HEARING the lamentations of travelers to Uganda these past few weeks as they come through Entebbe International Airport is disheartening.
Especially in light of the talk we engage in about how Tourism will be Uganda’s economic savior the way it has worked for South Africa, Dubai and all those other markets with sensible tourism-fueled budgets, strategies and plans.
My first memory of the airport at Entebbe goes back to 1983 when, walking through the crowded terminal with piles of suitcases, we kept getting stopped by an ugly breed of armed men. I took serious issue with one of them when he depressed a button on the belly of my little sister’s doll that made it recite phrases designed to amuse infants her age.
The fellow was startled and turned his rifle up, then demanded that a full inspection be conducted by half the armed Company present. It was scary but we went through the steps safely and were let through while absorbing many unpleasant smells and a rancid atmosphere.
We have come a long way since then – but we haven’t gone far enough. It is difficult to explain why we should be so desperately lousy at something so obviously simple.
I honestly believe that the most basic Customer Care and Marketing people could swing the airport experience around to the advantage of the entire country within hours if given the opportunity.
If the Civil Aviation Authority people unleashed some young students in these disciplines and gave them three hours to change Entebbe for the better, I am certain they would do a better job of it than we currently endure.
At some point last year I found myself there a few hours before my scheduled flight, as usual, and ran my device batteries down. As I was way too early for access to the check-in counters, I was sequestered in the cafe on the departures level.
I was already in a bad mood because of the ridiculous prices that string of cafes charge for their annoyingly small cups of hot drinks and pitifully limited range of weakly-imagined snacks.
Again, what kind of ‘Tourism’ are we selling to the world if our airport snacks cannot spell and say and communicate ‘Uganda’? Sausage rolls and meat pies? We sometimes appear to be in need of intellectual support to deal with some of these matters.
That day, walking around the hall with my plugs in hand flabbergasted me when I failed to find a functional socket across the floor. It was strange – especially in 2016. I took the issue up with people right up to somebody educated and was told the sockets had been removed because “people were charging mobile phones here” and it was a security concern.
I was flummoxed because in this information age the availability of sockets for electricity to power gadgets that get you online is sometimes more valuable than the availability of food (even food as bad as the one in the Cafe’s there).
What kind of terrorists are we dealing with that can walk in with their mobile phones and chargers and power banks but would be deterred by the lack of sockets?
It was angering, but then eventually I got to the more difficult aspect of travel through the airport – the final gate of the departure lounge. For some reason, after going through all the belt dropping and shoe removals, at Entebbe you enter into a mini-sauna without air conditioning or sufficient air flow.
Why is that room is so hot and stuffy?
I have never had the opportunity to properly fight that battle, but here is a new one introduced in the last two weeks:
A furore has arisen over an annoying process change at the Entebbe International Airport Arrivals hall that is described in detail by many people, but best of all by Amos Wekesa, Tourism Prince.
His recount of the process makes one’s blood boil even more than the departure gate upstairs.
Early this week he returned and found he and his fellow passengers had to take their bags up and lift them onto the luggage scanner, then lift them off again after going through the security check point. The queue is very, very, very long because everybody has to take each and every one of their bags through this process. Amos was miffed this week to see elderly ladies, tourists visiting Uganda, struggling to lug her bags up and down.
He jumped in and offered to help her and a number of others, and during the process got thanked profusely by one of the Section Managers, who was tired of being abused by angry travelers.
To his credit, this manager told Amos that one of the measures they had decided to take was to stop any government official from trying to skip to the front of the queue claiming that they were “VIPs”.
“These travelers suffering here are paying money to come to Uganda to enjoy themselves, and they are being made to line up and carry suitcases after flying long hours. Then some government people who are using our money to travel try to jump the queue?!” the fellow said, livid.
And I also regretted not having been there to suggest that we could do small things in that uncomfortable hall to ease the pain that travelers are facing as they enter into Uganda. For instance, how about distributing some free bottles of water or banana juice? Or installing some nice fans to keep the air cool? Or playing some nice Ugandan music in the background to keep the soul calm?
Surely there are very many things we could have running in that space to keep tempers calm and the spirits uplifted as people come into the country?
I certainly don’t know everything but I know first hand how difficult running a public institution can be. Nevertheless, my sympathies are limited over the lack of these small actions and over exaggeration of others (such as the need to search every corner of every bag) that rub everyone the wrong way.