IMPALILA - Cruising in a boat en-route to the Island of Impalila situated at the confluence of two mighty rivers, Zambezi and Chobe, is a utopian experience of unimaginable proportions, but not for locals who feel they have been pushed to the periphery for far too long.
Impalila Island, with over 2 000 inhabitants and once chosen as the location for a multi-million-dollar hotel by late American superstar Michael Jackson, is a sanctuary rich in breath-taking landscape, lush vegetation and a variety of animal species with bustling tourism. However, that splendour does not seem to trickle down to the ordinary residents, who remain cut off from mainstream economic services and have endured that reality for over two decades.
Residents have voiced their discontent with the low levels of development in the area, noting that most of the projects that were planned, some as far back as 10 years ago, remain a pipedream. They note that this situation has continued despite residents’ willingness to give up their land for development.
Residents raised these concerns when they met Members of Parliament from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics and Public Administration, who visited them last week to inspect capital projects.
According to the chairperson of the village development committee at Impalila, Brian Kalonda, many projects remain unimplemented despite several promises from officials to complete them.
“We have seen no notable development in Impalila since independence. The road we were promised from Nakabolelwa did not reach Impalila. The inland road remains in a very poor state despite promises made that it will be tarred 10 year ago. We do not have electricity, we only heard that it ended at Ivilivinzi and nobody seems to care about Impalila. We have no access to NBC TV and the radio signal is equally poor,” lamented Kalonda.
Another resident, Dupont Situmbeko, concurred, adding that government offices would not function properly without basic services such as potable water, roads and electricity.
“The road is extremely bad. We are trying to address a lot of challenges ourselves but we want government to meet us halfway. Offices cannot function properly without good road infrastructure and electricity. The road is totally impassable during the rainy season,” complained the retired diplomat.
Kalonda also noted that despite numerous calls for the introduction of border passes for the residents, such appeals have fallen on deaf ears, making it difficult for those who cannot afford to renew their passports occasionally.
He further stated that to exacerbate matters, due to lack of shops and banking services in the area, residents are forced to withdraw money and buy goods in Botswana that has currency that is stronger in value compared to the Namibian dollar, further depriving residents of their hard-earned cash.
“There are no border passes for residents and passports are very expensive. For us to buy in Katima, you have to travel for more than 120 kilometres crossing borders and you have to pay heavily for transport as well. We have resorted to buying in Botswana but the Pula is also stronger than our money. When you exchange N$100 you’re given only 60 Pula,” noted Kalonda.
It also became apparent during the meeting that the community allocated land to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration and the Namibian Police Office for the construction of offices but apart from fencing the land, no development has taken place so far. “We have given land to home affairs, the police and the court but the area is just sitting idle without anything happening,” stated Kalonda.
The residents want a post office and noted that pensioners walk long distances to access their monthly pensions, risking crossing paths with wild animals.
Even though the island has a health centre, only two nurses man the facility and they find it difficult to refer critical patients due to the border with Botswana that operates only up to 16h30.
“If the government can negotiate with its Botswana counterpart in terms of transporting patients to Katima Mulilo even after the border has closed, it would help save a lot of lives,” stated one of the nurses at the facility.
An airstrip on the island is overgrown with trees making its runaway impassable for small aircrafts.
Residents further complained about the Kapelwa Kabajani ferry they say has become a white elephant, despite being procured to assist flood-stricken residents of the region.
“That ferry was bought to help with water transport, especially people of Impalila and Kasika, but now it’s just parked in Katima Mulilo doing absolutely nothing. We don’t know what they want to use it for,” moaned Kalonda.
During the meeting, lawmaker Elifas Dingara, who formed part of the MPs visiting the island, noted that there was a need for a bilateral agreement between Namibia and Botswana for the former to tap electricity for Impalila residents from Kasane, Botswana. It was revealed in the meeting that the Botswana border post at Ngoma sources its electricity from the Namibian border. He further suggested the variation in the closing hours of the two borders should be sorted out by both authorities. The Namibian border at Impalila closes at 18h00 while that of Botswana stops operations at 16h30. Chairperson of the committee, Heather Sibungo assured residents their concerns would receive urgent attention.
Other MPs who made up the delegation include Annakletha Sikerete and Loide Shinavene.
*George Sanzila works in the Research, Information, Publications and Editorial Services Division at the National Assembly
2019-05-29 14:24:45 28 days ago