Politicians come to life at Aero beach

Friday March 18 2016
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Cornelius Kodet Lorika shows a sculpture of President Museveni together with the Queen of England and the First Lady Janet Museveni during the Queen’s visit to Uganda for CHOGM in 2007. Photo by Dominic Bukenya

To many going to the beach is about having fun - unwinding in the sun, swimming in the lake or simply taking in the view of the water body as you enjoy the cool breeze. Very few will go to the beach as an educational trip or to pick a political statement. But visiting Aero beach gives the impression that it’s a beach with a difference.
The beach has a political, historical, and social lesson for one to pick. From personalities that shaped political events in East Africa to India or the Titanic, from the father of African independence drive to the queen’s visit to Uganda, it’s all there.

Although Aero has an ordinary beach setting, it doubles as a tourist site. Mzee Cornelius Kodet Lorika, the brain behind the beach, says he got the idea in 1974 during a visit to the UK. “I had just been to BBC house for an interview when I heard a programme of someone who was making millions of pounds a year from an old airplane he mounted on top of his house.” “When I returned home, I got an idea of making use of the old planes that were retired. The Civil Aviation Authority referred me to International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Canada who approved my request,” he says.
Kodet admits that despite IATA’s approval it was not easy to have the planes towed to their current home. “Fences, roads, and other things had to be broken down for the old planes to be towed here,” explains the 76-year-old.
Dotting the beach are statues of both African and international iconic figures. Though Kodet does not explain why he opted for those particular people, he is quick to explain why he has a statue of Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere. “When I met President Museveni, he asked me to have a statue of Nyerere. He loves him so much. He is his political mentor,” Kodet says.

The presence of Queen Elizabeth’s statue in the company of President Museveni and the first lady depicts her majesty visit to the country during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Uganda. Nelson Mandela’s statue also features on the beach. “He is the father of the African continent,” explains Kodet. Besides human statues on the beach is a bar shaped in form of a boat which he named the Titanic.
Kodet is looking forward to Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to mark the Entebbe raid by commandos from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to lay a foundation stone for the Entebbe Raid Museum. “Besides the museum, I want Netanyahu to also commission the statue of his brother Yonathan Netanyahu who was killed during that rescue operation. The Uganda Air Force MiG planes that were destroyed during the raid will be in the museum.”

The July 1976 operation codenamed Operation Thunderbolt was later renamed operation Yonathan after its commander. During the raid all the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed, and 30 Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21S were destroyed. The operation was aimed at rescuing the 250 passengers, 85 of whom were Israelis who were in an Air France plane hijacked by the PLO terrorists.
Despite willingness to invest in the venture there are hurdles to be overcome. The Works ministry is yet to release the destroyed planes despite the President’s consent to have them handed over to Kodet.
“I met the President and told him of my plans. I requested to have those planes. The President wrote to the minister in July last year granting me permission to use the destroyed planes but up to now, the Transport minister is yet to act,” exclaimed the bewildered Kodet.

In a July 28, 2015 letter to minister John Byabagambi, President Museveni wrote. “On June28, 2015 I met with Mzee Kodet Cornelius Loriak owner of Aero beach in Entebbe, who requested to be given the old planes that were raided by Israel troops and are currently parked at the Old Airport……. I accepted Mzee Kodet’s request because this will make the planes more useful….”
The museum is going to depict the 1974 raid with a touch of history to it. Besides having the destroyed MiG planes, the museum is going to have historical artifacts from Karamoja region. “John Wilson, the owner of Treasures of Africa Museum in Kitale Kenya, has agreed to surrender all his collection of artifacts from Karamoja to be displayed in the new museum at my beach,” Kodet explains.

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