Call for values, virtue of truthfulness : the fate of Uganda Airlines

Hon. Edward Baliddawa (Courtesy Photo)
By :
Hon Edward Balidawa

Raising kids is one enigma of life that every parent learns out of experience cycle and not necessarily from reading a text book or listening to the parenting guide speeches. This is not to dismiss the numerous very good books out there written about parenting or to demean the very insightful and often motivational speeches by parenting gurus. Books, videos and seminar sessions about parenting are all good and worth investing time and resources in, if one wants to get tips on how to raise kids. However, the hands-on experience can only be gotten by having to raise the kids yourself. There is no substitute for this practical part of this life changing experience. There are no simulations of such a life experience. While one is raising kids, there are certain virtues and values that emerge and which must form the bedrock of that family. There are these virtues and values that shape the character of the children even into their adulthood.

My wife Bernadette (Berna) and I have been blessed with three children, Divine Mercy aged 16 yrs and currently sitting her “O” level exams, Matthew aged 13 yrs and Michelle aged 10 years. We have been told by many experts that every child growing up brings its own sometimes unique experiences to the parents and it hasn’t been any different to us either. However, I would like to share a very little portion of my experience with our youngest daughter Michelle.

Michelle is an inquisitive, intelligent and loving kid. Being the last born, she, like all last born kids, feels entitlement to all parent’s attention. Although, personally I grew up not used to celebrating birthdays, I have gotten not to miss a single one for my kids.

During one of those birthday celebrations, Michelle made a proposal which at the time, I didn’t think much of its implications. She said, “Daddy, for my next birthday, can we go to Disneyland in America?” Without giving it much thought, I answered, “Yes baby”.  The celebrations continued and we went home joyfully after having had a blissful day.

Well, as her next birthday was approaching, two weeks to be exact before her 8th year birthday, and after returning from school, while her mother, Berna and I were seated in the sitting room watching the 7.00 o’clock evening news, Michelle excitedly ran right into my laps and said, “Daddy, do you remember your promise you made last year during my last birthday celebration?” I looked at her right into her eyes and confessed that actually I couldn’t remember any promise that I made to her. Indeed, I couldn’t even remember that her birthday was just a few days away. She insisted and asked me, “Honestly, Daddy you can’t remember what we agreed on?” Realizing that I was already caught flat footed, I apologetically asked her to remind me. In a high pitch tone she said, “Daddy, have you forgotten that we agreed that you will take us to America and I celebrate my birthday in Disneyland?” “Actually my birthday is next week. My friends at school told me that we need to have visas in order to be allowed to enter America. When are you going to get those visas?” she asked. In all this conversation, the mother was looking at me with an expression on her face as if she was about to burst into laughter.

On reminding me of what I had apparently loosely agreed to a year ago, I was stunned and crestfallen. I had not realized that what I had loosely responded to in affirmative to my kid so many months ago, that it had actually become a sort of covenant to which I had to be held accountable. This commitment had been registered in her brain, although not written down anywhere and it was something that she was eagerly looking forward to ever since her previous birthday. Actually, I came to learn later that while at school during each birthday celebrations for her friends in class; Michelle would announce it to her friends that she was going to have her next birthday in America. So in short, she took the promise I made to her very seriously.

Still struck and not rightly finding what to say, Michelle went straight to the drawers where we normally keep our important documents and returned with her Passport plus those of her two siblings. She placed them on a coffee table right in front of me and said, “Daddy, here are our passports, can you go tomorrow and get us the visas”.  “Since you and Mummy were just recently in America, they know you already, you don’t need visas, but us we need”, she said. This is when I realized that I needed to come clean before my now 8 year old kid. It was an emotional and heartbreaking thing for me to tell her that actually, although I would have wanted very much to take her to Disneyland for her birthday, we just didn’t have the money yet.

I explained to her the financial limitations we were having as a family. At first I had feared as to how she would react to the sad news that she was actually not going to celebrate this particular year’s birthday in Disneyland. However, as soon as I had finished my explanation and apologizing, she said, “Daddy, don’t worry, it is okay. I know that you don’t have money now, but I am going to pray to God to give you much money and in future we shall go to America to celebrate my birthday and you and mummy will celebrate your wedding anniversary there”.  We all burst in laughter, shouting “Amen”. We hugged and resumed watching TV.

The lesson I learnt from this experience was that there are things that we tend to loosely commit to without appreciating our limitations of fulfilling them and probably not even understanding how deep commitments mean to the people to whom we make them. We must know that any commitment one makes, verbal or written has ramifications which might exceed one’s imagination.

In fact, we are told that in the Far Eastern countries particularly of Japan and South Korea, they have a culture where one’s word is as good as a written agreement which must be adhered to no matter what. In those countries, once the government says that it is going to do something, it becomes as good as already undertaken.  Hence, because of this virtue of honesty, even the populace developed a culture of trust for their leadership. They say what they mean and they mean what they say, it is that straight forward. It is this virtue of honesty and commitment to fulfillment of what one said or committed to that has actually helped these two countries into becoming giant economies of the world.

Now, how does this stark up with what we experience here back home on a daily basis? Unfortunately, we seem not to have any sense or willingness within our societies to be people of our own words. We are simply flip flops, on whose words verbally spoken or written, one cannot necessarily rely on. This culture of un-seriousness or unreliability is exemplified in our attitude towards small occurrences such as time keeping. It is never a surprise to see someone show up for an already pre-arranged and time-programmed meeting or function many hours late. Sometimes the best one can do is to offer an apology, but otherwise, this is taken as normal and acceptable. It has become our virtue and value not to take anybody serious and for us not to be taken serious.

This brings me to the hot issue that is being debated on a daily basis these days by mostly the tourism fraternity. This is the issue of the revival of Uganda Airlines as our national carrier. Over a long period of time and with protracted debates, a case has been made particularly by those in the tourism industry of the need to revive the national carrier.

Without much in-depth consideration of whether the proposed revival will be commercially viable in the current both regional and global aviation ecosystems, the proponents for the revival have been consistent and aggressive in their agitation.  They have been very aggressive to the extent that the issue was elevated to the Cabinet level in government for a decision. As if to calm down the noise and constant agitation, the cabinet pronounced itself by committing to the revival of the national carrier.

This is where my analogy of my experience with my Michelle comes into play. I doubt if the Cabinet at the time of committing itself to the revival of Uganda Airlines actually had all the details on what it entails to resuscitate a national carrier!  Since a government commitment had been made, the officials in the Ministry of Finance and that of Works had now to work backwards and fast in order to fulfill the excitement of the tourism fraternity. In order to clearly demonstrate government’s determination and commitment, a date of April 2019 was set as when the national carrier would commence flying.

However, as the year-end draws near, thus in effect ushering in 2019, concern is being raised as to whether it will indeed be possible to have the airline commence as promised. All indications are that, Uganda Airlines commencing flights in April next year may be too ambitious given the fact that there are still financing issues for the eventual purchase of the planes that need to be sorted out.

Now the dilemma is, will the government officials swallow the bitter pill and decide to come clean to tell the eagerly anticipating wananchi that actually, the country might need to wait a little longer for the Airline to commence.

If indeed, we are to take government by its word and believe that the four promised planes (two Bombardiers from Canada and two Boeing Neo from America) will be on the Uganda soil by April 2019, then why aren’t we hearing of the necessary preparations made for this to happen? Why aren’t we hearing anything about the composition and framework of the company that is going to be running the airline? Why aren’t we hearing of the routes that the planes will be flying to and their costs to enable early bookings? Why aren’t we hearing of any call for services that go with an airline? Simply put, why there is no talk about this airline at all? Why is it still shrouded in secrecy?

But besides the above unanswered questions, there are even more serious issues that must be addressed if we are to hype up genuine enthusiasm for this airline.  Following the well known English adage “Once beaten, twice shy”,

I submit that we need to have an in-depth discussion on how we can make our proposed airline commercially viable in this cut-throat aviation business. There are many examples both within the region and outside that should inform our cautious discussion on the matter. In a situation whereby the auxiliary and often the most lucrative businesses of any airline such as, the cargo handling, ground handling, catering services are in the hands of privately owned companies at Entebbe, and where most of the fly routes were already taken up other airlines, we need to be sure how we shall navigate the already murky waters in order to make our airline afloat and not face the same fate that called for its closure and burial some 25 years ago.

As a person very passionate about tourism development in the country and a member on the Uganda Wildlife Authority Board of Trustees, the revival of a national carried would be the best news for the sector. However, we just need to have some more open engagements on the matter in order for all the stakeholders to fully appreciate the game plan and the exit strategy should things not play out as envisaged.


Balidawa is former Kigulu North MP

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