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Cabinet has approved $266 million (about Shs 984.2 billion) to revamp the now dormant Uganda Air Cargo Corporation (UACC) Limited, another of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) enterprises.

The company that specializes in cargo freight has been unable to do business for almost four years now owing to a lack of operational capital and grounding of most of its aircraft, some of which are no longer airworthy and have been condemned according to international aviation standards.

Management now says that if the $266 million funding is released, they will be in a position to revamp any revampable equipment and lease more to partake of the abundant opportunities they have missed out over the years. The wretched situation of the company, a subsidiary of the National Enterprise Corporation (holding company of the UPDF) was disclosed to MPs on the committee on defence and internal affairs during their oversight visit to the company premises over the weekend.

General manager Gen Nakibus Lakara (former UPDF chief of staff) disclosed that the decision to extend the required funding to the company was taken by cabinet in May. According to the directive, the money is supposed to be disbursed over four years in installments of $103 million, $110 million, $23 million and $3 million, starting in the next financial year.

The money is to be used to undertake “avionics upgrades, remodification and recalibration of the grounded Hercules C-100-30 aircraft (grounded in Sudan), leasing of an Airbus 320 for (troop movements), leasing of an Airbus 330-200F or an equivalent 60-ton cargo aircraft for longer range cargo freight operations to the Middle East, Asia and Europe and procurement of spares, components and other consumables.”

Once the above is done, according to Lakara, the company would be in a position to operate commercially, given the abundant opportunities available. Currently, the company only does small business with small aircraft within Uganda and immediate neghbourhoods, limiting its revenue capacity.

Lakara who was flanked by his board chairman Capt Gad Gasatura and other senior managers of the company, explained that the time spent without operation has been costly to the company in many ways, including human resource flight, loss of lucrative existing business and opportunities available.

For instance, pilots operate using certificates valid for a given number of years and time spent without flying means the costly certificate is not serving its purpose. The alternative for affected professionals is for pilots moving their services to companies that have craft to fly or UACC paying them for no work done. UACC has also lost three senior aircraft technicians.

A report on the status of the craft indicated that the “silver jewel” of the company, the Hercules C-130 registration No 5F-UCF got grounded in Sudan after ingesting a bird in one of its engines, causing extensive damage. The aircraft is the oldest in the company's fleet, having been procured by the late President Idi Amin.  It still has over 3,000 flight hours once revamped, something Lakara said was a good resource.

Another Hercules C-100-30 is grounded, de-registered and awaits disposal. A Harbin Y-121V (Chinese-made), unregistered was adjudged unserviceable, deregistered and awaiting disposal. It was explained the cost of repair was not worth considering the “four years left on its airframe.”

Another Y-121V (Chinese-made), unregistered was adjudged grounded, deregistered and awaiting disposal. A plane is deregistered, according to International Civil Aviation Organisation rules if it is found un-airworthy and un-serviceable. A 5X-CF is in Jordan at the Jordan Aeronautical Systems Company (JAC) one of the few companies worldwide with the capacity to do major service. 

The upgrade according to UACC managers will include fitting of traffic collision avoidance system 7-1, an 8>33MHz radio, a cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, an airdrop system, onboard auxiliary power unit (APU), military and Thuraya satellite communication system and cockpit night vision compatibility among other.

Gasatura and Lakara told the MPs that UACC had lost key clients including the United Nations and in particular World Food Programme, among others. It is noteworthy that Eastern and Central Africa has been having various situations of conflict and human displacement in which the UN has been widely involved with humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, which offer wide business opportunities for stable and steady air operators.

UACC lost its air operator certificate in 2014 when its long flight craft were found not to be airworthy and management says this was part of the cause of the crisis. Other challenges pointed out included the risk of litigation owing to indebtedness. The company was said to be indebted to the tune of Shs 6.686 billion due to delayed payment of statutory fees and failure to clear some of the suppliers.

The MPs expressed sympathy with the managers and promised support at the budget appropriation to ensure the company gets back on its feet. - URN/The Observer


KIGALI, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Africa's urban planners need to work closely with engineers to develop pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that promotes walking as a mode of transportation in African cities, experts and officials said on Tuesday.

"Walkability is the key to an urban area's efficient ground transportation. Walking remains the cheapest form of transportation for all people. Thus, the construction of a walkable city provides the most affordable and equitable transportation system," Pudence Rubingisa, mayor of Kigali, said while officially opening the 23rd International Walk21 Conference on Walking and Liveable Communities, which runs through Friday, in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

Rubingisa said Kigali's ultimate goal is to increase walking and cycling as a means of transportation in the near future, as the city seeks to reduce motor vehicle traffic.

"I want to reiterate Kigali's commitment to promoting sustainable urban mobility and walkability. We believe that every step we take toward a more pedestrian-friendly future is a step toward a brighter, healthier, and more equitable world," he said.

Themed "Action for Walking: The affordable and essential steps to improve walkability," the conference brought together politicians, academics, government officials, and experts to share the latest research, innovative ideas, and initiatives aimed at creating walkable streets and public spaces.

Rubingisa said urban planning needs to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of local communities and build on participatory approaches that foster the engagement of marginalized actors while advancing access to basic services such as equitable and accessible transport, among others.

"Kigali's investment in pedestrian infrastructure, dedicated bike lanes, and green spaces has resulted in a city where walking is not merely a necessity but a pleasure for all the citizens," he said.

In African cities, walking is the primary mode of transportation for the majority, with up to 78 percent of people walking every day to access work, education, health care, markets, and public transportation, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

But until recently, walking, almost everywhere on the continent, received relatively minor policy attention and resource allocation. Walking infrastructure was lacking, whereby most roads had no footpaths or crossings and were poorly signed and maintained, the UNEP said.

Rob de Jong, the head of UNEP's Sustainable Mobility Unit, said investment in walking and cycling infrastructure contributes to good health and well-being and leads to sustainable cities and communities. - Xinhua


NAIROBI, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Nairobi Expressway, which can best be described as Kenya's most beautiful road, has become a favorite for the most unlikely group in the East African nation.

The 27-km highway that stretches from the south to the west of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi is now the go-to road for commuter minibus (matatu) operators at a time when fuel prices have hit a historic high in the country.

John Wafula, a matatu driver in the city, is one of the diligent users of the road built through a private-public partnership between Kenya and the Chinese government.

At 4 p.m., local time, every day, Wafula usually drives to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), some 3 km from Nairobi city center, to pick up office workers heading home after a day's work. He loves the trip because he knows that he would take the shortest time to reach his destination -- Kitengela, some 30 km south of Nairobi, therefore, not only saving time but also fuel.

This is because he uses the Nairobi Expressway to evade the peak hour traffic jam that usually clogs the toll-free road.

"This trip caps my day because it is not only the shortest but also a lucrative one," Wafula, who works with Rembo Classic Sacco, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

From KNH, the bus journeys some 20 minutes on the thoroughfare to the exit at Mlolongo, south of Nairobi.

Wafula charges each of the 32 passengers 160 shillings (about 1.08 U.S. dollars), which is 0.4 dollars more than what buses that use the toll-free road charge, and take two hours to reach their destination.

"It makes all the economic sense to use the Expressway even if one factor in the 4.07 dollars we pay at the exit for using the road," he said.

To pay 4.07 dollars, Wafula installed the electronic payment system, further making a huge saving as those vehicles that use the manual system cough up double the amount since they don't benefit from a discount offered by MOJA Expressway Company, which manages the modern thoroughfare.

Rembo Classic Sacco started offering the service after doing a market survey, Wafula said, and since February, they have only increased fare once, from 0.95 dollars to 1.08 dollars, despite fuel prices having risen significantly during the period from 1.21 dollars and 1.1 dollars for petrol (or gasoline) and diesel to the current 1.43 dollars and 1.35 dollars, respectively.

This is due to the savings the road affords the bus operators.

The number of commuters using the service has kept growing, enabling them to increase the number of buses from two in March to eight during the evening peak hour.

"I don't mind paying 1.08 dollars. It takes me 30 minutes from the office at KNH to Kitengela, thanks to the expressway. This is something that we could only dream of in the past," said Catherine Kariuki, a records officer.

Besides the Kitengela-Upper Hill route, several other routes have been started by commuter bus companies.

Super Metro, another matatu sacco, operates the Kitengela-Westlands route in the west of the Kenyan capital.

Then, there are dozens of others that run from the city center to various residential areas in the south of the capital, including Athi River, Mlolongo, and Syokimau.

"We run the Kitengela-Westlands route during morning and evening peak hours. So far, so good despite the high fuel prices," said James Kamau, a conductor with Super Metro. He said as fuel prices rise to a record high, the road is making bus operators save fuel costs and time, and earn some good profit.

MOJA noted that the savings on fuel made by motorists are immense.

According to the firm, a recent study highlighted that if a motorist makes 10,000 trips using the electronic payment option, they save about 314 liters of fuel. "The Nairobi Expressway not only reduces travel time but also minimizes fuel consumption, saving you money," the company said in a notice.

Constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and opened for use in 2022, the Nairobi Expressway has become a game changer and a darling of motorists.

During construction, it was widely expected that the majority of the road's users would be middle- and upper-income private motorists, since matatus are mainly used by low-income earners.

As many matatus as private motorists are now using the road, with many commuters and motorists working in Upper Hill and Westlands using only the Expressway route.

MOJA Expressway CEO Steve Zhao said in a recent update that more than 17 million vehicle trips have been made on the road since it was opened for use a year ago.

He said that on average, 60,000 vehicles daily use the Expressway -- the first double-decker road in Kenya.

MOJA has made it attractive and easy for motorists to use the road, including by giving discounts to those who embrace the electronic payment system. This has made the electronic toll collection system the dominant payment method as thousands of motorists make the Expressway their road of choice. - Xinhua

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