Did Museveni sail a clay boat to launch Uganda Airlines?

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Mr Allan Tacca says: The lovers of Uganda hoped (or wished) the company would succeed.

In his May 29 broadcast on Covid-19, President Museveni repeatedly quoted a Luganda proverb: “Nantabuulirirwa; yasaabala bwa bbumba.”

The proverb refers to anyone who invites disaster by not listening to counsel (like folklore’s Nantabuulirirwa, who boarded a boat made of clay).

With a resurgent Covid-19, Museveni was warning Ugandans not to emulate Nantabuulirirwa.
Now, Ugandans come in several types. I will look at three.

There is the Ugandan who loves Uganda and wants Museveni (or any other Ugandan who happens to be President) to make Uganda succeed.

Two: There is the Ugandan who loves Museveni and does not care whether Museveni delivers success or failure (as long as he remains President). This Ugandan would rather have Uganda perish than have another person as President.

Three: There is the Ugandan who neither loves nor hates the two. He sees these two entities (Uganda and Museveni) as objects for observation. If you are relatively sober, and lucid, you can ‘slide’ into this citizen and try to see Uganda and Museveni in their glorious limitation.

When the Uganda Airlines fiasco started unfolding, with the carnage that saw many management heads rolling and left the boardroom looking like a graveyard, you could not avoid recalling the long debate before the government launched Uganda Airlines.

The lovers of Uganda hoped (or wished) the company would succeed. 
The Museveni lovers did not mind how Uganda Airlines performed. If Museveni was bent on resurrecting the national carrier, any counter position was just anti-Museveni and, therefore, untenable.

In our small insignificant way, some of us slid into the head of that third Ugandan who sees Uganda and Museveni in their glorious limitation. We could not imagine Uganda Airlines succeed. Even as a vanity project, it was doomed to turn ugly before its pretence as a beauty had built for it some reputation beyond the villages of a few neighbouring countries.

Precisely because the company would be an NRM-governed Ugandan project, anyone who chose to be sober could prophesy that corruption and nepotism would clash with competence over jobs at Uganda Airlines. Procurement invoices would be inflated. Some bigwigs would angle for free tickets. Cosseted politicians would even siphon out cash, and so on; this in an industry, where (all over the world) the most disciplined airlines find it hard to make a profit.

As Sunday Monitor reported last Sunday, all those ugly things happened. If it investigated further, it might find that even before the crimes, the official salaries at the company were up there in the league of big companies that were already successful. Like the manager of a five-matatu start-up earning the salary of an established 100-bus fleet CEO.

Naturally, our small voices of counsel were ignored. The optimism of those who loved Uganda and the passion of those who loved Museveni carried the day.

Curiously, although the planes Uganda Airlines bought were neither alleged to be helicopters nor military, and they were not junk, and we have a President so approachable that a Kitatta or a Full Figure could claim access to him, Uganda Airlines’s CEO, Cornwell Muleya, reportedly used no less than the controversy-hardened Gen Salim Saleh as the ‘courier’ to deliver his account of the problems to the President.

Anyway, Museveni is the chief executive of the republic. He decides. The latest electoral combination of his names includes ‘Tibuhaburwa’, which we are told describes a person who does not listen to counsel. Did President Museveni sail a clay boat when going to launch Uganda Airlines?

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
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