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Friday, June 2, 2023

Junk Choppers and Potholes in the Air

News in Uganda generally travels fast thanks to the reality that mobile phones, sms and internet infrastructure is eons ahead of Uganda’s road and now we could also say “aviation” assets. The rumor of some aircraft crashing initially arrived at my doorstep in Ugandan fashion. I got a phone call from a colleague in Nairobi who wondered if i had heard that President Museveni had crashed in a helicopter? I am less flustered by rumors these days. After all this is an election year i told myself. I nonetheless made some phone calls and established that it was Professor Apollo Nsibambi who had been injured.

Not long after that i received another phone call. This time the caller asked me if i knew that there was a major scandal behind the ill fated police helicopter that came crashing down? It was apparently one of those Chogm casualties, hurriedly procured and perishable. Again my skin being hardened by the battering received from many a corruption story, i said how bad can it be and carried on with my business.

Now junk choppers or junk anything is a Ugandan story. What i thought was pretty disgusting about the whole Nsibambi affair was that the PM himself. A very educated man who started his career as an academic before crossing over to public office, Nsibambi epitomises that phrase that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I remember the learned ” leader of government business” in 2005 arguing that because the roads were full of potholes, ministers were now entitled to bigger Landcruisers. ” Nissan Laurels are not durable, Prados are not stable on the road” he said. Now remember that Monitor had reportedly variously that the government fleet of several thousand cars was unsustainable and wasteful plus there was a raging debate on the Minister of Potholes [ sorry works, John Nasasira].

The argument some of us were making was that rather than fix themselves up with comfortable rides the cabinet should have fixed the bad roads first. That way there may be no need for extending the cost of bad government [ i.e] bad roads with the additional cost of bigger cars, fuel and spare parts. Well that did not work for the PM.

Then came the air crash. Human error or mechanical fault- the whole affair presents another bad narrative. I have been told that the Meteorology Department at Entebbe spends 60% of its resources not on predicting weather for Uganda’s millions of farmers but on ensuring aviation security. This is because, it is claimed, President Yoweri Museveni is a frequent flyer. One can see the irony that the PM going to assist victims of a weather related disaster is involved in an accident which despite the “misuse” of the meteorology department could not be prevented. After all it was an accident. However the PM who presides over government business now has to be rushed to Mulago Hospital – where just days before angry protestors had decried the “death conditions” there.

What is a PM- who when he was suffering a personal illness cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of shillings in treatment abroad to respond to all these sad interfaces? Does he order bigger better helicopters? A larger budget for aviation purposes for the Met? Maybe 5 star accomodation for cabinet ministers who suffer any locomotive disasters?

What is an educated man to do i wonder?

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