Follow Ethiopian Airlines, Not RwandAir.

By David Himbara

Letter to Presidents Yoweri Museveni and John Magufuli

Excellencies:
In my previous letter, I humbly requested that you should reflect on whether or not it is worth it to establish a national airline. I pointed out what you, of course, already know that your countries are well-served by global and regional airlines. I realized, however, you might hold stronger views contrary to my suggestions, and that, therefore, you are pressing ahead and building national airlines. My unsolicited advice is that please follow the Ethiopian Airlines’ model, and most definitely avoid the Rwandair model.

Excellencies, if you are determined to build national airlines, do not follow the Kagame model

RwandAir is by far the most costly project that President Paul Kagame launched in his entire 24-year leadership of Rwanda. The total assets of RwandAir amount to US$238 Million. To keep the airline afloat, Kagame spent an additional $530 Million between 2013 and 2016. That adds to US$768 Million — a figure that does not capture the real amount Kagame has sunk into RwandAir. The amount of money pumped into RwandAir is well over US$1 Billion. We know this from the fact that the government has acknowledged that it has sustained RwandAir since 2002.

Kagame changed RwandAir’s CEOs four times in the last eight years — that is an average of two years each

Kagame appointed and changed four CEOs of RwandAir in the last four years as follows:

2018 — Yyvone Mokolo

Before joining RwandAir, Yvonne Makolo served as the Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Rwanda, a mobile telephone company. She worked at MTN since 2006.

2017 — Colonel Chance Ndagano

Before his appointment as CEO of RwandAir in 2017, Rwanda Defense Forces Colonel Chance Ndagano was a military judge.

2010— John Mirenge

Before being appointed RwandAir CEO, John Mirenge was the Chairman of Crystal Ventures Ltd, the business empire belonging to Kagame’s ruling, Rwanda’s Patriotic Front (RPF).

2010 – May to July, Rene Janata

Rene Janata, a German national, was described as a seasoned man with over 20 years of experience in the airline industry. Prior to his appointment as RwandAir CEO, Janata was a manager in Lufthansa.

The management of RwandAir reveals Kagame’s leadership style

We see here what may be described as an autocratic leadership style. An autocratic leader appoints and dismisses managers at free will. The basis on which he hires and fires managers is a mystery — as indicated by the profiles of people Kagame hires. The autocratic style leader dictates who manages every significant institution in the land. The autocratic leader determines policies and procedures, and decides what goals are to be achieved in each national entity. He directs and controls all activities without any meaningful participation by the individuals who run various ministries, departments, and agencies. Such a leader takes full control of every team in the land leaving no autonomy whatsoever. This is the fate of RwandAir into which Kagame has sunk over US$1 Billion.

Excellencies, please follow the Ethiopian model

Look at the man running Ethiopian Airlines. Appointed as CEO in 2011, Tewolde GebreMariam has been in the aviation industry for 30 years. Although Ethiopian Airlines is 100 percent state-owned, it is run as a business. Ethiopian Airlines is allowed to get on with its own business — it does not suffer from micromanagement. The airline is run transparently. All its annual reports are available on the internet. The 2016 Report highlights the following:

Ethiopian Airlines transported 7.5 Million around the world in 2016.

Ethiopian Airline’s profits rose to US$218 Million (Ethiopian Birr 6 Billion) in 2016.

Excellencies:

Dear Presidents Museveni and Magufuli, in conclusion, I once again offer my unsolicited advice. If you must build national airlines, please tread carefully. I have shared with you the best and worst models. Travel the Ethiopian route. Avoid the RwandAir trap. Good luck.