Congo Pedicle road

The Congo Pedicle road (at one time referred to as the 'Zaire Pedicle road') crosses the Congolese territory of the Congo Pedicle and was constructed by and is maintained by Zambia to connect its Copperbelt and Luapula Provinces. Both the road and the territory may be referred to as ‘the Pedicle’.

For thirty years, the Congo Pedicle road has been a major development issue in northern Zambia.[1] This article covers the road, for details of how the territory came into being, see Congo Pedicle.

The need for a crossing of the Pedicle

From its inception, the Pedicle was crossed by those travelling between the Luapula, Mweru and Bangweulu areas and the south, especially after the railway reached Ndola in 1906. But there were other routes. In the 19th Century the more travelled trade route from those areas had been to the south end of Lake Tanganyika, by boat up the lake to Ujiji, overland to Dar Es Salaam, and by boat to Zanzibar. Completion of the Dar es Salaam railway to Kigoma near Ujiji in 1914, coupled with a lake steamer service to Mpulungu near Abercorn made it even more viable.

The Copperbelt

Development of the Copperbelt from the late 1920s had a big impact on overland routes. Copperbelt towns including Elizabethville (now 'Lubumbashi') in the Congolese province of Katanga became the markets and chief source of supplies and employment for the Luapula-Mweru-Bangweulu region, and in turn their large fisheries (the largest in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia) supplied the growing Copperbelt labour force.[2]

The Katanga route

However it was Elizabethville and Katanga which benefited initially, via a road to the Congolese port of Kasenga on the Luapula, and another to a ferry at Shiniama across the Luapula near Matanda and on to Fort Rosebery (Mansa). There was migration from Luapula Province to Katanga, and some of Mwata Kazembe's people looked to Elizabethville for employment and advancement rather than Mufulira, Kitwe and Ndola. The Northern Rhodesia authorities and mines were slower to catch on, and when dried fish was bought for their workforce from Katanga, it may well have been caught in Northern Rhodesian waters of Lake Mweru, Lake Mweru Wantipa, south-west Lake Tanganyika or even Lake Bangweulu.[2] There was a road from Ndola across the border to Sakania in the Congo, and a dirt road to a small ferry over the Luapula at Kapalala, but it was not a direct route, took at least a day to travel, and was not suitable for the heavier vehicles. Eventually in the late 1940s the Northern Rhodesia government realised the need for a larger, direct road from the Copperbelt to Fort Rosebery (Mansa) with a higher-capacity ferry over the Luapula.

Construction of the Congo Pedicle

Negotiations with the Belgian colonial authorities produced an agreement for Northern Rhodesia to build and maintain a 70-km graded laterite road from Mokambo (16 km from the Copperbelt town of Mufulira) to Chembe. Although only used by Northern Rhodesia and with no Congolese settlements except Mokambo on its route, it had border control posts at both ends and traffic drove on the right. By the 1950s the Chembe Ferry had two motorised pontoons able to take the largest trucks, the border posts worked smoothly and the 174-km drive from Mufulira to Mansa could be completed in four or five hours. By comparison the same journey keeping to roads within the country was 1166 km and took at least two days, going via Kapiri Mposhi, Mpika, Kasama and Luwingu.

In the past four decades the superiority of the Katangan roads has reversed, with the Lubumbashi-Kasenga road deteriorating to the extent that it may take several days to reach Kasenga. Congolese travellers and goods frequently cross into the Zambian Copperbelt from Lubumbashi and take the Pedicle or the Samfya-Serenje road to Kasenga.

Problems emerge

The Congo crisis

Apart from the Luapula occasionally bursting its banks at Chembe in the rainy season and halting the Chembe Ferry for a few days, this happy state of affairs continued until the Congo Crisis of 1961 when travel on the pedicle stopped for security reasons and had to be routed by air or via Kasama. Although the interruption did not last long, it highlighted the vulnerability of the route.


The Congo became independent in 1960 and changed its name to Zaire in 1971, and Northern Rhodesia became independent in 1964, as Zambia. Any thought that two African neighbours with shared tribal, cultural and historical origins could cooperate even better than neighbouring colonial powers was dispelled not long after. The colonial experience had broken down those connections which might have smoothed travel by Zambians through Zaire and replaced them with a bureaucracy and leadership whose allegiances had greatly changed and who saw how to exploit regulations and authority for their own gains.[3]

Harassment of travelers

Under Mobutu, governance deteriorated and corruption flourished in Zaire, and he saw Katanga only as a cash cow and punished it for its separatist tendencies by neglecting its development. Zairean border officials and police went for months without being paid and turned to petty corruption to survive.[1] At first small bribes were taken from Zambians whose identity cards were not in order, but this escalated to arbitrary fines,[4] for example, a driver might be fined for wearing a hat while his passenger was fined for not wearing a hat

The Pedicle became the major gripe for the people of Luapula Province and they assailed their leaders and officials when they toured the province,[4] such as in a meeting of civil servants in Mansa in 1975 with President Kenneth Kaunda, when most of the questions were about harassment at the Pedicle.

The situation became more severe when any of Mobutu's security forces were in the Pedicle,[1] with robberies, violence and occasionally the complete disappearance of travellers and their vehicles.[5]

Developing alternative routes

The route by-passing the Pedicle is made longer by Lake Bangweulu and its swamps which extend from its north-east tip for 200 km to the north, and the only route had to go east then north of this system. A route south of the lake was hampered by the fact that the Luapula and its swamps there are at least 6 km wide, and the floodplain is 60 km wide.[6] However the complaints about the Pedicle were so many that the tarred 300-km Samfya-Serenje road and Luapula Bridge (2.5 km long with nearly 20 km of causeway), one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country, were constructed and opened in 1983. The Mufulira-Mansa distance by this route is 718 km, still a lot longer than the Pedicle route but saving 448 km on the Kasama route. From Lusaka and southern Zambia to Mansa the route is very much more attractive.

The future of the Pedicle Road

In the meantime, the laterite Pedicle road has deteriorated but security in the DR Congo has improved. As the cost of fuel has soared and with the Pedicle saving more than 500 km on the Copperbelt-Serenje-Samfya-Mansa distance there is still the need, as there has been for 30 years, to pave the Pedicle and complete the Chembe Bridge. Construction of the bridge started in 2007 for completion in 2008, and President Mwanawasa has said that paving the road will go ahead, depending on donor funding. As of February, 2016 The Pedicle Road is halfway tarred.[7] Work is continuing in the area.[8]


  1. 1 2 3 Times of Zambia: “Honouring Pledges”: Accessed 6 February 2007. See comments on “Congo DR workers going without pay for months, sometimes years” and “security forces who went on the rampage harassing Zambians at will notably along the famous Pedicle road”.
  2. 1 2 David Gordon: “Decentralized Despots or Contingent Chiefs: Comparing Colonial Chiefs in Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.” KwaZulu-Natal History and African Studies Seminar, University of Natal, Durban, 2000.
  3. Mamdani, M: "Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of colonialism". Princeton University Press 1996.
  4. 1 2 Austin Kaluba: “Tales from the treacherous” Times of Zambia. Accessed 6 February 2007
  5. Mwelwa C. Musambachime: “Military Violence against Civilians: The Case of the Congolese and Zairean Military in the Pedicle 1890-1988”. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4 (1990)
  6. Google Earth accessed 6 February 2007
  7. Bob Sianjalika: “Levy launches K7.6 billion Chembe electrification project”. Times of Zambia accessed 6 February 2007.
  8. Transforming the Pedicle road
See also: Congo Pedicle
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