The journey to Entebbe from Kampala has been made possible and in time aboard a similarly expensive piece of infrastructure.
By Joshua Turyatemba
KAMPALA – The absence of a national carrier has been a major thorn in the hearts and pockets of tourism sector operators as well as local produce exporters for many years now.
It is only from the incessant lamentations when you got to; for example, listen to the former Uganda Tourism Association president and a sector investor, Amos Wekesa, that you got to appreciate why countries that are not as gifted as Uganda in terms of nature and business potential, have been able to consistently reap big in terms of Foreign Direct Investment compared to Uganda.
Many, with only their optical experience have always made the case of why it is not worthy having a national carrier on the basis that the skies are already littered with all kinds of national colours of various nations, which, according to their publicised books, have not been earning much for those people whose colours they fly.
And yet every time some of these persons have suffered minor inconveniences during their journeys have yet been very quick to point out that direct flight from and to Entebbe would have solved their pains in the heat of their anger.
But as the dust settles and they are comfortable in their offices and homes free from the hustle of journey, so have their desire for that direct flight faded.
In other words, a national carrier would only be convenient when they have to travel, but not on those days when they are home, dry and have no business, education or other pursuits to cause them to race to Entebbe airport.
Suffice to say, none if any will be able to notice that actually the journey to Entebbe from Kampala has been made possible and in time aboard a similarly expensive piece of infrastructure that is the tarmac they were racing on to catch those flights.
In time, such vital infrastructure gets taken for granted once it exists and only becomes the all-important issue to die for, to wonder what taxes we are paying are going to, to abuse the political leadership for, only by virtue of its absence.
But what if Entebbe-Kampala highway was able to connect you directly and fast to London, New York, Beijing, New Delhi and vice versa?
In essence that is what a national carrier does. It connects us seamlessly to other cities, countries and economies the same way a highway would have done.
It is, therefore, not surprising that within minutes and hours of Uganda Airlines and Airbus announcing the order for the new A330-800 passenger planes, a good number of our enlightened citizenly had taken to the skies aboard Google Air and came back down with all kinds of criticism from the comforts of their smart phones, of not only the resurrection of the national carrier, but the types of planes they were purchased.
And as a means of movement and convenience, nothing indeed beats travel and study by Google.
On the wings of the Uganda Airlines resurrection, a regional newspaper that has been slogging over the years was also able to flap its wings by attempting to critique the whole airplanes business and not necessarily in a positive way.
But having had the misfortune of travelling on KQs Embraer planes once in a while, I wondered why this Nairobi headquartered media house has never found fault with those Matatus with wings, to even dedicate to them a quarter of a page in appreciation. Running an airline is no cheap business.
Be it for private commercial or even deep-pocketed ready-credit government companies.
Just one occupied seat means a lot to the profitability of the business and that is why those airhostesses never take you for granted.
They will smile, ask about your comfort and everything else just to make sure next time you do your booking, your remember their lovely faces and attention and don’t run away to the other airline in future.
So unlike taxis that you hail down all the time and don’t bother so much about the behaviour of the conductor and driver, what they want to sell to you is a positively unforgettable experience.
And when I look around, in terms of hospitality and attention, Ugandan people have always scored highly in global rankings.
I don’t know the last time we were not named one of the friendliest countries to live in or some of the friendliest people to live with. And nowhere does that natural personality translate into quick bank transfers than the national carrier.
Indeed, many established airlines have a reason to get concerned and can only be happy if they sense any indecision or criticism of such a move to revive Uganda Airlines by Ugandans themselves.
The investment is by all means a huge one. But whereas the amount of traffic that may be expected to use a specific tarmac road, say Jinja-Kampala road may be easy to estimate in terms of volume and thus seen as a justification for construction and maintenance of that road, with an airline, it is not just the volumes, but the potential.
Ideally, unless a survey is taken in some of the East African region’s tourism source countries of why some people may have preferred Kenya and not Uganda, it is very likely to a high extent that the absence of direct flights plays a major role in their decisions.
Most indeed will go to Jomo Kenyatta airport and then connect to Uganda by road. As if we were a mere tourism experience extension of Kenya.
Even that notwithstanding, our very high entrepreneurial spirit means that we now have products that can compete on their own with other countries but that have been lacking that affordable and fast logistical support.
One of the reasons that our super markets are full of UAE made products…including honey for instance and spices… is that the people who invest in the production and manufacture of those products in those countries are assured of a robust global reach courtesy of the national carriers of those nations and states.
Let us, therefore, look at our national airline as a terrestrial expressway or highway, whose advantages, profit and importance may not be instantaneous but in the long term, is an assured positive piece of infrastructure that is better there, than wished for.
The writer works with Operation Wealth Creation.