Politics and Government

What The 2019 Revival of Uganda Airlines Reveals About Government's Working in Silos

On 20 February 2015, an Ethiopian Airlines plane, a turboprop Q400 landed on the short 1,372 metre runway at Nyakisharara, an airstrip on the edges of Mbarara City, along the road to the rural hamlet of Ibanda. It was not a scheduled flight. Rather, it had come to pick the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. In more ways than one, this was one of the most humiliating admissions of the failure of the IMF/WB imposed neo-liberal measures, the worst and most insidious of which was the wholesale liberalization of the economy that was wholeheartedly embraced by that President’s party in creating a most predatory capitalist class.

Nothing beats, in terms of a dent to national pride, the liquidation of the Uganda Airlines (ICAO code: UR) that started on 7 June 2001. Not even the humiliating failure to fight back against Rwandan forces in the city of Kisangani, represents such a low. You could still mention the failure to revamp the Uganda Railways, failure to get funding for the Standard Gauge Railway, the absolutely asinine reasons fronted as to why Kampala-Jinja Expressway hasn’t been built yet, the failure by KCCA to get funding to build roads in the economy’s most important city accounting for 65% of GDP, in fact, not even the crash of 3 Mi-24 helicopters owned by the UPDF in the Aberdares (John Njoroge insists it was because they had been used to hunt Elephants in the Garamba National Park, for Ivory, instead of pursuing Joseph Kony, and had not been serviced) comes close to the collective failure to keep the national carrier flying.

The lesson on that February day was not lost on the Principal.

First, a call had been made to Kenya Airways (ICAO Code: KQ) to please be kind as to pick His Excellency from Mbarara and fly the Sovereign straight to Nairobi for the 16th Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State of the East African Community, held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre. KQ was emphatic. It wouldn’t be possible, they replied. They still assured His Excellency of their highest consideration. 

On Monday March 16, 2015, The East African, ran with a strange headline; “Parliament investigates Kenya Airways failure to pick President Museveni”. In that story, it was alleged that M7 had complained to his counterpart, Uhuru, who had relayed the reservations made as to KQ’s conduct to Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji, chairperson of the Kenyan National Assembly Committee on Foreign Relations and Defence. Ndung’u wasted no time in summoning the Transport and Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretaries, then, Michael Kamau and Amina Mohammed to explain why they had embarrassed the “senior-most Head of State from the region”.

Of course, there were technical considerations behind KQ’s refusal. Nyakisharara is a small airstrip with only 1,372 metres of asphalt for a runway. The smallest plane owned by KQ, an Embraer E170 wouldn’t land there. It needed at least 1,644 metres of runway. Not to mention the fact that KQ insisted that before going to a particular aerodrome (fancy way of saying airstrip), they needed to undertake a New Aerodrome Risk Assessment. They hadn’t done that, neither had they ever flown the route, before. They insisted that ET’s Q400 was more flexible and that’s why they acceded to the request to pick the man, himself, from that airstrip.

The 2016 Election Aftermath

To call the 2016 elections bruising for the ruling party is an understatement. As events have since shown, they were/are legacy-defining. Some clever fellows say we crossed the Rubicon. That is not for today.

On 23rd June, 2016, having constituted a cabinet of about 81 ministers, with 32 full ministers and 49 as deputies, the President issued a document, Strategic Guidelines and Directives for the Term 2016-2021. There were 15 Guidelines and Directives. Number 14 was the establishment of a National Airline.

All his opponents, since he is famous for having told only a few people that they are his friends – the late James Mulwana, Sudhir Ruparelia, John Nagenda, and now, the Chinese- agree on one thing; M7 never forgives a slight. He is famous for following the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye. There is a reason his firstborn son is called Muhoozi, meaning Avenger.

The lessons of February 2015 had been singed into his psyche. To go about his mission, he recruited excellently. A quiet professional that can work quiet as the wind, and effectively. Engineer Monica Azuba-Ntege, didn’t need the post of Minister for Works and Transport. She is from an Old Money clan in Jinja City and married well. Attending Gayaza High School, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, for both o and A level, she had joined Makerere University in 1974 and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering in 1978. Azuba, got employed by the Uganda Commercial Bank, that was sold to Standard Bank of South Africa, who retained her as Facilities Manager, a position she transitioned from to join cabinet. It is said, the Champion Golf player was at the Uganda Golf Club, Kitante, when news came in that she was now Minister. Unknown to most, she had been quietly appointed to the Uganda National Roads Authority Board on April 6, 2014. She was no one’s novice. She went about the task, methodically. The equally incorruptible Gen. Katumba Wamala had been appointed her understudy, despite Aggrey Bagiire’s appointment as deputy in charge of transport, to a Ministry that regularly hogs 15% of Uganda’s expenditure.

They quietly got Ephraim Bagenda, a Ugandan Munyarwanda, that had about 40 years experience in aviation. A quiet and unassuming aeronautical engineer, Bagenda hit the ground running and on July 18, 2018 was able to sign two memoranda of understanding at the Farnborough Airshow for 6 jets. 4 CRJ900 NextGen Bombardier aircraft and 2 Airbus A330-800neo. Uganda was going to have a new airline, and our children would walk with their heads held high, in a decade that has made most people question their patriotism as a result of the great incompetence in the management of public affairs for the 21st century.

The chattering class: Justified concern or a case of functional illiteracy?

On the morning of March 28, 2019, the Budget Committee of Parliament summoned two powerful ministers; Matia Kasaija for Finance, Planning & Economic Development, and Monica Azuba-Ntege, for Works & Transport. The Committee was scrutinizing a request for a supplementary budget by Finance which included about $75m to pay the remaining sum to Bombardier Inc. or risk incurring penalties that would raise the sum. On March 29, 2019 the sum was approved by Parliament in a session presided over by the Deputy Speaker, who is reported by The Independent, to have stated that he would have sacked people and wondered whether there was government in place considering the “errors” committed. But, what “errors” caused much consternation in the first place?

Let us admit that government’s world over commit errors. Government is manned by humans. To err is human. The magnitude may be the cause of public outcry, or not. Reuters reported on December 18, 2019 that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had listed Wakanda, a fictional country popularized by the Blockbuster movie, Black Panther, as a Free Trade Partner country of the USA. It had remained part of the list of partners after a test. It was subsequently removed and the USDA good-naturedly tweeted; “While we removed the Kingdom of Wakanda from our list of US free trade partners, our relationship will always be strong #WakandaForever,” from its official account.

It won’t be lost on you that has so far read these 1277 words, that the USA is a $21.4 Trillion economy with a 250-year-old democratic history and the world’s superpower, whereas good old Uganda, is a $35 billion economy with a very dubious record at democracy or anything, save having a respectable fighting machine by African standards, the UPDF. On the Forbes list, it would be an insignificant US Dollar billionaire.

First, Parliament stated that all shares in the Uganda National Airlines Company be allotted. Second, was that the shareholding belong to the Ministry of Works and transport & Ministry of Finance, Planning & Economic Development, AND the ministers who signed as such in their individual capacities as holders of that office be substituted for those entities!

Any lawyer worth their salt, watching the charade on the floor of Parliament must have cringed.

Bisereko Kyomuhendo, a soft-spoken, but certainly cerebral old war horse, respected in the legal trenches, softly explained to the Amos Lugoloobi-led committee that there was never any legal problem with the Ministers signing with their individual names in Latin Character. He patiently explained that when registering a company, the Company Form 20, envisages as provided for under Section 192(4) of The Companies Act, 2012, directors that are persons. That is, individuals or corporate bodies/persons. Neither ministry was a corporate body. They were representatives of a corporate soul, the Government of Uganda, and in any case, there was no discrepancy in the Memorandum of Association as it was clearly mentioned that the shareholders are the two Ministries. In case of change of minister, simple clerical work would rectify the signatures to the MemArts (Memorandum and Articles of Association), if necessary.

In any case, the office-bearer MUST append their signature, because there is no official signature for Minister. This is evidenced in all other instruments signed by ministers which indicate their names; repossession certificates, deportation orders, statutory instruments, appointment letters, etc. That is why I don’t even think it necessary to file a return changing the signatures in the MemArts. A look at the oath of a Minister under the Oaths Act, confirms that the oath is very individual in nature, but the actions under his/her remit are legally binding on the office and the Republic.

The fear that a minister or any person acting on behalf of the state can lay claim to these shares is both unfounded and unsettling as to how we have a body politic that cannot understand simple elements of statecraft. Sections 4 and 7 of the Interpretation Act, Cap 3 are instructive. Section 4 provides: “…reference to the holder of an office by the term designating his or her office shall be construed as meaning the person for the time being lawfully holding, acting in or performing the functions of that office.” Section 7 provides: “a reference to “the Minister” shall be construed as a reference to the Minister for the time being responsible for the matter in connection with which the reference is made.”

Parliament then made it a precondition that all shares be allotted to the two ministries that were shareholders. I am certain Bisereko and commercial transactions practitioners must have found this ridiculous! However, since Uganda National Airline Corporation had a deadline to beat, they duly indulged Parliament and allotted all the 2 million shares to Works and Finance. There is nothing at law that stops the UNAC Board of Directors from dilution of the same 2 million shares from 100% to 0.01% under a new share structure should they get a strategic investor such as Emirates, or even listing on the Uganda Securities Exchange to raise equity from the public. The allotment of all shares was of no consequence, legally, apart from the fact that it will require the filing of a return should there be a dilution, which most likely will happen.

Ridiculously, because most of the lawyers in Parliament were either too busy or scoring political points to tell the August House that this was too much ado about nothing, they went ahead to propose that the UNAC allots all shares to the Uganda Development Corporation.

Some, were even of the view that the Uganda Airlines Act of 1976 should have been the law under which the airline was revived. They were oblivious of Section 35(1) of the Public Enterprise Reform and Divestiture Act, that provides that the enactment that establishes a corporation shall stand repealed once the liquidation of that enterprise is done. In fact, the liquidator appointed in June 2001 for the then Uganda Airlines established under the now repealed Uganda Airlines Act, was Bemanya Twebaze, current CEO and Registrar General at Uganda Registration Services Bureau, responsible for the registration of the new UNAC.

Registration under the Companies Act, 2012, gives UNAC a lot of room for manoeuvre as it delinks it from too much political mudslinging as happened to the defunct carrier in the last decade of the 20th century. In fact, this is the path that was taken by Uganda Development Bank, too, and it keeps growing.

The Revelation; the small matter of beans and working in silos, is it a case of governmental incompetence?

Chris Mwesigye Bishaka, is an old warhorse that lives quietly in the rural hamlet of Ibanda, Western Uganda, shuttling between church, his old parents (each above 100 years in age) and keeping active by supervising works under his Canon Estates holdings and engaging with a diverse, largely virtual, middle and upper-middle-class crowd that doesn’t agree on most everything apart from their adoration for their virtual uncle and friend, Chris.

On December 24, 2019 at 8:57am, he posted an intriguing tale, more so, because anyone who is observant enough can tell from first-hand experience, a similar story. He stated that a few months before he turned 30, Uganda’s rulers, in 1988, had in their “unlimited wisdom” signed barter trade contracts with Communist Cuba. He had been tasked to establish a new Uganda Railways outpost in the port city of Mwanza on L. Victoria, as the Kenyan port, Mombasa, couldn’t process these goods since the Kenyans were firmly in the Capitalist bloc and Uganda was a “mixed” non-aligned economy! To be young and stupid, nay naive!

Anyway, the Government bureaucrats who knew absolutely nothing about international trade were sent but negotiated the deal between Kampala and Havana for exchanging beans with sugar and agricultural implements in Havana where they ignorantly endorsed a FOB contract for the goods from Cuba that included the clause defining the destination as “not landed at the port of Dar es Salaam.”

You can imagine the consternation (Chris’ word) in government when the ship arrived at the port of Dar es Salaam and anchored 200 meters away and would not be allowed to berth until all wharving charges had been paid – by Uganda! Kampala took a month to send the $60,000 to clear these fees while the ship accrued demurrage charges at the rate of $6,000 per day for just sitting in the water.

Needless to add, Chris says that the beans were not sorted, had to be transported back to Kampala, during which journey, they were “eaten” by our officials, and government had to procure a fresh batch of sorted beans, and take them back to the ship at Dar-es- Salaam!

The sheer incompetence on display in this small matter can be retold and is experienced on a daily by Ugandans. The Kampala Northern Bypass, a 21km highway that will on January 1st, 2020 make the ignominious entry into record as the shortest road to be built across three decades, started in 2004, and is expected to get completed in 2023! That is almost a year taken on each kilometer!

Andrew Mwenda penned in The Independent, issue of September 16, 2019, a heartfelt and extremely distressing piece, “Uganda’s height of folly”, in which he decried the paralytic nonsense betrayed by Uganda’s fearful and inept bureaucracy in getting oil out of the ground- point no. 3 or 4 of M7’s guidelines to get us to middle-income status was to the get that First Oil out of the ground before end of 2019/20- before the fossil fuel is rendered irrelevant by the rapid technological changes in the countries that actually consume oil on such high scale.

It can be witnessed in expanding a small airport terminal and the works stretch on for half a decade. For a Terminal of 20,000 square metres, Entebbe Airport’s terminal is 50 times smaller than China’s Daxing International Airport at 1,000,000 square metres. Started in 2014, Daxing took 5 years to build. That means on average, 547 square metres were built per day and 200,000 per year! At that rate, the terminal building at Entebbe would have taken 36 and a half days! We are now 4 years removed from when the first hoes dug up the earth at Entebbe in August 2015 to start the expansion, and we become more distressed by the slow pace of works. We shall not repeat the very annoying tale of the Kampala-Jinja Expressway.

Is it a problem of money? Leadership or commitment?

As illustrated in numerous examples, even the worst Ugandan bureaucrat can do serious work if there is reward and sanction and they are to be strictly enforced. M7 rejected with contempt, a banker led bid to finance the purchase of the Uganda Airlines’ jets on loan, and opted to buy them with cash. He also ordered for CCTV cameras, and the same were bought, installed, and surprise, work! They have helped arrest 300 hardcore criminals, the reason most people will actually have a delightful holiday period. When buying the Sukhois, establishing the Senior Command and Staff College, going to Somalia, going all in for the Kiira EV systems, the man has displayed – and his officers have followed the lead- single minded determination.

However, the problem is that, his government works in silos. It is not unheard of for one agency to have no idea that there is a law that gives its work and mandate to another!

There is a very big problem in governmental communications, enforcement of regulations, ratification of internationally binding instruments and a serious vacuum in telling the Ugandan story, warts and all. Even with the shambolic government record in delivering infrastructure on budget and time, the story, well told, gives hope and helps those making decisions to do so from an informed viewpoint. The surprising bit is communication and enforcement of regulations are contained in both the Kyankwanzi resolutions of July 25 to 2 August, 2016 and number 6 on his Entebbe guidelines of 23rd June, 2016 to Ministers to get Uganda to middle-Income status by 2020, a pipe dream as only about 3 of the 15 guidelines are on track.

Uganda Airlines, could not coordinate with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to use its very visible platforms, the Media Centre, Government- Citizen Interaction Centre, and failed to engage NITA-U for advice on the website. It was found out that a Domain Name Squatter from Denver, Colorado, had actually registered the website www.ugandaairlines.com and we blindly went ahead to do the same hence the confusion among travelers who when they searched for the website, went to one which in no way, shape or form was that of the carrier, but carried some hotels. On August 27, 2019 The Independent ran a story on the confusion wrought by the cybersquatter. I suspect we paid the cybersquatter off and retained the website. This could have been done earlier by engaging with NITA-U and or even using a country code domain, such as .ug or .net.ug, which are all Top Level Domains, but require the wider public to know such a country or domain exists, which may be bad for international air travel, as the biggest travel markets in the world couldn’t care less for Sub-Saharan Africa backwaters. Opting for .com because it is a generic US public Top Level Domain, where we could tap into the internet savvy travel market, was wise. 

Uganda Airlines, by March, 2019, also didn’t have a substantive CEO or even a Board of Directors!Either decisions in this country are taken by one person who possibly can’t do everything, or we have incompetent officials. I suspect the former. Parliament passed a resolution to have the Board appointed. It has been.

The negativity brewed by these episodes of working in silos and lack of governmental communications both intra and to the public, to me, revealed a lack of appreciation of the needs of the information age and the changing demands and needs of the governed.

The GCIC, headed by Awel Uwihanganye, only parodies what the Presidential Press Unit has communicated. It has no initiative of its own. I bet they don’t know that Acwa Hydropower Station of 42 MW is complete and to be commissioned. Have no idea of IDA19, cannot tell whether KCCA is about to get $300 million for Kampala’s roads, or if they do, have not consulted to know which funding agency the money is coming from. Meanwhile, citizens demand questions as to why roads are falling apart, when their airport will get done – the last video posted by Uganda Civil Aviation Authority is of them participating in some run. Nothing about timelines! If they know, they are certainly excellent at keeping the information to their small circle, and that is a failure as it should be an Interaction with citizens, unless that is a misnomer. The Media Centre is really a political communications department, and may not be blamed as much as the GCIC.

According to The Spectator Index, quoting Pew Research, 73% of the American adults surveyed, regularly use YouTube, compared to 68% for Facebook; 35% for Instagram; 29% for Pinterest:27% for Snapchat; 25% for LinkedIn; 24% for Twitter with WhatsApp have about 245 of adults regularly using it. The GCIC has little traction in this regard. it prefers the elite snobbery of Twitter and largely keeps an inactive Facebook page, and has no YouTube Channel!

It was, therefore, surprising that someone had actually thought of opening a channel for the Uganda Airlines Company, by that name, about 3 months back. The obsession with the American market is because it does actually have spenders. It is a $21.4 trillion economy with at least 900 million air passengers in 2018. Africa is a $1.5 trillion economy with only 92 million air passengers to fight for. Our agencies promoting business, tourism and trade, should all have YouTube Channels with excellently shot videos uploaded and NOT phone camera videography which is pathetic at best.

A search on YouTube of popular places such as Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja, etc reveals some videos with few views, and often poorly shot by amateur YouTubers. The GCIC would be encouraging these, in this gig economy, with professional crews, some money, and equipment to shoot videos of whatever it is they are talking about. Guess which countries have perfected this? Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Senegal. Little wonder the search engines bring up only admirable stories about them.

That Uganda Airlines have only 97 subscribers on YouTube is not a reflection on UR. It is as a result of clueless groping in the dark of the 21st Century by a clueless, highly dysfunctional silo working bureaucracy.UR have done well, and for making our children dream again, long may you prosper and fly the Crane to the Pearl of Africa.

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