17 July 2013

Uganda: Air Uganda Offers Somali Options

Mogadishu — To many outsiders, Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia still carries a whiff of contant violence and danger. However, they also say 'the early bird catches the worm'. Last week East African Business Week accompanied a group of potential investors to this coastal nation that has experienced very long years of conflict.

The semblance of peace is masterminded by the sustained operations of the African Union Force (AMISOM) and the Somali National Army. Their efforts have now put the regional private sector on notice that there are trading opportunities available.

The first step towards achieving this dream according to Abdullahi Il Moge Hersi, the Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications was the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) removal of the airport from the 'Zone 5' list of airports.

These are 'deemed to pose a security risk to aircraft, crew and passengers'.

This paid instant dividends when in March last year Turkish Airlines began twice-weekly flights between Ankara in Turkey and Mogadishu; becoming the first international carrier to fly into the country in two decades.

This relative peace has also attracted Air Uganda that launched flights between Entebbe International Airport and the Somali capital last week. Cornwell Muleya, the Air Uganda CEO said customers who use the online service will receive a $20 discount on their air ticket fare because the customer will be engaging directly with the carrier.

This is the carrier's ninth route and will help passengers who have been enduring a seven hour roundabout trip, to now find themselves at Entebbe in just two hours.

Prior, passengers plying the Mogadishu - Entebbe route have been using Kenya's Africa Express Airlines and Safari Air Express (SAX) Airline that would drop them at the Wajir Military Airbase for a thorough check before proceeding to Nairobi for a second check then finally onwards to Entebbe.

During Somalia's conflict years, the only aircrafts that braved its airspace were those hired by daring business people to bring in Khat, a very popular herbal stimulant, grown in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

This business is done under the protection of warlords who controlled different areas of the city.

According to Mrs. Jennifer Musiime, the Sales and Marketing Manager at Air Uganda, the Mogadishu flights target the growing Somali business fraternity spread across the region and the diaspora.

She said Somalia is a viable route given that the country is in the process of rebuilding. Air Uganda seized the opportunity.

"We shall start with three flights a week on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and then see how the market responds. Then we shall increase the frequency to daily flights. Mogadishu is the furthest point we have added and we are very optimistic that the investment is worth it," Musiime said.

The Aden Abdulle International Airport, located in the seaside capital, is currently recording a sharp increase in travelers and air traffic. Thanks mainly to the relative calm that has returned after two decades of internecine.

Several private airlines based in East Africa, including Kenya's African Express and SAX, as well as Somali-owned private carriers like Jubba Airways and Daallo Airlines, all currently fly into Mogadishu.

Telecoms minister Abdullahi Morge said much as the security situation in some parts of the country was still fragile, AMISOM and the SNA had succeeded in bringing relative peace. Somalia is ready for investment.

"We plan to operationalize night flights as well so as to attract more travelers and airlines. As far as security is concerned, we are much safer than we were yesterday," Morge stressed.

AMISOM firefighters - stationed at the airport - welcomed the Air Uganda jet with the symbolic 'water cannon salute' given to all airlines on their maiden voyage to Mogadishu.

The Deputy Ugandan Ambassador to Somalia, Nathan Mugisha, was onboard the flight.

"After sweating, after shedding blood and then followed by this, it's an illustration that there is peace, and peace is going to be maintained, and this is going to reduce time for Somalis and the Ugandans who want to come here and this will help to cement our relationship further. It will also promote communication between the people, business, goods and so life will be greatly improved," he said.

In a related development, Air Uganda recently introduced an online booking system which will enable travelers pay for their tickets using their ATM Cards, Paypal and Mobile Money.

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