A total of 250 Muslims on Monday, 19 June 2023, flew out of the country via Uganda Airlines to Mecca for the annual Hajji pilgrimage.
The last time the Airline took Muslims on pilgrimage was during the presidency of Idi Amin.
Another 250 pilgrims will travel with Uganda Airlines on Tuesday, following a partnership between the national carrier and Uganda Hijja Bureau.
The Monday ceremony was presided over by the Minister of Works and Transport, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, second Deputy Prime Minister Rukia Nakadama, and witnessed by Muslim leaders, diplomats, and state officials at Entebbe International Airport.
Ms Nakadama said: “I want to thank the Ministry of Works and Transport for giving us Uganda Airlines to take our first batch of pilgrims to Mecca. I want to thank all those who have supported us as Uganda in promoting Uganda Airlines.”
She added: “Hajji is one of the pillars of Islam where every Muslim if they are able, is supposed to go to Mecca. We call upon those who are able to do so when the time comes.”
Gen Katumba said: “This is a landmark and the Muslim community will be happy that they will be able to make the pilgrimage to Mecca using the national carrier. What has been happening is that our pilgrims to Mecca have been using transit routes. This is an opportunity to travel directly.”
“While in transit, the pilgrims can be able to communicate in the local language because our attendants can speak the local language,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Hajj Bureau has explained the unfortunate travel delays experienced by numerous Muslims who had planned to journey for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the revered cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Reports emerged on Monday indicating that several pilgrims were unable to board their designated flights, causing panic and anxiety among them.
Zakalia Kyewalyanga, the Chairperson of the Uganda Hajj Bureau, confirmed that the travel plans of several individuals have been disrupted. He attributed these occurrences to technical issues with the visa portal system and delays in payment by certain travelers.
Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Kyewalyanga disclosed that while they were in the process of obtaining visas for numerous travelers, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s system in Saudi Arabia experienced downtime starting from Thursday.
He further explained that the system was restored on Saturday, and since then, they have been working diligently to register and acquire visas for numerous pilgrims, including those who were initially scheduled to travel in the first batch.
Unfortunately, not all of them were processed on time. Additionally, Kyewalyanga acknowledged that some delays were caused by the pilgrims themselves and several Hajj agents in Uganda, who delayed payment of the required fares.
He clarified that some individuals made their payments at the last minute, while the money transfer system typically takes several days to process. Consequently, by Monday, the funds had not yet been reflected in the Ministry of Hajj’s accounts, resulting in the non-issuance of visas.