Anyone who has visited Kalumbila will have felt the buzz of opportunity that permeates into every corner of the town, from bustling marketplaces to sports grounds and illuminated streets. Here, fledgling businesses provide goods and services to a growing population and, just beyond the town’s borders, to Sentinel, the copper mine that sparked Kalumbila Town’s creation.

In the last seven years, thousands of Zambians have been flocking to the purpose-built town to be closer to new jobs and economic opportunities. Now, with Enterprise Nickel Mine nearing completion and expected to come online in 2023, momentum is once again building and the town is embarking on a new phase of growth. As more jobs are created at the new mine, so the demand for mining suppliers and contractors — and more barbers and bankers and businesses to serve them— is increasing in Kalumbila again. The Zambia Development Agency’s 16 September 2022 designation of the entire town as a Multi-Facility Economic Zone (MFEZ) opens doors for businesspeople to set up there, by creating an attractive business environment and offering incentives that help them to get a foothold. Kalumbila’s biggest challenge today? A shortage of accommodation.

Build it and they will come

Building “a healthy and attractive place to live” has been one of Kalumbila Town’s key goals since day one, says Michael Kabungo, Manager of Kalumbila Town Development Corporation (KTDC). KTDC is credited with overseeing the towns development into a highly sought-after place to live, following FQM’s multi-million-dollar investment into this “mining town with a difference”, and has since been tasked with managing the Kalumbila MFEZ.

The town has been planned for up to 10,000 homes, 9,000 of which are freestanding units. With special MFEZ concessions for housing development being put in place, the vision of providing high quality and affordable housing will at last be possible, with this large-scale accommodation scheme expected to markedly reduce costs. Now, it’s just a question of whether homes can be built fast enough to keep up with demand, as more and more people line up to live in Kalumbila. 

Demand for accommodation is through the roof

“When the town was still in the planning phase, most of the people employed or contracted by the mine were maintaining two households: one on the Copperbelt and one in the Kalumbila area,” Mr Kabungo explains. “Since the Sentinel mine started full-time production [in 2016], most of them are now bringing their families to Kalumbila. Naturally, the increase of families coming into Kalumbila requires an expansion of schools and recreational facilities, and health facilities. It’s basically a snowball effect.”

“Naturally, the increase of families coming into Kalumbila requires an expansion of schools and recreational facilities, and health facilities. It’s basically a snowball effect.”

Cynthia Chitalu is a property developer who has seen demand in Kalumbila explode since her company, Red Olive Holdings, first noticed the gap in the housing market. “We’ve been in Kalumbila since 2018 and we’ve developed a total of 24 houses already, which are already occupied. The demand for accommodation in Kalumbila is… I don’t even know how to explain it! I have clients booking houses the moment we open up the foundations. They give me a rental deposit to say ‘This is my house, I’ll rent it from you when you finish it.’ And now, with the start of Enterprise Nickel Mine, I’ve been getting calls every day for new houses. That’s why we’re now looking for funding to develop at least another 50 units.”

The first 24 properties developed by Red Olive Holdings are now occupied in Kalumbila (Courtesy Red Olive Holdings)
The first 24 properties developed by Red Olive Holdings are now occupied in Kalumbila (Courtesy Red Olive Holdings)

Business owner and entrepreneur Josephine Makondo found out just how scarce accommodation is the hard way, the night before an early morning meeting at the Trident Foundation to discuss a poultry business that she’s setting up in Kalumbila. The lodge where she had a reservation was double-booked. She enquired at half a dozen other lodges and rental apartments and was advised to drive back to Solwezi for the night. Eventually, a brand new lodge agreed to accommodate her, if she didn’t mind spending the night on a mattress in one of their still-unfurnished rooms. “That was at around 1am,” she says. “I was exhausted the next morning during my meeting!” Soon afterwards, Ms Makondo applied for a piece of land within the MFEZ where she and her husband (who has several years of experience in the hospitality industry) plan to build around twenty apartments for short and medium term rental. The new accommodation company is called Fresh Springs. “While trying to set up our poultry business, we identified this other big business opportunity,” Ms Makondo explains, adding that the project will provide employment for the local community during and after construction.

An enviable business problem?

There is, perhaps, no stronger evidence of a town’s growth than queues of people lining up to live there. Now, the challenge is for housing and accommodation supply to meet surging demand. The incentives that the Kalumbila MFEZ offers business owners in targeted sectors will make it easier for companies like Red Olive Holdings and Fresh Springs to do just that. Businesses like theirs also bring the MFEZ closer to achieving three core goals, as defined by KTDC: creating jobs and economic opportunities which, in turn, leads to strong economic multiplier effects, attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Zambia, and encouraging Zambians — among them, Ms Chitalu and Ms Makondo — to establish new ventures in North-Western Province.

“Kalumbila’s MFEZ status will help to speed things up because right now there are no construction materials that can be procured locally,” says Ms Chitalu. “You need to bring in all your construction materials, and Solwezi is the nearest place to get them. That’s made it very, very costly to do business in Kalumbila. The more businesses that set up within the MFEZ, the less need there will be to go out of town to get the services we need. This brings down costs for local businesses in close proximity, which can thrive. Because the designation of Kalumbila Town as an MFEZ reduces the costs that go into property development, that will make our project a little more attractive for investors.”

Ms Makondo is equally excited by the MFEZs potential. The Kalumbila MFEZ will spur a remarkable economic development in the Kalumbila area, in North-Western Province as a whole, and beyond,” she says. “The main beneficiaries of an MFEZ are people — local people who are skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled — as well as the international firms that invest in the area.”

Now, it’s up to these entrepreneurs to house them.

See also: A new business hub in North-Western Province