President Yoweri Museveni Tuesday commissioned into flight the first ever overhauled and upgraded Russian Type helicopter in sub-Saharan Africa at the Pro Heli Plant International Services Limited at Nakasongola Airbase.
At the function, Museveni, a military General and Commander in Chief of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, told a story of how he sent the late Eriya Kategaya to buy MI 17 from the Soviet Union in 1986.
“..but soon after the Soviet Union collapsed during the time of Gorbachev and Yeltsin; there was chaos. When Putin took over, he stabilized the country,” he said and congratulates President Vladimir Putin for stabilizing and strengthening Russia again.
Gen. Museveni who on arrival toured one of the hangers at the facility led by Mr. Valari Copcin, the CEO PRO Heli, said that there was no contact with the Russian partners so offered himself to travel to Russia as a tourist to revive the relationship with the Russians.
“You couldn’t get anything from Russia, there was no contact. I worked with the UN office on a private visit. I said I want to revive this relationship. I went as a tourist and met the current Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the former Prime Minister. That is when I bought the SUKOI,” he disclosed.
Gen Museveni further noted that there was no convergence of interest as there was no problem between Russia and Uganda as well as the African continent.
General Museveni also commended the Managing Director of NEC, Lt. Gen. Mugira for the initiative to follow up the project noting that many ideas are always conceived but end up getting aborted because they are not supported.
“Normally these ideas come but they are not grown by those who are concerned, they die,” he noted.
The President further said he has often indicated in writing to the Western partners on how the world should be run not through rivalry but through cooperation.
“We don’t want this nonsense of rivalry, what are you rivaling for, we have got enough problems to solve as a human race. It should be through cooperation and respecting the internal issues of countries. How can you have the whole world thinking the same way”, he wondered.
He said it was in the same vein he told the Western world that tried to mobilize African Countries to stand against Russia that it was impossible for Africa to tow that line because Russia never harmed the continent.
“How can you say we fight Russia without any reason,” he asked.
Mr. Museveni also said that heritage differs giving an example of some groups that marry first cousins adding that in Uganda it is taboo as people of the same clan are not allowed to get married.
“Now are you going to have war over that,” he asked. Soviet Union for the last 100 years has been with Africa, Asia and Latin America,” he said.
General Museveni disclosed the genesis of the relationship between Africa and Russia in terms of support in the field of military hardware saying it dates back to the time of President Abdel Nasser who in 1955 first bought equipment from the Soviet Union as there was no Independent African country except for Ethiopia, Egypt and Liberia.
He noted that Russia therefore has been Africa’s partner for the last 100 years and had been supporting anti colonial movements.
He therefore stressed that the partnership with PRO Heli is a healthy one and describing it as that of common sense. He said there is a big demand in Uganda that has helicopters which need maintenance, overhaul and upgrading.
“Which is better to do it there or here in Uganda? Of course, what is common sense is not always common,” he said.
President Museveni welcomed and supported ideas fronted by the CEO PRO Heli to have the SUKOIs also overhauled and upgraded at the facility, to work with other countries in Africa and Latin America as well as Brazil adding that it is convenient for everybody in terms of proximity. He said these countries can also benefit from the services of the facility.
General Museveni however noted that the facility serves for better economics as it employs highly trained Ugandan Engineers whose remuneration is lower than their counterparts in Europe.
“Both strategically and economically it is very correct to cooperate here,”
He also welcomed the idea of the general Electronic Counter Measures for self-protection when in the air.
General Museveni further supported all the measures and plans Pro Heli proposed to have other commercial aircrafts serviced and maintained at the facility.
President Museveni however urged Pro Heli to get other investors in other areas that are non-military like was done with the Chinese investors.
“So, there is no limit to our cooperation,” he said.
General Museveni again thanked the Russian government for not objecting to our cooperation but supporting it.
The Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Hon. Vincent Ssempijja thanked General Museveni for his wise and wonderful leadership that has enabled Ugandans to see what is happening today in the forces.
He disclosed that there is a lot of savings to his ministry from the facility as transporting one helicopter alone to and fro for hauling and maintenance abroad costs over US$ 2 million.
He also said many dignitaries who include Heads of State have visited the facility and expressed their interest to bring equipment to the facility for service and overhaul.
The Minister thanked PRO Heli for increasing the number of Engineers at the plant from 50 to now 200.
“Your Excellency we shall not let you down we are going to make sure that every coin is put to its proper use,” he said.
The Chief of Defense Forces (CDF) Gen. Wilson Mbadi pointed out the major benefits of the facility that include among others self-reliance, combat readiness and employing 200 Ugandan Engineers.
He added that the facility will also promote Defense Diplomacy as other countries will be utilizing the services of the plant.
Brig. Gen David Gonyi who stood in for the Commandant of the Air Force Gen Okidi, highlighted many advantages the plant is to offer that include giving the Air Force short time of service and will also support Industrialization policy and the country’s economy.
“Formerly it would take 2 years to overhaul a helicopter but today with our own facility in Uganda, it takes one year and 3 months only,” he said.
The CEO of PRO Heli International Services Valari Copcin said their aim is to make the facility one-stop center for all aviation needs.
The Managing Director of NEC Gen. James Mugira outlined the achievements made within one year of the establishment of the plant naming the building of capacity transfer of technology and skills as one of them.
Others present at the function included the PS Ministry of Defense Madam Rosette Byengoma, a delegation of Russian Experts on aviation, Officials from the Russian Embassy, Chiefs as well as Senior Officers of UPDF.