Mess in Uganda Airlines symptomatic of our tired and rotten leadership
What you need to know:
- The airline has a fleet of just six aircraft and has never turned a profit since its revival in 2019. Before it was liquidated in 2001, it (nearly) always made headlines for the wrong reasons and was a byword for mismanagement and loss-making.
Uganda Airlines is a little-known airline owned by Government of Uganda, one of the poorest countries that has been on the list of least developed countries (LDCs) since 1971.
The airline has a fleet of just six aircraft and has never turned a profit since its revival in 2019. Before it was liquidated in 2001, it (nearly) always made headlines for the wrong reasons and was a byword for mismanagement and loss-making.
From the look of things, Uganda Airlines is picking up from where it left off in 2001. This time it is — in a manner of speaking — giving us three items for the price of one. The news the struggling airline is making is as shocking as it is unbelievable.
Last Tuesday, a parliamentary committee found that the airline’s chief executive, Jennifer Bamuturaki, and other senior managers (and pilots) are earning preposterously high salaries. It also discovered that salaries for comparable positions varied widely.
Ms Bamuturaki did not even apply for the job. The airline had advertised the job after the Zambian it had hired, Cornwell Mulewa, was fired, but weeks after applicants had submitted their applications, and with just a few days to the deadline, the recruitment process was brought to a screeching halt — and Ms Bamuturaki was offered the job.
Her monthly salary, according to Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase), is an eye-popping Shs87m. She grosses more than Shs1b a year or $274,622.
Ms Bamuturaki is not the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, arguably Africa’s most profitable, most successful airline. She is not being rewarded for exceptional performance. She is chief executive of a loss-making airline that probably exists only because Ugandan taxpayers do not have any say in how their taxes are used. To understand that Ms Bamuturaki’s salary and the salaries of other senior managers are shockingly and outrageously high, let us consider this. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) manages more than $1 trillion it uses to bolster international financial stability and bail out countries in fiscal crisis.
When Christine Largade was its managing director, she earned an annual salary of $467,940 (the pay for the current MD Kristalina Georgieva is not public knowledge). Ms Bamuturaki’s annual salary of $274,622 and that of the second best paid manager — $252,422 — are more than what a woman who led a global organisation working to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity for its 190 member countries earned.
Cosase’s findings suggest that some pilots, with a salary of Shs60m per month, earn more than their equally experienced counterparts in the United Kingdom working for major carriers. The justification for these salaries is hard to understand given the airline’s financial situation.
Company executives can be paid extremely well if they increase profitability. In 2017, for example, Stanbic paid its then managing director, Patrick Mweheire, a bonus of Shs1b for exceptional performance in 2016. The bank had made a whopping Shs200b in profits. By contrast, Uganda Airlines does not even know when it will break even.
The mess in Uganda Airlines, it seems to me, is symptomatic of Uganda’s tired and rotten leadership. For years, the country has been heading in the wrong direction. Rotten leadership has bred nepotism and means the country’s meagre resources are mismanaged.
Yet if they were managed properly, they would fix many problems. For example, just a half of Ms Bamuturaki’s salary is enough to replace the decrepit and embarrassing beds we were shown on TV that soldiers in Kabamba barracks sleep on.
Mr Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected] @kazbuk