Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Lusaka City Market Inferno


The Scene at Lusaka City Market
The Scene at Lusaka City Market after fire gutted the market

By Michael Chishala

Like every Zambian who cares about mother Zambia, I was very saddened by news of the devastating inferno at Lusaka City Market on the morning of 4th July 2017. I am however saddened by the fact that the unfortunate incident has not united Zambians but even further divided us, with more important matters being overlooked.

When terrorist acts were committed in the United Kingdom recently, there was such a strong spirit of togetherness and so many people ready to help out. Cab drivers took people home for free and everyone who could helped carry injured people from the scene. It didn’t matter whether you were white, black, Christian, Muslim, Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour. Everybody worked together as one big family.

Yet in my own home country Zambia, instead of seeing a spirit of unity and ubuntu, all I see is accusations and counter-accusations, fake news, squabbling and dangerous statements being thrown around in a manner that feels like politics trumps everything.

When Lusaka City Market burned down, people from all tribes, races, religions and political parties were affected. It is not only supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) who are affected, but also the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) and every other party with supporters in the market.

I do not want to take sides but give my thoughts on what I believe to be the real issues that need addressing away from the current blame game. Regardless of who is right or wrong in the intense debate that has dominated our news cycle, I would like for us as Zambians to focus on the real issues starting with what could have been done to prevent this catastrophic fire (or at least mitigate its effects) and how to do things better in future. We need solutions and not complaints or finger pointing.


For a start, there were serious gaps in the security of the market if it is true that someone could just walk in and set the place ablaze just like that. There was clearly lack of effective policing and regular patrols. There was no proper vetting of people who enter the market to clean at 4am. Even if the explanation is much more mundane such as something flammable accidentally falling on a brazier left temporarily unattended in the cold weather, one again asks why the fire was not spotted quickly enough and stopped in its tracks before it raged out of control.

It seems there were no fire extinguishers in the market and obviously no training in how to use them even if there were there. There were no smoke alarms to quickly alert people and the materials used in the structure were highly flammable with lack of stall compartmentalization. But the worst part of this unfortunate fire is that there was no fire insurance taken out by the management of the market on behalf of the marketeers in a large group policy to which every trader can contribute monthly.

I find it very disappointing many days after the fire, no one from the local authorities has bothered to explain to us why the fire engines apparently took too long to get to the market and therefore fail to control the fire.

The Church Road fire station is not more than 3 minutes away with almost zero traffic at 5am which is close to the time the fire started.


I heard on radio that the market collects something like K50,000 per day in revenue. There is more than enough money to buy and install smoke alarms from China in bulk, not to mention fire extinguishers in the new structure that will be built. The market should have at least six fire hydrants (minimum one per side) which can easily be tapped into when fire engines run out of water, not to mention fire hose-pipes at major points in the market.

Every trader in the market must be compelled to contribute to fire insurance and the smoke alarms, extinguishers, pipes and hydrants will make the premiums affordable, especially if there is also mass training in fire safety and how to stop fires quickly. Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras must also be installed.

Every market worker must be properly vetted, fingerprinted, photographed and issued with photo identification. This simple little procedure would have prevented unauthorized people entering the market since they would not have a photo ID. If a fire is maliciously started, you already know who to round up and interrogate from the list of approved workers which include security officers.

And of course the new market must be built well with very good security locking mechanisms and security personnel must also be properly vetted before employment. In short, all the loopholes must be closed so that it is easy to investigate and get to the truth in any future incident. One would hope that people will be more serious this time around and put in place proper measures around security and fire safety.

The introduction of market management boards will go a long way to make the management of markets professional so that the kind of ideas I am suggesting can be more easily implemented. We must move away from this culture where political cadres with no idea of market management are the ones at the forefront of running things and pocketing revenue. When disaster strikes as it did on 4th July, their incompetence is exposed and we end up with grieving mothers on TV.

The Author is a businessman and a software and web developer based in Lusaka, Zambia. He was trained as an engineer at the University of Manchester in England and has interests in Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Theoretical Physics, Architecture, Music, Art and Movies.


    • This is Bemba interpreted in English.

      The Author is a businessman and a software and web developer based in Lusaka, Zambia. He was trained as an engineer at the University of Manchester in England and has interests in Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Theoretical Physics, Architecture, Music, Art and Movies……




    • The author seems to be from another planet with his educational credentials such that for the first time Mushota alubana to even forget what she always pukes on the blog that she has a PHD

    • City market was under the care of PF police and cadres. Its them that were charged with care of the market. So investigations must start with these PF cadres ,Kapyongo and Mumbi phiri. They know who is behind burning of these markets.

      Lies has short legs it does not go far. Very soon the truth will be known, just like in the case of Pylon destruction in CB. PF thugs were caught and arrested by the PF police. Shockingly, today these PF thugs have escaped from the police cells. How does that happen?

      FreeHH now.

    • If you hate lungu like I do and would like him removed by any means ,please give my post a positive.

      Free HH now or else.

  1. Noted!
    Good suggestion to put the market levies to good use like Insurance.
    However,will the cadres let go of this cash cow for prudent suggestions like this one?
    That will be the day!!

  2. Well dear writer. With that knowledge background you have explained. Just Two things you:
    1) your blame is too much unless if you are only one who has had access to the report of the incident.I am among the many Built environment professional awaiting to read the report before i could blast Positive/negatives and way forward.
    2). I have liked your approach thought, but well there is more with political economics and policy you need to be aware off. I am hoping to interact with you and exchange more notes with you in those lines.

  3. Its funny how you expats have all the answers from living overseas, only problem is Zambia is a 100 yrs behind the times, who will maintain the cctv, fire hydrants, piping, enforce who works at the market and on and on. a bribe and your in, a woman can smuggle rhino horn in and out of the country through a airport with xrays and sensors and not get caught how are they going to catch someone in a huge market???

  4. There is need for Lusaka City Council to constitute a Technical Committee to develop a security system for all markets in the country. Membership in the TC must be inclusive and professional, including insurance, ICT engineers, police and economists. It is necessary to adopt a workable system that has proven itself elsewhere. If the same type of fire occurs again, then the local government leadership is suffering from critical lack of human and financial resources.

  5. “…There is more than enough money to buy and install smoke alarms from China in bulk, not to mention fire extinguishers in the new structure that will be built. …”

    You need to set standards for fire prevention.
    You just don’t go and buy bulk smoke alarms. GRZ needs to set standards.

    I am saying this again , 90 % of the fires are preventable accidents….GRZ needs to pass legislation to have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in all public buildings…with a GRZ driven fire training and prevention awareness programme.

    Fire safety and awareness is non existent in Zambia , is there even a commisioner of fire ??

    • GRZ!! the real pros are on the streets, GRZ has been run by cadres since FTJ, hence the miss management of every thing.

    • Commissioner of Fire ?????? NO!

      But millions of taxpayers money is being spent on PF cardres salaries in a whole new Ministry of “National Guidance and Religious Affairs”.!!!!

      To do exactly what? Pray for no more fires??

  6. Well said. However, best to wait for the official report and then employ strategies to avoid a similar misfortune. Very good points and I believe you have details of the market/structural going by your sound suggestion.

  7. Tanzania suffered a same fate until they initiated government driven fire prevention and safety measures and training…..i am proud yo say that i produced videos in Swahili for use in fire training in TZ.
    I also , together with the then fire commissioner Mr piues nyambacha, got the blue print of the forms from London fire brigade for use in inspection and safety declarations for the Tanzanian fire services.

  8. One only needs to look at the timeline of events and conclude that this was a planned plot to invoke Article 31 Lazy & tins…they knew Parliament was about adjiorn hence had to think quickly.
    Where are the watchmen on duty that day, location of fire extinguisers?

  9. Why beat about the bush. UPND is extremely injured. FIRST because they lost the election secondly because their petition was thrown out Thirdly their leader is in jail. Even an unborn baby knows who did it. Lets be serious.

  10. Where are the 11 suspects the chief constable said five been arrested? What has happened to investigative journalism in zambia? These poor things called journalists are busy licking boots of politicians looking for diplomatic posts. Sorry ba zambia.

  11. This concil manager has to resign immediately and should be punished for not doing the right thing. Cage him together with his juniors and let them be anwera for not insuring the market for all that period useless management. Africa twasebana.

  12. Even where someone articulates sensibly and impartially about an issue such as this, there are still a good number of people who simply don’t get it or refuse to think. We get partisan diatribes, responses that are not analytical and some that are simply atrocious. What is wrong for one to make observations and offer solutions from a technological and managerial angle? We seem to take comfort in mediocrity because it does not challenge us.

  13. This is a short but well articulated piece of writing. This is what we call introduction to systems thinking. The author has opened a new page in the ongoing debate. I would want to transfer the same arguments to the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus, to Chisokone Market etc. The lack of systems thinking and strategic planning in most of these strategic institutions like markets is making some of our half baked politicians heroes when in fact not. More than K50, 0000 daily and yet we could not stop a fire which started, as they have told the nation, on one stand. I submit that we need to start planning better. Additionally, since the fire started soon after the market was opened, according to that chairperson who appeared on TV on the day of the inferno, can the police arrest all police…

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