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Town Medium Mbala

ID: w147122 View large map

Located in Zambia :: Great North  :: Mbala
Category: Places :: Town Medium


Mbala is the last town on the plateau before the descent into the Rift Valley, towards Mpulungu on Lake Tanganyika. Originally the territory of Chief Zombe of the Bemba people, David Livingstone was the first European to arrive in the region in the 1860s. His writings (returned to London after his death) inspired the London Missionary Society to send missionaries to the region in the 1880s, they were followed by the African Lakes Company which established offices in Mbala and Mpulungu.

In an attempt to curb the slave trade in the region, the British sent Hugh Marshall to Chief Zombe’s Village (today Mbala) in 1893 to prevent other colonial powers getting a foothold in the region. Marshall built a fortified boma and in 1895 the British South Africa company took control of the area, naming it North-Eastern Rhodesia, the Zombe Boma was renamed Abercorn, after the company chairman. After Zambian Independence in 1964, the name was changed to Mbala.

Mpulungu is a small waterside town on the southern edge of Lake Tanganyika in Zambia’s Northern Province. It’s the only town in landlocked Zambia to boast a port; this said, the MV Liemba ferry which used to connect Zambia to other villages on the lake, including Kigoma in Tanzania, is no longer operational. With its lakeside location, it’s no great surprise that Mpulungu has lots of fisheries or that its economy is concentrated on fishing.

Traveller Description

Close to the border with Tanzania, Mbala saw much action between German and British Forces during both world wars. A memorial in the centre of town commemorates the end of WW1 in November 1918, when the German forces under General von Lettow-Vorbeck, surrendered to the British forces based in Abercorn. For more information on this, see page XX.

The Victoria Memorial Institute (TVMI) was erected in 1902, and completely rebuilt in 1954 after it was gutted by a fire. It has housed a library since its inception and is the oldest library in Zambia. On display here you’ll find the propeller of the SS Good News - the first steamship to sail on Lake Tanganyika. Mbala Old Prison, along President Street, is the oldest prison in Zambia but can only be viewed from outside.

During WW2, some 600 Polish refugees were settled in a refugee camp just outside Abercorn, dubbed Little Poland. The camp was closed in 1948 and some refugees chose to remain in Mbala rather than return to post-war Poland. Graves of those refugees who succumbed during the war can be seen in the Pioneer cemetery. The remains of the refugee camp can be seen east of Mbala on Little Poland Road, there are also some related relics at the Moto Moto museum north of town.

The Moto Moto Museum was established in 1974 by Father Corbell, a missionary stationed in Mbala. He named it Moto Moto, in honour of Father Joseph Dupont who founded the Chilubula Mission Station in 1899. He was nicknamed Moto Moto, ‘fire fire’ in the local language for his habit of always having a smoking pipe in his mouth. The museum displays tools linked to traditional ceremonies and witchcraft, and is considered one of the best displays of the Bemba tribe’s history and artefacts. It has the second largest collection of artefacts in the country, after the Livingstone Museum, and the history section provides more information about Mbala’s role in the two world wars. This is probably one of Zambia’s best museums and well worth a visit. The history of many of Mbala’s attractions can be found here so it’s a good idea to visit the museum before exploring the town.

Lake Chila is a popular relaxation spot for locals but also has historical value; it was here that the Germans dumped their weapons at the end of WW1 before surrendering to Northern Rhodesia. Some weapons were recovered from the lake and are on display at the Moto Moto museum. Legend has it that a person with the name of Chila refused to share her food with a sick and elderly woman, upon which the earth opened up and swallowed Chila and her village.

Kalambo Falls, about 35 km north of Mbala on the border with Tanzania, is a national monument. At 222 m it is the highest waterfall in Zambia, and the second highest on the African continent, after the Tugela Falls in South Africa. There is a great viewpoint overlooking the falls just in front of the Great Kalambo Falls Lodge. The falls are situated on the border with Tanzania, and your Zambian guide can arrange for a Tanzanian guide to meet you and take you across to the Tanzanian side of the falls.

Niamkolo Church is the oldest Missionary Church in Zambia and a national monument. It was built from natural stone in 1896 by the London Missionary Society. The same organisation which launched the SS Good News, the first steamer on Lake Tanganyika, in 1885. This vessel was beached at Kituta Bay at the beginning of WW1 and remained upright until the 60s, when she fell over due to decay. Today, she’s completely covered by sand and quite difficult to find. The propeller from the SS Good News can be seen in the nearby town of Mbala, in the library situated in The Victoria Memorial Institute (TVMI), see page XXX for more information.

Mishembe Bay is near the Tanzanian border en route to Kalambo Falls. Also known as Luke’s Beach, here you’ll find a 100 metre long beach dotted with palm trees, bordered by a lush green indigenous forest. With no electricity and no running water, this is the place to come and relax if you want a complete break from civilization. The Kalambo Falls are a stiff two hour hike from the bay (see page xxx).

The MV Liemba, the ferry which used to run from Mpulungu, Zambia to Kigoma, Tanzania, was thought to be the world’s oldest passenger ship in operation up until she was removed from service in 2018. Originally commissioned in 1913 in Kigoma in the German East Africa Colony (today Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania), she was originally named the Graf Coetzen by the Germans. During WW1 she transported German troops and served as a gunboat on Lake Tanganyika. In 1916, German Forces sunk her in Katabe Bay just south of Kigoma to prevent her from falling into enemy hands. Hoping to salvage her at a later stage, the engines and boilers were covered in a thick layer of grease, the boat filled with sand and scuttled.

In 1918 she was salvaged by the Belgians and towed to Kigoma where she settled in shallow waters, half submerged. Early in 1920 a fierce storm pushed her deeper into the Lake and she disappeared below the surface. A year later the British took control of Kigoma but waited until 1924 to raise her above the water. Finding the engines and boilers still usable, they decided to salvage the boat, and in 1927 put her into service as the passenger ferry the MV Liemba. She was overhauled between 1976 and 1979, replacing the steam engines with diesel engines. In 1993 the Tanzania Railway Corporation, that now owned the Liemba, did an extensive rebuild, rebuilding the deck house, replacing the electronic system and renovating the cabins, replacing the engines and increasing the passenger capacity to 600 people.

In 1997 she was used to repatriate more than 75 000 refugees from Zaire (today DRC) and again in 2015 to evacuate more than 50 000 refugees from Burundi.

Undergoing major maintenance in 2017, the Liemba was put back into service in August 2018, but soon returned to the dry dock in Kigoma (Tanzania). At the time of writing it was unclear when (or if) she will become operational again.

Address :  Zambia
Email :  Click Here
Cellphone Reception :  Good Main Cellular Network :  Airtel & Zamtel

Destination Information
Police Hospital Doctor Petrol Diesel Shops Shopping Centre Bank ATM Foreign Exchange Lodging Camping Butchery Bakery Restaurant Airport Tyre Repair Tyre Sales Mechanical Repair
Petrol Type :  Unleaded

More Activities :  Visit the Kalombo waterfall and the Moro Moro Museum in this town.

Travelling Information

Basic camping is available at Kalambo Falls for US$15 per person which includes your entry fee, but you’ll need to be self-sufficient. The campsite at the privately-owned Great Kalambo Falls Lodge offers far better facilities.

Tow-ins: Try: +27(0)97 473 7848 / +260(0)96 676 1647 (Based in Lusaka).

NOTE: Visitors to Zambia are advised to have their own personal travel insurance. Local police, hospitals, clinics etc. cannot be relied upon.
Please note that any emergency numbers indicated on our data will be for the local police, hospital, clinic etc. and most of the times, don't work. Many tourism sites show the numbers like 999 for police, they often don’t work.

If you have a medical problem when in Zambia, Specialty Emergency Services has a Call Centre (24 hours). Phone them on 737. This company has offices in Livingstone, Lusaka and Kitwe. But they will fly anywhere to assist if visitors have the right insurance. If you want to check your insurance, contact SES on [email protected]. (

Though not a very big town, Mbala has a fuel station, banks and a few guesthouses. There is no big supermarket here but there are several general dealers and a decent bakery.

 Travel Tip!

Lake Chila Lodge in Mbala offers beautiful views over the lake and is the best option for tourist accommodation.

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