Modern Chinese-Built Airport Cargo Centre Facilitates Growth Of Uganda’s Exports

Seven years ago, Uganda’s only international airport Entebbe International Airport was in a dilapidated state, desperately in need of structural repair and an upgrading of all its facilities. 

Since its construction in 1928 and its launch on 10 November 1951, no major work had ever been done on the airport and that led to most of the buildings becoming dilapidated, with leaking roofs and the facilities like the cargo centre becoming too small to handle the ever-increasing amount of freight.  

Clearly, something needed to done. 

Chinese assistance 

According to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) spokesman Vianny Luggya, the cargo centre was the area most in need of repair. 

He told ChinAfrica, “In 2016, we got a $200-million loan from the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) of China, with the intention of overhauling the entire Entebbe International Airport.” 

He said that part of the money was used to construct a new modern cargo centre, while the rest was for rehabilitating other parts of the airport. Work to construct the new cargo centre was given to the China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), which is also the major contractor in rehabilitating the rest of the airport. However, Luggya said there are also companies given subcontracts to work with the CCCC to assist with employment.  

The new cargo centre was constructed between 2016 and 2021, said Luggya. It became operational immediately on completion. “We started to use the new cargo centre in 2021. This is the third year of use. We are satisfied with all the facilities installed in it,” said Luggya. 

Katumba Wamala, minister of works and transport, said in a media interview that the old cargo centre was destroyed completely and a new one got constructed. 

He said that whereas the old cargo centre could handle only 50,000 tonnes of cargo per year, the new one handles double that amount annually. 

“The new 100,000-tonne capacity cargo centre is a self-contained facility with a dedicated parking apron, landside and airside access roads, cooling facilities, freight forwarder reception area and ancillary business outlets,” said Wamala, who expressed his gratitude for the Chinese financial assistance.  

Jiang Jiqing, commercial counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in Uganda, said, “The facility has the capacity to facilitate Uganda’s exports, especially in the agricultural sector, which is the country’s key economic activity.” 

Promoting cargo trade 

The UCAA said in a statement that a new era in Uganda’s economic landscape is unfolding, symbolised by the bustling activity at the newly inaugurated cargo centre at Entebbe International Airport.  

Officials at the airport said that since 2021, when the new cargo centre began operating, there has been an increase in export cargo by over 1,000 tonnes per annum. 

Cargo handling officer at the new cargo centre Julius Tamale said the centre has led to improvement of cargo movement. “Because of the efficient facilities in the new cargo centre, more businesspeople have started using it to handle their goods which they want to export. The refrigeration department at the centre has led to much increase in exporting of fresh food and vegetables,” said Tamale. 

Meanwhile, Aloysius Buule, a vegetable and fresh foods exporter, told ChinAfrica that he can now comfortably export as much vegetables and fresh foods as he wants to because the new cargo centre can handle the process efficiently.  

“We, who deal in fresh foods and vegetables, can now export more because of the refrigeration facility at the cargo centre,” said Buule. 

Wamala said that the facility positions Uganda as a strong player in the international trade arena, fostering growth and opportunities for its people. 

Luggya confirms there is an increasing trend of activity at the new cargo centre. He said the expansion of the cargo centre is a game-changer for the nation, particularly for the export sector, which saw cargo volumes escalate from 39,000 tonnes in 2021 to over 50,000 tonnes in 2023. 

“We are now seeing more exports than imports which is good for our economy. There is now more export in fresh produce, fish, flowers, vegetables and fruits. These are mostly exported to Europe,” he said. 

He gave an example that from 3,555 tonnes of export cargo in December 2022, there was a leap to 3,604 tonnes in January 2023 alone, underscoring a positive trend in Uganda’s trade dynamics. 

He noted that January 2024 saw an impressive flow of 196,211 international passengers, coinciding with several international summits, including the Non-Aligned Movement Summit and G77+China Summit hosted by Uganda, showcasing the country’s readiness to engage with the world. Meanwhile, in the same month the airport’s cargo movement thrived, handling 5,183 tonnes, a testament to Uganda’s growing role as a global exporter. 

Simon Esunget, customs officer at the Uganda Revenue Authority, told media, “For customs we are excited about it [increase in trade] because it will help us to drive the agenda for services quality and enhancement.” 

Exports drive domestic agriculture growth 

While addressing the nation on 29 January, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that with the new cargo centre at the Entebbe International Airport, Uganda can export a lot of its agricultural products to developing countries. 

“I call upon Ugandans to embrace agriculture as one of the major ways of improving their domestic income generating activities, because much of what they produce can now be exported through the Entebbe International Airport,” he said. “In Uganda we can produce a lot of food which can be sold in Europe. With efficient facilities at the Entebbe International Airport, much more food can be exported and that can lead to our farmers earning a lot of money.” 

The new cargo centre is not merely a physical infrastructure, but a catalyst for economic transformation. It signifies Uganda’s commitment to enhancing its export industry and its potential for further growth and development. “As the global landscape evolves, Uganda’s strategic investment in its cargo export capacity at the Entebbe International Airport positions it as a formidable player in the international arena,” he said. 

Uganda will use the cargo centre to help to become a participant in the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) by the end of June, marking a significant step towards the integration of the continent’s aviation sector. This commitment was announced by Fred Byamukama, state minister for transport, during the opening session of a meeting on SAATM held in Kampala1 on 1 March. 

SAATM, an initiative of the African Union, aims to establish a unified air transport market across Africa, fostering greater connectivity and facilitating the movement of goods and people among member states.

African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.



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