The minister’s wife is depressed. According to their maid, she can no longer take her family to Mombasa for their frequent trips to meet up with friends, following the suspension of Air Uganda flights and the subsequent skyrocketing of air fares within the region.
“Poor madame!” said my maid sympathetically. “So now what will she tell her important family friends? That she has chucked them?”
“I guess she is busy cooking up some convincing excuses,” said her maid. “For a week now she has been harassing honourable why Uganda cannot have a national airline.”
“And what does the poor minister answer?” I asked, keen to know what someone in Cabinet says about it.”
“He keeps telling her how Uganda Airlines collapsed due to mismanagement and that government is not good at doing business,” answered the maid. “But I don’t find his answers convincing.”
“Surely, those two are valid points,” I said.
“But the national airline was not the only government institution that failed, so why single it out for permanent abolition?”
“Which other one failed and was revived?” I challenged her.
“Don’t you keep talking about the former army that was so hopeless it only killed civilians until it got overrun and disbanded?” she asked. “How come a new army was set up to replace it instead of saying Ugandans cannot run an army? And hasn’t UPDF proved so successful not only by securing Uganda’s borders but also re-establishing order in Somalia which you said had even defeated America?”
“Wait a minute!” I stopped her, thinking comparing the UPDF to an airline was inappropriate. “The army is not a commercial enterprise and is of strategic importance to the country.”
“And you think a national airline is not of strategic importance to a landlocked country?” she asked.
“But ask all the country’s top economists and they will swear Uganda cannot manage an airline,” was all I could say.
“Are they saying because we are landlocked we are also mind-locked?” she askeded haughtily. “If mzee had applied the same reasoning, he would not have bothered to build the UPDF, since Uganda had failed to run an army before.”
“But the army is not a business,” I protested.
“Okay, what about the telephone companies?” she asked. “You said the Uganda Posts and tele-whatever was not efficient so they brought it commercial companies. Haven’t they succeeded in connecting everybody?”
“That is the private sector, and nobody has been stopped from running a private airline in Uganda,” I said. “Air Uganda was suspended by CAA as a regulator, not by Parliament or government as a policy.”
“But I am sure the mobile phone companies were systematically brought in and the market was not thrown open to everybody fwaaa!” she argued. “And I am sure they were not local.
So the government can systematically let in a competent airline operator and give them conditions of operating. Unless our economists insist the same government that regulates telecoms and everything else is incapable of regulating an airline operator.”
“It is capable but there are priorities,” I said.
“You have not seen how stressed madame is over the air ticket prices these days,” she said. “If you see her, you will know that setting up a national airline is not just a priority; it is an emergency.”