Visit to Zambia

Flooding in Madagacar after the most recent cyclone.

This year’s cyclone season has been unusually severe – folks in Madagascar are telling me that it is the worst one since around 1959, particularly from the perspective of the central highlands. However, most of the precipitation has been on the coasts, where towns are literally underwater. Storm systems tend to form over Mozambique, intensify in crossing the channel, land forcefully on the west coast of the island, cut across it, and continue into the Indian ocean, either eastwards towards Réunion or shifting towards the south. Along the way, the storms dumped enough rain to entirely saturate the soil in the first month or two. Now, there is nowhere for the water to go, and it is overflowing dikes, bursting dams, and causing mudslides. Before the rainy season, the government was struggling to keep the wobbly national infrastructure working, but at this point, it is struggling to maintain basic services such as electricity and road maintenance.

I have been here only about half the time due to business travel, but each time I’ve returned, the situation has gotten worse. However an end is in sight: the season usually resolves by the end of March, so another couple of weeks, and the skies should dry up.

Cancer delegation including staff from MD Anderson Cancer Center, the UICC, Albert Einstein Hospital of Sao Paulo, and Barretos Hospital of Brazil, the CDH, and Zambian Ministry of Health.
Cancer delegation including staff from MD Anderson Cancer Center, the UICC, Albert Einstein Hospital of Sao Paulo, and Barretos Hospital of Brazil, the US National Cancer Institute, the Lusaka CDH, and Zambian Ministry of Health.

My most recent trip took me back to Zambia to visit the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka. It is very likely that I will be back in Zambia in the future, and I would certainly like to take some time off there — perhaps a visit to the Falls next year. Consequently, I took some steps towards getting a Zambian license.

Prior to the trip, I corresponded briefly with 9J2BO, Brian, who I’ve heard frequently pounding out CW both under his own call and, in the last year, as a special event station commemorating the 50th anniversary of Zambia’s statehood. Brian helped me connect with Lloyd Matabishi at ZICTA, the Zambian Information and Communication Technologies Agency. I wrote to Lloyd just before I arrived, and his response was short but accurate: “You can walk in  and you will be attended to.”

The office is on the corner of Independence and United Nations Avenues — conveniently, between the hotel where I was staying and the hospital where i was working. I ended up there twice – once to get the application and once to drop it off; both times, the taxi driver knew exactly where to go. If they didn’t know ZICTA, though, it would be enough to say that I wanted to go to the old US embassy building.

As someone who frequents US embassies, I found the layout of the reception area of ZICTA strangely familiar. I signed in a the front desk and walked back to Mr. Matabishi’s office. Before going, I had downloaded a license application from the ZICTA website. It had an old address for the ZICTA office and the licensing fee was expressed into the former Zambian Kwacha (1000x devalued versus the current New Zambian Kwacha). He printed out a new version of the form for me and told me that the license application system is now in transition; in a couple months, they hope to have it entirely online.

IMG_20150306_143806The licensing document is used for multiple radio services, so it seems like overkill for the amateur radio service, asking questions about multiplexing methods, antenna diversity, etc. Amateurs filling out the form should be prepared to supply information about their intended rig and antenna system. Most of the rig information can be gleaned from a manufacturer specification sheet (sensitivity, spurious emissions, etc.). They ask that the applicant calculate radio power output, line loss, antenna gain, etc., and overall EIRP. While amateurs may be more at home with watts for power output, they ask that it be expressed in dBW. The form also asks about operating location, time, and frequency ranges. The form does have a checkbox for portable operation, but also asks for a fixed address, height above average terrain, etc. For that, I used the coordinates of my hotel in Lusaka, although the portable aspect of the operation may take me other places in the country. Regarding frequency ranges, I followed the IARU region 1 band plan.

In addition to the form, when I returned the next day, I submitted photocopies of my passport as a form of identification and of my US license. The form stipulates that the applicant have passed a morse code test; my present Extra class license was taken as evidence. It is true that I did pass a morse test at some point, but my present license is not really evidence of that as morse is no longer a requirement in the US. In any event, it never came up in conversation.

Mr. Matabishi did think it was strange that the FCC license was so small – I showed him the wallet version that I had with me. I also indicated that the FCC would no longer be routinely issuing paper licenses. If paper licenses remain an option, I’d suggest that future hams interested in operating overseas still obtain one, as it will make this process easier.

When I submitted the license, I also paid the processing fee of about 61.55K, a bit less than ten US dollars. I was told that the license could be renewed subsequently subject to a similar yearly fee that would not require resubmission of the paperwork (assuming no changes in the operating conditions), but could be handled remotely by bank transfer.

When I submitted the package, I had to provide a Zambian postal address, and this may be a limiting factor for those from abroad who are interested in obtaining a Zambian license. Luckily, I have several friends working in Lusaka and was able to ask that they forward any mail to me. I was told that if there were any questions/clarification, though, I could be contacted via the email address that I had provided on the form. Perhaps when ZICTA moves to a web-based application process the postal address requirement will go away.

So, I left Zambia without a license in hand, but am hopeful that the process is in motion — we’ll see.

2 thoughts on “Visit to Zambia”

  1. Hello Jack,

    I found your post about attempting to obtain an amateur radio license and just wanted to say thank you! I live in Lusaka and am licensed in the US (KF5NSR) and have found incredibly little information about obtaining a license here… Just out of curiosity, were you ever able to obtain your license?

  2. Hi John – Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending for this, or at least not yet. I did find the right person, visit the office, fill out of the forms, etc. One problem was not having a Zambian address – I had materials sent to a friend in Lusaka, who forwarded them, but it took a few months (Lusaka->US->Madagascar). I had been approved, but now needed to make payment. ZICTA has an account at Barclays, and I made an international transfer using the bank’s IBAN code. However, ZICTA let me know that the bank took a substantial amount of the transfer as a processing fee, so I still owed ZICTA the balance. They couldn’t tell me how much was taken by the bank, though, and I think the cost has changed again, so I shelved this. I don’t know if I’ll be getting back to Lusaka any time soon; if I do, I may drop in on ZICTA in person and just make payment directly (although I half expect that I’ll be asked to start the process again, if too long has elapsed). I think you’ll do better since you’re actually in Zambia. Please let me know if you do get your license. 73 – Jack

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