The history of human settlement in the Upper Zambezi Valley can be traced back at
least to the Middle and Later Stone Age which we know from archaeological excavations near to Sioma and elsewhere that rocky outcrops perforate the
thick Kalari sand mantle that covers the valley.
Today, Western Province which includes much of the area also known as Barotseland, is one the most densely populated regions of rural
Zambia. However, this population density varies widely today as it
has over the centuries although for different reasons. As will be seen from the map in Figure 1 below (click on the map for larger image),
much of present-day settlement is clustered on the ridge that forms the eastern
escarment of the Bulozi floodplain which is also the location for the largest town and provincial capital, Mongu (population approx. 160,000) and Senanga.
Figure 1: Land use map of Barotseland from 1954
Click on image to enlarge
Mongu is connected with the Zambian capital Lusaka by a tarred road (M9), one of the few in the province
that is tarred, along which most
supplies for Western Province flow in and most goods produced (nearly all agricultural), flow out. This raod has recently been extended across the Bulozi
floodplain to Kalabo. A slowly increasing volume of goods now permeate from
Namibia via the border post at Katima. This supply relies on a road between Senanga and the Namibian
border post at Wenela which has been recently tarred and refurbished with a new bridge over the Zambezi at Sioma that replaced an earlier pontoon crossing at Kalongola and
makes the raod usable throughout the year. Throughput
of goods and trade to and from Angola which forms a
substantial part of the Zambian border to the west and north of Western Province is, by comparison, negligible. Following the peace treaty negotiated in
2002 that ended the Angolan civil war, relations between Zambia and Angola have stabilised and improved after a period of strain and a consulate of the Republic
of Angola exists in Mongu.
However, while cultural affinty has long extended from Barotseland well into modern-day Angola, the absence of a tarred road represents a perpetual hindrance to
communications. There is a plan to connect the Lusaka-Mongu-Kalabo highway
(with an improved road to Sikongo on the Angolan border) with a road to be built by Angola eventually connecting to the Atlantic
coast at Benguella. However, as of 2020, the track beyond Sikongo remains difficult to ascertain with deep sand and is not recommended. There is also
a track that extends from the Zambian border post at Shangombo to the border with Angola but this is also difficult to navigate and liable to flooding
from the River Cuando and has an equally poor road connection on the Angolan side.
Bus services currently connect the Inter-city terminus on the Dedan Kimathi Road in Lusaka with Kaoma, Mongu, Senanga and Kalabo. Journey time from Lusaka to Mongu
(approx 600 km) can vary between 6 and 9 hours depending on road and vehicle conditions. Other bus services connect Mongu to Sioma, Sesheke, Mwandi and Livingstone while
minibus taxis connect Mongu to Kalabo and Limulunga. River transport offers connections from the new Zambezi bridge (between Mongu and Kalabo) and Libonda.
As of October 2020, the M9 road between the Kafue National
Park western gate to Kaoma and beyond as far as the Lukulu turn, is somewhat degraded and requires considerable care and attention by drivers of all types of vehicle.
The Livingstone-Sesheke road in the south of the province is also in a poor condition between Kazungula - where a new bridge across the Zambezi connecting Zambia with
Botswana has recently been completed - and Sesheke, having been degraded by heavy truck use.