The revival of Uganda Airlines may affect the life of Entebbe residents in more subtle ways than you would expect.
The people on this conservative peninsula where I was born and raised many years ago always regarded themselves as more civilised than the Kampala folk only 20 miles away, describing the capital city as a den place the uncouth.
What’s more, being the gateway to overseas destinations because of the location of the airport, always gave Entebbe folk a certain pride. It is as if they had one leg overseas though the second leg never joined it for the majority of them.
Unconsciously, aviation influenced everybody’s life in Entebbe town, the peninsula and the surrounding district which these days is called Wakiso.
Almost everybody, from a top researcher at the East African (now Uganda) Virus Research Institute to the illiterate grandma scratching the soil for a meagre living 10 miles away, got to synchronise their body clocks with the flight schedules.
This was because the flights in and out of Entebbe were never that many and you effortlessly got to know when which one was coming in.
So a mother whose kids return from school at a given time gets reminded by the roar of a jet to warm the food for them. Without looking up to the sky, she would exclaim, “Ethiopian has arrived but the food is not ready…”
But that timing system based on flights was gradually disrupted with the declining economy and the country’s international isolation of the late 1970s and almost died out in the mid-1980s as the national carrier Uganda Airlines also started gasping for breath before finally collapsing with the close of the 20th century.
In its last days, Uganda Airlines’ flights were so unrelated to schedule that the cheeky late attorney general Abu Mayanja said its call signal QU stood for “Quite Unreliable.”
If Mayanja were alive today, his prayer would probably be that the revived carrier’s call signal become QR for “Quite Reliable.”
And that is what Uganda Airlines must live up to if it is to compete in the increasingly tricky aviation industry. For what else matters if a carrier cannot keep to its own timetable in a competitive environment?
For most of my Entebbe people who will never board a plane, the only way Uganda Airlines can serve them is to act as their timekeeper.
So the national carrier should not let them down. But even for those who fly, including the frequent fliers, punctuality has never been our strong point in Uganda.
People wearing expensive watches on the wrists, with a clock on their smartphone, another on their desk computer and one on their car dashboard, not to mention the several clock faces on the walks around them still do not keep time.
Everybody arranging a function in our country states the starting time at an hour earlier, saying that if the people come an hour late, then they can start on time.
Such a society needs the regular roar of the jet engines – though they are so much quieter than they were in the older days – to keep telling them the time. For the sake of the permanently grounded majority, let the new Uganda Airlines at least keep time so we can have more order in our lives.
Joachim Buwembo is a retired journalist and a consultant based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]