The ‘New Dawn’ government has made progress in tackling issues like lawlessness by party cadres in markets and on roads, but pockets of disorder persist. This includes unauthorised trading in disregard of planning laws and regulations.

An additional aspect of lawlessness in Lusaka involves vehicle repairs taking place on the streets and other unauthorised locations. This includes mechanics repairing vehicles and overhauling engines along roads like Freedom Way and Panganani area.

In the outskirts, there is a common phenomenon of illegal sale of petroleum products, often siphoned from trucks or tankers along the highway.

Life in Lusaka

Twenty-five-year-old Isaac Banda, lives in Kababana Township in Lusaka. For the past two years, he has been working as a hawker along the railway line.

Banda primarily selling groceries and some clothing, earns between K100 and K300 per day.

However, Banda is not the only one engaging in informal trading in Lusaka, Zambia's capital.

Another individual is 22-year-old Lastone Mubanga, a resident of Kabanana Township, who operates a makeshift stall less than a metre away from the rail track, where he has been selling clothes for two years.

Living with his parents, Mubanga earns about K300 per day from clothing sales and aims to pursue studies in clinical medicine once he has saved enough from his business.

He perceives the location as advantageous due to the high human traffic and does not anticipate any risks associated with trading there.

Widespread illegal trading

Trading in undesignated places is widespread in towns across the country, with its effects especially pronounced in the capital city of Lusaka and other major urban centres.

In Lusaka, notorious trading hotspots are evident along the railway line and under electricity pylons within the city.

Traders are congested near the south-end flyover bridge, and makeshift 'garages' have emerged along Freedom Way and Panganani area in the central business district.

The persistent prevalence of lawlessness presents a considerable challenge to the advancements made by the 'new dawn' government in eradicating cadrerism and political hooliganism, efforts that have contributed to establishing a sense of orderliness in the city.

Although traders like Banda and others acknowledge the inherent risks of trading in such locations, they feel compelled to persist in order to sustain their livelihoods.

"We're aware of the dangers, but we have no alternative," Banda affirmed.

Beyond being a catalyst for disease outbreaks like cholera and a challenge to law and order, this lawlessness also poses a significant risk of deterring potential investors, whose contributions Zambia greatly relies on for the country's development.

The chaos

A typical daily scene at the makeshift market near the flyover bridge at Kamwala is characterised by thousands of traders encroaching upon the railway line, selling a wide range of merchandise from clothing to groceries.

Some of these traders operate as hawkers, while others have erected permanent structures with blatant disregard for regulations, leaving minimal space for trains to pass through.

The traders' primary concern appears to be survival rather than safety, as they continue to trade in such hazardous conditions despite the associated risks.

Commuter bus operators

Another notable aspect of lawlessness involves commuter buses picking up passengers from undesignated locations.

In Lusaka, there seems to be a relaxation among police officers who previously enforced regulations to prevent drivers from picking up passengers on the streets. This leniency has allowed the practice to resurface.

The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) previously conducted operations in Lusaka to deter public service vehicle (PSV) drivers from picking up and dropping off passengers at undesignated spots.

Although these efforts temporarily restored order, the problem quickly returned once RTSA officers ceased patrolling the area.

Mukela Mangolwa, acting head of public relations at RTSA, attributes the challenge of addressing this issue to insufficient manpower.

“Towards the end of last year, we carried out an operation in Lusaka targeting PSV drivers picking passengers from undesignated places, which is rampant in the CBD. The idea was to curb the vice but RTSA doesn’t have enough numbers to tackle the challenge,” explained Mangolwa.

“If we had the numbers, we would carry out the operation 24/7. There have in fact been calls from government for us to do more and this is what we would like to do by recruiting more officers,” he added.

He revealed that the agency also plans to implement smart enforcement measures, targeting not only speeding motorists but all other violations of road traffic regulations.

Mangolwa disclosed that the agency has introduced a fleet safety management policy, which mandates every transport operator to develop and uphold. This policy includes ensuring that drivers receive adequate training and maintain professional conduct.

Are the police fueling lawlessness?

In the outskirts, there's a common phenomenon of illegal sale of petroleum products, often siphoned from trucks or tankers along the highway.

In Liteta village, a well-known illegal fuel vendor, operates barely 200 meters from Liteta Police Station, selling petrol at K75 for a minimum of 2.5 litres and diesel at K125 for five litres, decanted from highway trucks.

Elvis Mwenda, (identity protected for safety concerns), hailing from Kasukwe in Chibombo, is another fuel retailer, sourcing supplies from tankers that divert into disused pits near regular police checkpoints, reportedly with police cooperation. 

“Sometimes they (police officers) even buy petrol from us but the problem is that they impose a price of K120 per five litres,” he said.

Police’s response

MakanDay asked the police regarding the perceived lack of action in addressing illegal fuel vending and potential collusion with vendors.

However, Zambia police spokesperson, Rae Hamoonga, refuted allegations that the police are turning a blind eye to these illegalities.

“We have been raiding those areas and we will continue conducting raids because that is the only way we can police that activity. But as you may know, it is easy for those people (vendors) to regroup," Hamoonga said.

"With regard to the illegal vending spot near Liteta Police Station, we have brought the issue to the attention of the Central Province Division," he added.

Hamoonga acknowledged distance as a hurdle to effectively police illegal fuel vending.

On the Kapiri Mposhi - Ndola Road lies another prominent makeshift 'fueling station' that has operated with impunity for decades.

The operation at Kalokoshi between Masangano and Ndola is so extensive and conspicuous that it cannot escape the notice of law enforcement agencies.

It is rumoured that even police vehicles sometimes refuel from this unauthorised 'fueling station'.

"Some mistakenly assume that police officers procure fuel from illegal vendors, unaware that they would have just conducted a raid, during which the fuel is seized. We do not turn a blind eye to this issue,” Hamoonga clarified.

Despite sufficient legislation aimed at curbing the illegal vending of fuel and other petroleum products, such operations continue to thrive.

Namukolo Kasumpa, public relations manager at the Energy Regulation Board (ERB), said that in accordance with the Energy Regulation Act No.12 of 2019, illegal fuel vending is strictly prohibited.

She added that to comprehensively combat this issue, ERB, in collaboration with other government agencies, had established the Anti-Illegal Fuel Vending Committee.

This committee includes representatives from ERB, law enforcement agencies, and security wings such as the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC), Zambia Revenue Authority, Zambia Police Service, as well as the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.

Political expediency fueling lawlessness

Despite President Hakainde Hichilema's declaration of a crackdown on lawlessness regardless of the perpetrator, there is a noticeable inertia among relevant authorities.

This raises questions about whether political expediency, particularly the ruling party's fear of losing popularity and, consequently, elections, is a contributing factor.

Vincent Lilanda, president of the Local Government Association of Zambia (LGAZ) and also the mayor of Mazabuka, observed that restoring sanity is a significant challenge that requires cooperation from all stakeholders.

Lilanda specifically cites the issue of vendors in relation to disease outbreaks such as cholera.

"The council alone cannot manage to address the issue of vendors. So, we encourage all stakeholders and political players to cooperate," he stressed. "Some political players are engaging in cheap politics at the expense of human lives. We are fortunate that this time there is political will to restore sanity, which we must capitalise on.”

Government’s plan

According to Local Government and Rural Development Minister Garry Nkombo, there is still hope for eliminating lawlessness and restoring order.

“It is a matter of time. We are alive to the fact that people need to make a living, hence we request citizens to co-operate because we don’t need to go into battle (engage in conflict),” Nkombo said.

As part of efforts to restore order, Nkombo revealed that the government will initiate urban renewal.

“Starting with Kanyama, we are embarking on urban renewal which will entail redesign and relocating people,” said Nkombo.

Lawlessness prevails. Traders demand priority over safety, even at the expense of train traffic. Mubanga, who runs a makeshift stall perilously close to the railway, defends his choice, citing the high foot traffic as beneficial for business and dismissing any safety concerns.

"We're safe here; the train always slows down when it's nearby," Mubanga claims confidently.

Photo credit | Jean Mandela