There has been talk about Uganda purchasing six Russian Su-30 MK2 fighter jets at a whooping price tag of shs 654 Billion.
These reports which appeared in the dailies were roundly denied by the Defence bosses.
However, one daily paper ran a story the following day claiming that the Army Spokesperson had made a U-turn on the denials and that Uganda was indeed going to purchase these fighter jets.
According to the reports, the monies to pay for these super war toys will accrue from Uganda’s oil sales.
Whether the reports about this acquisition are true or not is one thing that cannot be ascertained at the moment because of the denials and counter denials from the respective players involved.
However, what is more interesting is the thought that even before the country begins commercial exploitation of oil which is slated for later this year or early next year, the resources from oil are being thought of to finance the acquisition of weapons.
The more I thought about that scenario, the more I prayed to God to let that day I heard those reports be April Fools’ Day so that those reports could turn out to be a lie.
It is true that any country has to have the means to defend itself and in preparing for such incidences, has to acquire the necessary machinery and equipment that could best serve that purpose.
But where does the priorities lie? Does it make sense for a country to buy expensive fighter jets when the roads which are used by the population everyday are developing into ponds?
What sense does it make if the state must protect a sick and impoverished population? I would rather the state fixes the urgent basics that are necessary for the day-to-day life of the population before venturing into expensive engagements from which the people do not directly benefit.
It is true that our country faces some security threats, but the ones we have at the moment are internal which do not warrant the use of fighter jets. Or are we facing any challenges from a foreign regional aggressor whom we probably need to show our air force muscle?
It is my strong view that monies that the country is likely to get from oil should first and foremost be applied to address the most pressing needs of the people.
And talking of needs, Uganda has mountains of them. Our health sector is sick and whereby we still have a high number of women dying while giving birth due to lack of medical attention. Malaria and many other preventable diseases still kill many in this country.
And we even dream of buying fighter jets now? The issue of roads has been debated over and over again. We need to repair and open up more roads to the deepest parts of the country.
Of course some roads have been constructed, but that is far below the necessary requirement in this country and the need to have a viable national road network. We should not feel comfortable with what has been achieved in this area but go for greater heights.
At the moment, I would be surprised by any person who would feel happy about our air force having expensive fighter jets when that same person drives on pot-hole-ridden roads in Kampala and other towns in the country.
Or a mother whose child is dying of malaria because of lack of medication celebrating about the purchase of warplanes. It is high time we sort out our priorities and handle what has to be handled first.
Unless the security wizards have information that a foreign country is preparing to attack us, we cannot afford to buy warplanes that are going to sit idle and even cost us more in terms of maintenance.
It would be a good sight watching Ugandan warplanes flying with Ugandan colours on Independence Day or any other national day, but that is at the moment not the most pressing issue. We simply cannot afford it. Someday we may get there but in the meantime, let the basic amenities take the centre stage
by Edward Ronald Sekyewa