Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport is in the limelight due to its impending takeover by China on account of loan default. The last time it hogged global attention was 45 years ago when Israeli forces stormed the airport to rescue hostages in what is seen as the most incredible anti-terror operations in history.
China is likely to take over the Entebbe International Airport due to Uganda’s inability to repay a loan that was strangely planned for its expansion. The African nation had received a $207 million loan from China’s Export-Import (EXIM) Bank in 2015, with a 2% interest rate upon disbursement. The loan had a 20-year maturity period with a seven-year grace period.
As reported by some African media outlets, the Ugandan government dropped the international immunity clause in exchange for the financing and attached its only international airport. This means that China can take control of the Entebbe International Airport without the need for international arbitration.
Anticipating a potential crisis, a team of Ugandan officials was dispatched to China in an attempt to renegotiate the loan agreement’s terms in early March 2021. Chrispus Kiyonga, Uganda’s Ambassador to China, led a joint delegation from the Foreign Affairs, and Finance ministries, as well as Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Exim Bank executives are said to have refused any changes to the signed Financing Agreement’s provisions and told the Ugandan delegation that any attempts to change it would establish a negative precedent.
To guarantee a successful implementation of the airport expansion project, the lenders advised Kiyonga and his staff to accept “friendly consultations” from time to time.
It does not mean that lending bank takes over your salary.
The loan terms provide a grace period of 7 years, and we are still within that grace period during which only interest is paid, and government has not defaulted on those obligations.
— Vianney M. Luggya (@UCAA_Spokesman) November 27, 2021
That’s how the contract went down, and China refused to change the pact’s initial terms. The Entebbe International Airport is Uganda’s major aviation hub that handles over 1.9 million passengers. It is the country’s only international airport.
Meanwhile, Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Vianney M. Luggya has maintained that the country is not selling its airport to China for “cash”. “The Ugandan government is unable to give away such a valuable national resource. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: it hasn’t happened. There’s not a shred of truth in it.” He tweeted that Uganda is well within the stipulated 7-year grace period of the loan.
The Chinese Embassy in Uganda likewise denied claims of a takeover, noting that the “hype” surrounding China’s “debt trap” in Africa had “no factual substance.”
“Which of the Chinese projects in Africa have been confiscated in Africa? NONE! The hype surrounding Chinese ‘debt trap’ in Africa have NO factual basis and is being pushed on malicious grounds”, said @WuPeng_MFAChina, Director-General, Department of African Affairs, MoFA, China pic.twitter.com/Frqvme1frg
— Chinese Embassy in Uganda (@ChineseEmb_Uga) November 26, 2021
“Why is money provided by Western countries to developing countries referred to as ‘development assistance,’ whereas money offered by China is referred to as a ‘debt trap?’ This viewpoint is illogical and incorrect!” stated Wu Jianghao, China’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs.
China’s Foray Into Africa
According to a report on the military capabilities of world powers, China’s military equipment is now employed by more than two-thirds of African countries.
Interestingly enough, Uganda was among 10 countries, which have become “emergent customers” for Beijing’s arms exports since 2005. Furthermore, the Ugandan military gives substantial security to Chinese companies.
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s long-serving president, sparked outrage in 2019 by meddling in a key project’s bidding process and picking the Chinese business he desired. The same year, Uganda condemned the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Museveni has lauded China as the right partner for doing large-scale projects in his country. He has expressed hope that projects such as power plants that produce more electricity than Uganda requires could break down “bottlenecks” to prosperity.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!
— Chinese Embassy in Uganda (@ChineseEmb_Uga) November 12, 2021
However, as other countries’ debts inflate to alarming levels, some Ugandans are becoming more resistant to Chinese funding.
Critics claim that the money will be used to feed corruption. Finance Minister Matia Kasaija wrote to Museveni in a confidential letter published in the local media in 2018, which read, “Given what is happening in our peer countries in terms of China debt, we firmly believe we should protect our assets against a prospective takeover.”
The letter mentioned the obligation to put money in escrow accounts in China as collateral, as well as the alleged failure of Chinese-run companies to recruit Ugandans and use locally obtained materials like cement. In addition, it appears that China is successfully promoting its Party-Army model in Uganda, causing deep concerns about a possible change in the political system in the future.
Entebbe Airport – Operation Thunderbolt
One of Israel’s most risky and unusual episodes was Operation Entebbe, also known as Operation Thunderbolt. Israeli commandos rescued 106 men, women, and children from hijackers at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport in one of the world’s most successful anti-terrorist operations.
An Air France flight was hijacked from Israel on June 27, 1976, to an unknown destination. Later, it was flown to Libya’s Benghazi, where a lone female hostage feigned a miscarriage and was allowed to disembark.
The hijackers were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and a German extremist group.
With the hijackers, 253 passengers, and the crew on board, the refueled plane took off from Benghazi that evening and landed in Uganda’s Entebbe Airport shortly after 3 am, where the hijackers were accompanied by three more armed Palestinian terrorists.
The non-Jewish and non-Israeli passengers were released upon arrival, but the 106 passengers and crew members were held hostage in exchange for the release of 53 militants imprisoned in Israel, Kenya, West Germany, among other places.
The IDF organized a rescue operation from Israel and headed into Uganda on July 4, one week after the jet was first seized, as part of Operation Thunderbolt. A total of 100 Israeli troops flew into the foreign country in the middle of the night and stormed the airport, seizing control and liberating the hostages in about 90 minutes.
The Israeli commandos entered the airport in a look-alike black Mercedes limo, similar to the one used by Ugandan President Idi Amin, in a magnificent show of deception.
Despite the best attempt, three hostages died in the process, and a fourth was later murdered at a nearby hospital. Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother, died in the rescue mission.
After receiving a phone call notifying him of his brother’s death, Benjamin Netanyahu, then a businessman in the United States, decided to enter Israeli politics. In honor of his brother, Operation Thunderbolt was renamed Operation Yonatan.
Ehud Barak, one of the military intelligence officers in charge of the operation, later became Prime Minister of Israel. Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s former foreign minister, was among those on the C-130s that flew to Entebbe.