4 March 2013

Uganda: Remembering Eriya Kategaya

Photo: New Vision
Uganda's First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs, Eriya Kategaya, died at the age of 67.

Barely a week after the burial of President Museveni's father, Amos Kaguta, death has snatched his childhood friend, First Deputy Prime Minister, Eriya Tukahirwa Kategaya.

Brigadier Kategaya, 67, who was for a long time the NRM's second most important person, died on Saturday in a Nairobi hospital. His passing further reduces the presence and influence of the so-called "historical" NRM leaders in the government and army, leaving President Museveni to run the show with younger cadres or Johnny-come-latelys.

He was reportedly suffering from a condition known as Thrombosis (a blockage preventing the flow of blood, caused by a clot or a lump of blood) and had been flown out of the country several times for treatment. Since his death, eulogies have been pouring in from near and far, with many of his former colleagues citing his legendary humility and incorruptible mentality.

Will Kategaya be lionised as a revolutionary who despised material wealth, a statesman beyond the petty games of nitpicking, a widely respected leader across the political spectrum or a charlatan who went against his own word?

Described as "Effective No.2" by the media in the 1980s and 90s, Kategaya disappointed many admirers when he returned to the NRM cabinet, after initially denouncing President Museveni for engineering the amendment of the constitution to obtain a third term in office in 2005. Yet senior leaders in the opposition FDC, who worked with him briefly when he was the party's special envoy, carefully measured their words when eulogising him.

"For all the things he did, citizens never faulted him, even when he went back to the NRM," said the FDC eastern region vice president, Salaamu Musumba, who is also LC-V chairperson, Kamuli district.

"We understood as political actors the issue of his long-term friendship to Museveni. That is why there was no barrage of scorn when he left. It was not for selfish interest."

She extolled Kategaya as a decent politician who embodied the dignity of a statesman.

"He was in the mould of an old African statesman who had a lot of wisdom," Musumba said.

Prof Ogenga Latigo, the FDC vice president for northern Uganda, also spoke warmly of the late Kategaya and said his decision to return to the NRM was much more nuanced than the perception of the public.

"In my own judgment, when strong people like him [Kategaya] joined the opposition, he realised that it could have damaged the country severely. So he returned to the NRM, to try and moderate things," Latigo said. "He was a compromising politician and his calmness represented hope that Uganda will be better."

There were also reports that Kategaya, who was not known for accumulating wealth for himself during his long public service, found it difficult to cope financially once outside government, hence the decision to go back on his word. Many of his colleagues agree on his virtues of humility, brutal candor and a lifestyle that depicted revolutionary ideals. Though he was clearly second only to Museveni in status during the bush war, with him as RO002 and Museveni as RO001, Kategaya never attempted to show off his power and influence. He was also not a man of material possessions like many of his colleagues.

His house, incongruously located in the suburb of Kiwatule contrasted his colleagues' homes in the plush locales of Kololo, Nakasero and Naguru.

"He was a gentleman and a humble man. He was a revolutionary and he was principled. He never used people and kept his word," said Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire.

Nuwe Amanya Mushega, the FDC vice president for western Uganda, who also served in Cabinet with Kategaya, said: "He was a straight forward, he was honest, he did not have any scandal, never undermined his colleagues and was extremely humble."

His daughter, Annet Kategaya, described his dad as a down to earth man. "I admired his humility and he was kind, accommodative regardless of affiliation and tribe," she said.

Bukooli Central MP, Wafula Oguttu, used his Facebook page to mourn Kategaya.

"Why does God take away those we love most, the best we have and keep around those we no longer need around? Eriya was a true patriot, democrat, honest and not corrupt, the reason he could not fit in the kleptocratic governance system we presently have in our country. God bless his soul," he wrote.

During the NRM National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) Kyankwanzi in 2003, Kategaya and some cabinet colleagues put up a spirited fight against the plan to amend the constitution and remove presidential term limits. He had found himself in the awkward position of publically criticising his friend because the President had not kept his word, having promised to serve his last term during the 2001 elections.

Kategaya and likeminded leaders, who included Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe and Sarah Kiyingi, were eventually dropped from cabinet as the amendment went ahead as planned. He later joined the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), but only stayed briefly. In his book, Impassioned for Freedom, which was launched in 2004 by Mushega, Kategaya explained why he was against the removal of term limits.

"In Africa, but particularly in Uganda, we seem to be cursed with having leaders who cannot be taken on their word. Of late I have been told that politicians are people without a sense of shame," he said.

A week after the Kyankwanzi meeting, Kategaya gave Sunday Vision an interview in which he spoke strongly against the lifting of presidential term limits.

He said: "... It is not clear whether President Museveni wants the third term or not. Because of the vagueness, people are beginning to suspect his motives. I don't want to see my colleague, with whom I have worked for so long, being suspected by the people. I don't want to see my long-standing colleague involved in manipulation for this will create cynicism."

Kategaya again spoke against the abolition of term limits during a seminar at Hotel Africana on November 7, 2003. The Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) had organised the first in a series of seminars on the dangers of abolishing presidential term limits. During this seminar, Kategaya presented a paper titled, 'Political Transition in Uganda: The Stakes for Regional Integration in East Africa.'

He said: "I would like to deal with this transition under what is now popularly called third term, or, according to Salaamu Musumba, 'sad term'. What is referred to here is the vigorous attempts to amend Article 105 (2) of the 1995 Constitution to remove the term limit on the presidency... In 2001 the promise was made in writing that H.E President Museveni was going for his last and final term. What we need is the cool analysis of those who are trying to get jobs or trying to save what they have. These types of people are always compromised in their analyses."

In a 2004 interview with The Observer on the contentious subject, the former Rwampara MP famously invoked a Kinyankore proverb saying that "a man can only shift positions on his bed but not go back on his word."

Kategaya added: "I never thought that the Museveni I knew would be involved in this type of games I am seeing, not at all. This is totally the opposite of what I knew of the man. ...One of the things you have to treasure is your credibility. The moment people begin doubting your credibility, there is a problem. President Museveni now has a problem of credibility. He may think he is popular but I am not sure myself. He does not have the same credibility as before."

But in 2006, Kategaya went back on his own word - and returned to President Museveni's Cabinet. In a statement, Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut said Kategaya's body would be flown into Entebbe airport today. On Tuesday the body will lie in state in Parliament, followed by a funeral service at All Saints Cathedral, Nakasero on Wednesday. Kategaya will be buried at Karagwe Village in Ntungamo district on Thursday.


Kategaya was born in 1945 in Itojo in the then Mbarara district (now in Ntungamo). He attended Kyamate Boys primary school, Mbarara High School and Ntare. He joined Dar es Salaam University where he studied Law, before joining the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) to fight Idi Amin's rule. He returned to Uganda and was appointed a District Commissioner (DC) for Bushenyi district, during the post-Idi Amin UNLF government.

After the disputed 1980 presidential election, Kategaya joined Museveni, as the National Resistance Movement/Army waged a five-year guerrilla war and captured power on January 26, 1986. He served as Cabinet minister for various dockets and deputy Prime Minister while representing Rwampara constituency in Parliament.

In 2001, Kategaya retired from elective politics. He returned to his cabinet position as an ex-officio of the Seventh Parliament. In 2003, he, alongside cabinet colleagues Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe and Sarah Kiyingi, rejected a proposal to lift term limits. He was eventually dropped from cabinet.

Kategaya joined the opposition FDC party and served as special envoy until he returned to the NRM fold in 2006. By the time of his death, he was first deputy Premier and minister for East African Community (EAC) Affairs.

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