By Ofwono Opondo
The revival of Uganda Airline, under Uganda National Airline, has enlisted mixed reactions of optimistic euphoria from majority of Ugandans, and negativism by a few especially opposition leaning. President Yoweri Museveni, who was all smiles when he received the first two Bombardier planes, expressed optimism that rival of a regional carrier is still possible. While the optimists think it will succeed, pessimists are spreading a narrative of a vanity project for President Museveni’s ego trip.
It is necessary to restate that Uganda airlines, like many state corporations which the NRM government inherited, had suffered cumulative decay for decades prior to 1986, became making loss-making, saddled with debts and bloated staff, drained the treasury, and had to be dissolved when Uganda’s economy was too lean to support them. Therefore it isn’t true that NRM inherited and sold off healthy enterprises as being claimed.
And it was not just the corporations, but all state institutions as well, and many people didn’t believe that the NRM government and President Museveni would survive this long. Today Uganda has resurrected through a popular, participatory and democratic political dispensation, built capable state institutions, and a vibrant expanding economy. In 1987, when President Museveni appointed Justice Benjamin Odoki to write the Constitution afresh, UPC led by Cecilia Ogwal, barred its members from submitting views saying it was a useless exercise. In fact, Ogwal maintained that the 1967 Constitution was relevant and the best.
However, when the train journeyed on, Ogwal [RAN] decided to run for the Constituent Assembly elections, which brought her into direct collision with party leader, Apollo Milton Obote who summarily sacked her. From Lusaka, Obote then appointed Dr James Rwanyarare to replace her as acting secretary general. Ogwal and Paul Ssemogerere’s group rejected the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution and didn’t append their signatures saying it contained satanic verses because it prohibited open multiparty politics.
Many Ugandans have long forgotten that President Museveni battled with policy makers including ‘experts’ from donor nations and agencies who opposed upgrading of Uganda’s roads from gravel to tarmac arguing they didn’t make economic sense as at that time because few vehicles used them. One such project was the Mbale-Kapchorwa road. Even today some ‘economists’ insist Uganda shouldn’t tarmac roads to Karamoja, Kisoro, Kitgum and Bundibugyo
Yes our opposition keeps saying that we should have a very good road network even in the most remote areas. The responsible ministry has dealt with this by constructing a number of roads that connect several areas to the towns purposely to make sure farmers and other business people transport their produces to the markets in the town centers.
As well, many ‘experts’ opposed President Museveni over what percentage of GDP should be spent on defense and security, but he stood his ground, and as a result Uganda is pacified, and many take the prevailing tranquility for granted.
Today there are people who seem to have either reached despondence levels, or are simply haters to the extent don’t want government to deliver on anything including most critical areas of health, education, public infrastructure and security. Often, as soon as an achievement is registered, they develop goose pimples because they think Museveni scores politically.
The same people who criticised Museveni for folding the state-run Commercial and Cooperative banks, Cooperative Societies, Lint, Coffee and Produce Marketing Boards when they were loss-making, oppose their revival with flimsy excuses, asking why he has made an ‘about-turn’, yet they want the same services to reach Ugandans.
As a country, Uganda has gradually restored the credibility of government decision-making process, and as such we ought to be optimistic while and keeping guard. Lamentations can’t build Uganda even if leadership comprised only faithful people. Many naysayers, like making jokes that a ‘corrupt’ administration is simply reviving the Uganda airlines as vanity project so that President Museveni uses it on his ego political trip of legacy. But, many of these critics forget that some of them actually wrote off Uganda some years back claiming it was not possible to re-establish a functional state, democracy and disciplined army.
Some of the ‘haters’, have taken to social media claiming that government has sequenced aircraft delivery to rhyme with the 2021 election calendar where the wide-bodied arrive in December 2020 during the nominations. The charlatans seem unable to appreciate the complexity of modern economy, especially when Uganda has to depend on foreign bank guarantees.
The defunct Uganda Airlines was established in May 1976 and began flying in 1977 after the collapse of the EAC and its many joint projects including the East African Airways. Contrary to much praise, it didn’t have that many aircrafts as some would want the public to believe. Also, due to the economic collapse, and many wars, its assets were destroyed, stolen or vandalized beyond repair. Similarly, the political inference, bad business and management practices didn’t spare it either leading to massive and irredeemable losses over the years. With the rising international confidence in Uganda as a trade, investment, residence, and tourism destination, it is prudent for government to re-think new business models.