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Retention of UN base won’t save troubled economy

The effort put in by Uganda to stop the UN from relocating her Entebbe service center to Nairobi could make you think the country’s future depended entirely on it.

Our ageing revolutionary leader and chairman of the movement, Gen Yoweri Museveni, wrote to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, complaining against the planned relocation – pleading to keep the centre.

On Wednesday last week, parliament, through a motion moved by Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo, joined the campaign to save the Entebbe UN base. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga literally shut down all MPs who faulted Uganda for the UN proposal to close the base.

Uncharacteristic of a presiding officer, she also kept volunteering points to bolster the Ssekikubo motion. MPs, one by one, stood to condemn the UN secretary general and the international community for being ungrateful to a country that has contributed troops to keep peace in Somalia, and is hosting 1.3 million refugees.

I didn’t believe in what many of the MPs were saying, but the environment had been so much fouled for any dissenting views. I told Bukedea woman MP Anita Among, one of the sponsors of the motion, that I didn’t support them. She whispered to the speaker not to grant me opportunity to talk.

When Kadaga eventually allowed me to address parliament that had become hostile to alternative views, I informed jeering MPs that I was opposed to the motion.

The motion was just symbolic as it urged government to intensify diplomatic efforts so Uganda could retain the base. That is all it contained.

My view, which I would like to share with those that don’t sit in parliament, is that we must make Uganda competitive lest we lose opportunities. And how do we make Uganda competitive? That is the million-dollar question.

In the last couple of years, Uganda has lost British Airways and Etihad airlines’ business. These two airlines were paying taxes, and their staff were sleeping in hotels in Entebbe. They eventually terminated their flights to Uganda.

I don’t know why Mr Museveni didn’t see value in keeping British Airways and Etihad flights. These two are important for different reasons. Historically, London is very important to Uganda. They were our rulers for a very long time, and that is why we are members of the Commonwealth.

London has also historically been one of our main funders. But also strategically, they are a key global actor with huge influence.

In fact, that is partly the reason Rwanda invested in a Boeing 737-800 in 2016 to begin direct flights to London’s Gatwick airport. Easing communication with London is important for many reasons.

Etihad, on the other hand, is the official airline of Abu Dhabi, the richest place on earth. While our reserve as a country remains just about $4 billion, Abu Dhabi has a sovereign fund of over $900 billion. And of recent, Abu Dhabi has opened her doors to many migrant workers including thousands of Ugandans.

Mr Museveni himself has visited Abu Dhabi and is pleading with them to invest in Uganda. One will wonder as to how we should have kept the two airlines. Government alone spends Shs 113 billion on travel abroad every year, and a bulk of this money is for buying air tickets.

Government can divide this money among key airlines equitably. Difficult to do in a liberalized economy, but possible. I, therefore, didn’t understand why MPs were so obsessed with the UN base meant to facilitate mainly conflict-prone areas and just kept quiet about the closure of these two important airlines.

Someone tells me Uganda has paid for four aircraft and that Uganda Airlines is about to be revived. It is a good move which I hope will not be messed up again.

My view to the jeering MPs was that instead of crying for the $30 million UN base money and about 400 jobs, we must, as of necessity, reconstruct our economy. 

Jinja Municipality MP, Paul Mwiru, spoke about investment in agriculture but was shut down as this was no time to speak about broader issues.

Two Kenyan giant stores have closed shop and left the country because of lack of business. The economy that used to grow at six per cent now averages about four per cent, while our population is also growing at three per cent.

In effect, we are registering just about one per cent growth which explains the alarming rates of unemployment.

Our young people are restless and the revolutionary leader keeps throwing money at them instead of opportunities. The threat by the UN to leave Entebbe should have given us an opportunity to debate broader issues, but instead we ended up joining the mourning.

Last Friday, the local media reported that after all, the UN service center will remain. To be honest, many people in my constituency didn’t even know it existed until its eminent closure dominated our airwaves.

It is good to retain it, but the country must think beyond a small base.

The author is Kira municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.

Comments   

0 #31 Bisoboza 2018-05-19 15:40
For some years, UN staff and other travelers I have been privileged to interact with have often expressed dissatisfaction with the state of EBBE International Airport.

They assert that the security procedures and access route to the departure terminal are quite unfriendly. Carrying heavy luggage up the steep stairs is one such inconveniences.

Small issues such as these can be irritating and could be among the reasons the UN Base may be moved from EBBE. The Airport is actually not user friendly for departures.
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0 #32 Akot 2018-05-19 20:03
Stewart, understood.

UN/developed countries need Uganda, but can go on without Uganda too! If Museveni Reforms the Republic & gets rid of tribal leaders' posts, Uganda will be ground for UN-developed world to do business without ignoring Uandans & pretending the country is democratic as is the case!

Museveni is aware UN is saying NO to the tribalistic system, even when Wooden K. still spports tribal leaders & does not get UN move!

Ugandans cannot make their stand against UN action as long as they support tribal leaders who joined Museveni in taking Uganda to the 18 century & rules through a tribalistic system!

Not 1 elected member in developed country can be tribalists-racist-sectarian...& utter nonsens to defend his/her stand & still be in office!

How can Ugandans not understand this & want UN to just go along with Museveni as they do?
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0 #33 Akot 2018-05-19 20:14
Wooden K.,

There is no (DIVERSITY = HARMONY + UNITY) in Musevni Uganda but tribalism, division, hatred, sectarianism, tribal isolation...!

Besides having Museveni as chief, tribal leaders don't even know one another & when any go to State House, it's secret meeting the chief & no details are revealed even to subjects!

If Museveni is brought befored court, tribal leaders will be co-accused or it won't be justice!

Tribal leaders are enjoying life with Museveni & helping him maintain the tribalistic system, right?

Let's stop being hypocrites, or not only UN but developed countries will also close Embassies in Uganda: after all, what are they doing in this tribalistically ruled country when their system goes agains tribalism that is cherished by Ugandans at the expense of the future of their own children?

Only tribal leaders childrens' future is assured!
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0 #34 Akot 2018-05-19 20:28
Wooden K.,

If you love Ugandans, you should open their eyes to see what's going on in the rest of the world before developed countries finally wake up & close their missions in tribalistically ruled Uganda!

How can you not see Uganda is at a dead end in the tribalistic system that isolate them from one another when Museveni has woken up to see it?

What will you do/say if Museveni Reforms the Republic of Uganda & dissolves tribal leaders' post?

Will this be war, disunity...for Ugandans?

But Museveni going to be on for 35 years & is already assured of the next election is not boring to Ugandans who don't have opposition leadership to the dictator, while tribal leaders assure his continuity!

How many UN bosses left/will leave Museveni in post?
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