Uganda’s decade and a half military intervention in Somalia could have brought several benefits to both countries, but President Yowers Museveni’s loyalty to the Mogadishu government is now proving to be a mixed blessing for Uganda Airlines.
The airline , which already serves Mogadishu, has difficulties expanding the service to Hargeisa in the self-declared autonomous state of Somaliland. Hargeisa is one of the first 16 regional destinations that the newly designed Ugandan airline wanted to launch as part of the establishment of the regional network for medium and long haul flights. The first of these kicks off on October 4th.
While the airline sees strong demand for connectivity between Entebbe and Hargeisa, multiple sources say there has been no progress in securing landing rights for Uganda Airlines. There does not appear to be any active engagement between the two countries on this issue, and officials from the Transportation and Foreign Ministries were non-binding upon request.
Fred Byamukama, owner of the Transportation Protocol, pleaded for time for the establishment to be up to date because he was only a few months old in the ministry. He didn’t respond to follow-up calls.
Bageya Waiswa, the state secretary at the Ministry of Labor and Transport, said he was averse to micromanaging and left it to the airline’s management to drive expansion plans on their own. Uganda and Somalia have signed a liberal bilateral air transport agreement, according to which each country can designate several airlines to operate air services without capacity or frequency restrictions. Mogadishu is one of the routes Uganda Airlines is already making profits on. Company officials believe Hargeisa would be another profitable route.
It is the service that would also generate connecting traffic to services to the Middle East and India and the UK when those services are rolled out.
Somaliland officials are keen to have an airlift between Entebbe and their regional capital. They have sent several delegations to Kampala on the matter since the days of the defunct Air Uganda, but were unable to convince Ugandan officials.
Observers believe that the reluctance of government officials is due to Uganda be careful not to upset Mogadishu, whose regime it has supported since sending troops in 2007. Mogadishu regards Somaliland as one of the country’s federal member states and does not recognize its quest for independence.
Without a green light from Mogadishu, the future service would face several logistical challenges. Uganda does not have a consulate or security presence in Somaliland. This would make the issuing of visas and the security screening of travelers more difficult. A State Department official who is not authorized to speak for the ministry said there were no foreseeable plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Hargeisa Union Mission in Somalia, Kampala, has a lot of leverage to secure itself
A number of international airlines, including African Express Airways, Air Arabia, Ethiopian and FlyDubai, already offer flights to Hargeisa. They offer 37 flights a week to five countries, including Kenya, which is served by a single service every week.
Uganda Airlines will launch its first intercontinental flight to Dubai, London, Mumbai and Guanghzou on October 4th soon to follow as restrictions on travelers from Uganda are relaxed. A strong regional network is needed to supply international flights.