To an ordinary eye, the numbers did not add up. Rwanda had doubled the fees for gorilla permits to $1,500 per hour from $750. This was in mid-2017. Rwanda’s tourism, some players predicted, was set to fetch huge amounts of revenue.
Meanwhile, internal pressure was building up for the authorities in Uganda to follow suit. After all, some sections of the public argued, Uganda had more gorilla families than Rwanda.
Despite the pressure, however, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the body charged with setting gorilla permit fees, balked at the idea of an increase. Uganda’s permits would stay at $600 or less.
At a press conference in Kidepo Valley National park in May 2017, the then executive director of UWA andrew Seguya, broke down his organisation’s assessment of Rwanda’s strategy for the journalists present.
“Look, Rwanda Air has just launched a direct flight between Kigali and London. This means a tourist can fly from London into Kigali in the morning, drive for an hour to see the gorillas and fly back to London the following day,” he said.
Seguya then explained why the stakes were against Uganda’s move to push up the price of gorilla permits. “In Uganda, a tourist from Europe has to make a stopover somewhere and then come to Entebbe. From there, they have to brave about seven hours on the road to Bwindi to see the gorillas. Chances are that that tourist will not make it back to Kampala that day. The costs on the tourist in Uganda would still be more compared to the one in Rwanda,” Seguya explained.
The aviation industry has the potential of attracting huge amounts of money by offering the comfort that tourists are increasingly looking for. While the tourism industry fetched Uganda $1.4 billion in foreign exchange earnings, in 2017 it is the $15 billion that is expected to be invested in Uganda’s oil industry over the next five years that could change the outlook of the country.
Nearly every sector in Uganda – from aviation to agriculture, real estate to the financial industry – is expected to reap from the benefits of the country’s nascent oil industry, whose first production date is slated for 2022.
Government is currently engaged in talks with the oil companies over the signing of key agreements such as the Host Agreement for the oil pipeline and the Final Investment Decision, which should unlock capital into the industry.
The launch of Uganda Airlines flights in August 2019 is expected to tap into the oil industry by attracting traffic across the East African region. With Uganda planning to build an export crude oil pipeline to Tanzania, labour and equipment movements between the two countries are set to shoot up.
Uganda is also building a new international airport at Kabaale in Hoima to ease travel to the country’s oil belt. Reports indicate works are ahead of schedule for completion of the new airport.
“Government is developing a new second international Airport in Hoima to ease movement of thousands of tons of equipment.
The airport will ease and quicken transportation of the equipment,” says Gerald Ekinu, the Principal Economist at the Ministry of Works and Transport. The added incentive for the local economy, even before the airport comes to life, is that the government set aside a sizeable percentage of the construction works in the ongoing project for local contractors.
So, how does the aviation industry change the economic playfield of the country?
First, Uganda’s debt levels have been a source of concern for a while. With government forced to delay some projects as a result. For example, Uganda committed to building the required road infrastructure for the oil industry at an estimated cost of $1 billion, according to the IMF. However, the IMF warns that building the roads could come at a price.
“Spending pressures have led to domestic arrears and contributed to non-performing loans.
The aviation industry, which is expected to play a key role in the oil industry, is bound to get a huge boost with the launch of the revamped national carrier, argues Joseph Muvawala, the executive director of Uganda’s National Planning Authority (NPA).