All teens want to be pilots; what of sadistic adults at the airport?

Saturday January 28 2023
A female pilot

A female pilot. If you ask a Ugandan kid in their lower teens or younger what they will be when they grow up, the most frequent answer you get is “pilot”. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


If you ask a Ugandan kid in their lower teens or younger what they will be when they grow up, the most frequent answer you get is “pilot”. This can be surprising because chances of ever getting into the cockpit for a Ugandan kid are less than one in ten million. For the national airline has six planes for a population of 45 million.

But chances of ending up tilling the land are about three in four, for about three-quarters of the people live off the land. This is not necessarily bad, after all, with an area of 93,063.3 square miles, Uganda has about 60 million acres. That works out to 1.33 acres per person on average. We are here talking about fertile, well-drained land with two or three rain seasons a year and plenty of sunshine. And though a fifth of the country’s area is water, it is fresh and also teeming with fish.

But if you want to look for a child who wants to be a farmer, better give up any other activity and concentrate on the search, for it can take you a lifetime before coming across one. It certainly is surprising that a Ugandan child thinks they can end up in aviation where the chances are microscopic and they do not consider agriculture which is the default career of the country’s population. There are even chances of a Ugandan child growing to become a boda boda rider than working in the aviation sector, for we have one million of those two wheelers for a population of 45 million.

Less than attractive

Moreover, the news about Uganda’s aviation sector is less than attractive. The country which has one international airport at Entebbe, recently acquired its six brand new planes but is yet to get clearance for the national carrier to fly direct to the UK, the most “natural” overseas destination due to historical colonial ties. This is because of the technical state of Entebbe Airport which is not considered good enough as the last airport at which an aircraft was handled before going to the UK! So Uganda Airlines would have to first fly to an approved airport. So if it is a regional rival country, you can as well expect it also to set stiff conditions like the British civil aviation authorities.

The other not-so-good news that Ugandan media has been awash with recently is the shamefully uncouth conduct of some personnel at Entebbe when handling travellers. My patriotism discourages me from quoting examples. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t seem to matter to the said personnel that the airport is the country’s reception desk, its front office where they should be at their best and most professional conduct. The first time I went to the DR Congo border several years ago, I chatted up a Congolese immigration officer who was quite friendly. I confessed that he was the opposite of the image painted about Congolese officials.


He said without hesitation, “I am the first person to handle the people entering my country and the last to handle them as they leave. So the first and last impression they get of my country depends on the way I conduct myself.”

Humbled and impressed

I was humbled and impressed. To be honest I have never been harassed or faced extortion by any Ugandan official at our entry and exit points. But this is due to the considerable level of name recognition I enjoy at home now for 30 years, which I don’t expect from any Congolese person. So, the courtesy and education I got from the “mukongomani” awed me. Watching the videos and reading the accounts of travellers abused at Entebbe makes me wish that that Congolese immigration guy could be hired to mentor some of his counterpart compatriots of mine.

I certainly don’t think our kids are sadists who want to work in a sector that apparently causes anguish to travellers. It is more likely that they are ignorant of the opportunities in agriculture in their predominantly agricultural country. Whose job is it to make agriculture profitable and appealing to the young in this agricultural country? The ministry of aviation, perhaps?

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]