Road onto the Los Angeles Boulevard behind State House, into Longacres round Addis Ababa roundabout and onto the Great East Road in 30 or 40 minutes, you are having a good day.
The snake of traffic at Northmead into town is slow but constant. Your nightmare begins to show if up ahead, the snake of traffic literally stops at the North-end fly over bridge, then you know.
It will take you another 15 minutes or so to clear that stretch between the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) headquarters to the far reaching ends of the road joining Lumumba road.
I have deliberately left out the turn into Freedom Way from that side of town because entering that road running South bound to hope to take a turn into the opposite way of the dual- carriage way is committing to have to stay on the road for another hour before you reach the Head office of the Times Printpak offices.
Lumumba road offers a better option because as you turn left at the traffic lights and into a filter-lane that runs down into the Westgate mall and back onto Freedom Way that offers a quicker route, but still not the best.
The congestion caused by these city buses well at least a few are will give you a bad case of road rage, you can never imagine. And all this, thanks to some rude, uncouth ill-mannered temperamental drivers who in their minds think, they rule the drive ways, They behave like they were all born from the same mother, well, at least a few are courteous.
And yes of course, your guess just as good as mine, where are all the road traffic policemen. You see them alright, they will engage in some conversation with the truant drivers, but as soon as one is booked, does the next bus commit a similar offence.
I was cutting through the Lumumba filter lane right behind the Auto-World shop when a bus suddenly stopped in front of me. Already enraged by an earlier incident by a driver of a bus, I blared my horn at the guy.
With no concern that he had parked just in front of me in the middle of the road, he opened his door, seemingly unoblivious about my protest. He walked past me, ignoring me as he strutted on to my shock. He approached the Police officer I had just by-passed, they exchanged some pleasantries, I say so because a hearty laugh reverberated between them as he again walked past me and jumped into his bus, the mused cop following slowly, beaming with a wide grin on his face.
I beckoned to the officer to complain about the delay and his complete full answer to me was that he also did not understand why the driver he had just had a good laugh with was parked in the middle of the road. By now, the traffic build up behind me was long with enraged drivers blowing their hooters in chorus.
And casually the driver drove off with nothing resembling a caution from the policeman.
As I took a few deep breaths to contain my fury, I was soon confronted by a taxi-driver coming in the wrong and opposite way of what was a one lane filter, I was livid.
As if not enough, on the right side of my vehicle, was a lanky youth driving a huge specially designed wheelbarrow laden with a heap of yellow ripened bananas towards my car. I knew that it was not by the sheer strength of his small body that he was pushing his load, but that gravity, and the gradient was helping him sprint at that pace.
In any moment now, there was going to be a thud on my car in the collision with the banana cart. For some reason in the bank of my conscious I was humming Harry Belafonte’s 1960’ Banana boat song. The Cart man suddenly thudded down his wares to a screeching halt, but the momentum sent some of them flying onto the bonnet of the car. Close call.
Meanwhile on my drivers’ side, a young woman with beads of perspiration forming on her brow was sticking her roasted maize in my face. I tried to be polite as I could and tried to force a smile when she blurted out to me to just buy her maize to support her. For crying out loud, I had just finished a huge bowl of maize meal porridge at home.
The panacea of the problem as a quick fix; let Mr (Lemmy) Kajoba send more of his traffic men in the area. And as for you and I who cannot resist the wares in the Freedom Way stores, or for those whose offices reside there, take a walk.
There is no better freedom than to join the dance the hypnotic dare devils who dare roam the Freedom Way.