By J.M. Kavuma-Kaggwa
The people of Uganda are calling upon the Government to re-establish a national airline as a matter of national interest, earning foreign currency and pride. The talk of the day everywhere in the country is that Uganda must have a national airline now.
As a Ugandan who is very much interested in the formation of the national airline and who understands its economic importance to Uganda, I have spoken to so many people and they support the idea.
An airline is an important national asset. Any nation worth its salt must support a national airline where it has a stake. It can wholly own the airline or it can partially run a carrier with well defined shareholding of 60% Government and 40% the private sector.
The experience of life right now is that the world is making money; therefore, the people of Uganda must make money out of the aviation industry and tourism. Since the unfortunate collapse of Uganda Airlines, our country has lost a lot of money to foreign carriers.
As the Ugandan economy continues to grow since 1986, foreign airlines and companies seem to enjoy more of it than the citizens of the country.
Right now, there are 15 foreign airlines operating in and out of Entebbe. Nine of them have daily flights and others have four or five flights a week. Business is good for these airlines because of all of them take full load on their days of operation, especially during the time we know as “peak season”. One of these airlines is Air Uganda which is wholly owned by His Highness the Aga Khan and it has no Ugandan shareholding.
All these airlines repatriate their earnings monthly. Let us suppose that each airline repatriates $2m that means $30m a month, and in a year $360m. We would be sharing this money, if we had our own national carrier.
How shall we revive or start a national carrier? The first stage will be the Cabinet to recommend the setting up of the national airline, then the Cabinet will forward the proposal to Parliament.
Second stage is the Parliament to enact a law establishing the creation of the airline and the revival of Uganda Airlines, at the same time, Parliament to change the current economic policy of “privatization” and resort to “mixed economy” system whereby the Government will transact business alongside the citizens and foreign investors.
Third state will be the Government to appoint a Board of Directors which will also recruit personnel to run the national airline and establish the operational systems that run an international airline.
Fourth stage will be the Government to carry out negotiations with Air Uganda and merge it with Uganda Airlines and the Aga Khan becomes a shareholder in the national airline with 40% shares.
This arrangement will be good and economical because it will enable the revived Uganda Airlines to acquire the equipment now used by Air Uganda, to start its operations within the Eastern Africa region, before expanding to a wider area.
Fifth stage – If this arrangement is not acceptable to the owners of Air Uganda then the Government will request Parliament to vote for an initial amount of $500m to enable Uganda Airlines start operations by “wet leasing or dry leasing” (whatever will be possible) two or three aircraft, which are in good condition, from some international airlines, for a period of two years. Within those two years Uganda Airlines must press an order to either Boeing or Airbus aircraft manufacturers and acquire its own new and modern equipment.
What shall we achieve as a result of Uganda owning its national airline? The economy will expand tremendously and Ugandans will get employment. We shall have more cargo space for the horticultural products, which we export, plus other products which we export.
The tourism industry will prosper because the airline will work with world tourism coordinators and operators to bring in tourists. You cannot develop tourism conveniently and effectively, if you do not own a national airline.
Today, if you walked into the offices of the airlines which fly into Entebbe and ask for any literature that promotes tourism in Uganda, you will be lucky even to get a simple black and white brochure.
The economy of Kenya has grown tremendously in the last 30 years because of Kenya Airways and tourism.
In Ethiopia, despite of all the problems they had during and after the time of former President Haile Mengistu Mariam, the economy remained stable because of Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines contributes almost 70% to the national revenue.
In South Africa, tourism is booming and they now earn between $15b to $20b every year from tourism alone. Remember, South Africans do not have Murchison Falls, Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki Valley, Bwindi forests, Mount Elgon, River Nile, Kidepo Valley, Sese Islands or Lake Victoria.
I have to bring our one very important point. It is good that President Museveni has now separated the Ministry of Tourism from the “arm pits” of other ministries. The Ministry of Tourism is now on its own as a separate entity with a cabinet minister and all the local and international tourism promotion departments. The Ministry of Tourism will work hand in hand with the revived Uganda Airlines to promote and develop the tourism industry in Uganda. The Ministry of Tourism should now promote tourism by putting up big tourism promotion billboards to and from Entebbe.
Fortunately, we are still very many of us professional Ugandans who worked for the defunct East African Airways and we are ready to meet the President any time and brief him on the plans to set up a national airline. Currently, there are so many Ugandans working with foreign airlines operating in Uganda and they have acquired enough expertise to run a national airline of Uganda.
The writer is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District