By Norbert Mao
With all the negativity generated by the political class around Uganda Airlines, the only thing expected to fly on the day Uganda Airlines made its maiden flight was kick boxer Moses Golola’s kick. But alas, despite the clouds in the skies and in the minds of naysayers, the plane took off. According to those who had the privilege to enjoy that first flight, the cabin was sparsely populated but cheerful. Subsequently the baby steps of the national carrier have become more sure. And with the promise of long haul flights, we may see more good news.
Government has spent a lot of money on this prestige project so the team at the helm of the revived airline have to roll up their sleeves, spit in their hands and get to work. It is too soon to judge how profitable the airline will be in the volatile sector of aviation. Experts usually say the prospects of a business are best assessed after about 18 months. The infant mortality rate of new businesses is very high. For now the airline should do everything possible to avoid infant mortality – that is avoid dying before its fifth birthday!
The airline should immunise itself against the six killer diseases of new businesses and meticulously exercise corporate hygiene. Businesses flounder due to corruption, recruitment devoid of merit (due to nepotism), lack of teamwork (I-know-it-all attitude by top management), external interference (freebies to political overlords), expanding too fast (swelling instead of growing) and unforeseen but foreseeable market turbulence.
Apart from management issues, the airline has to make itself attractive to the domestic market. It is not enough to issue a directive that all ministries, departments, agencies and State officials use the national carrier. Ask UTL! Government is notorious for not paying its bills on time and those companies that depend on government for a client can go bankrupt.
This brings me to the thorny issue of why government owned institutions tend to lag behind private ones. There is only one answer. Choice. The world we live in presents many choices for those with the means to pay. The private players usually offer the best so government-run entities are consigned to second or even third place.
I saw a copy of a Cabinet minute for a meeting early this month directing all ministries, departments and agencies to fly the national carrier. This is BUBU (Buy Uganda, Build Uganda) from the top. This is laudable and will assure a decent cash flow to the airline, thanks to our government officials who love flying.
So if Cabinet can direct BUBU for a government airline then we are likely to see the planes spruced up, remodelled and new upholstery installed to meet the tastes of our public officials. I know this for a fact because these people love good things. And why should the good things only be confined to air travel and telecommunications? Unfortunately, when it comes to education and health our public officials prefer privately owned facilities.
They send their children to expensive private schools and when they fall sick they go to India, Europe and North America. The question then remains why we don’t compel all public officials to go to public hospitals and to send their children to public schools. Let’s cut down the SUVs so our public officials may use public transport. We would have first class metropolitan transit systems. That is the only way to get our public facilities in shipshape condition.
I look forward to a Cabinet resolution directing all public officials to get treatment from our government hospitals and also send their children to public schools. If not, soon Ugandans may follow the example of the Nigerians in Germany who waylaid a senator who had gone to get first world medical treatment. In no time a motley crew of Nigerians picketed the street in front of the medical facility. When they saw him approach, they pounced on him. “All Nigerians want the best medical facilities. Go back home and work for better facilities,” they assured him. Talk about chickens coming home to roost.
This article first appeared in Sunday Monitor September 1, 2019