The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Kategaya's Prayer for Museveni

Eriya Tukahirwa Kategeya, President Museveni's childhood friend and most enduring political ally, who passed away on Saturday, knew Museveni since they were little boys in Kyamate primary school.

They studied together through primary, secondary schools and university, before working in the same government until they fell out in 2003. In 2006, he returned to cabinet. In 2005 he told Benon Herbert Oluka how the president evolved from a petulant young man to the strong-willed leader he is today.

This story, by the departed NRM politician, was first published in 2005. We republish it here, as Uganda mourns a politician most respected.

First meeting:

I think there are two phases: One is when I met him as a person, when we were not politicians at that time. My first time was in primary school, around 1957 at a school called Kyamate. I studied with him in the same class - P.5 to P.6 - then we went to Junior One. In primary school, Museveni was stubborn; stubborn in the sense that he was not obeying orders and all that. He used to defy orders on disciplinary matters.

He was not very active in class. He was best in challenging authority, having problems with teachers. Then we moved to Mbarara High School for Junior One. Then we went to Ntare School for Senior One up to Senior Six from [1961] to [1966]. We were in different classes. I think he was in A and I was in B. In Ntare School, he was in the Scripture Union most of the time. He claimed to have been a mulokole [but] I don't know whether he was saved or not.

He was also in the debating society and the history club. He used to engage in debate but he was not a prefect like some of us. But one time, when we were in Senior Five, he headed students to go and drink our tea. You know the prefects used to have a privilege - to have tea at break time - but I think one time he thought everybody should have tea. So, he led some students to go and drink our tea. The teachers took exception and punished him. In Ntare School we never used to have a lot of punishment.

You would be given a bit of work, either to clear the compound or something like that on Saturdays, or they detain you from going to town. But there weren't severe punishments. From Ntare School, we went to Dar es Salaam [university]. By then it was part of the (University of East Africa) - it was actually Dar es Salaam University College. There were three colleges at that time - Makerere, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He was doing Economics and Political Science and I was doing Law.

Politically, we came together in 1965 when we were at Ntare because at that time there was this problem between [Milton] Obote and the Kabaka on the constitution, and the arrest of these five ministers. After university, I joined what is now called the [Uganda] Management Institute (UMI), which was known as the Institute of Public Administration (IPA). I was teaching there. And for him, he went to President's Office. But it didn't last long because we left university in March 1970 and in 1971 [Idi] Amin took over, and we joined hands again to fight against Amin.

We had a group, we knew each other from university - people like [Prof Dani] Nabudere, Late Martin Musika, Mwesigwa 'Black', [and] Valeriano Baheru. We had formed our group when we were in Ntare School in 1965, which was away from the old parties. For example, the president was mainly DP-inclined and I was UPC-inclined, so we had been active.

When I was in IPA, there was one principal who came to tell us why Amin took over and I was not amused by the reasons he advanced, so when Museveni came back from Dar es Salaam - for him after the coup he immediately went to Tanzania - we sat down to say: 'what do we do?'.

So we joined hands to oppose Amin and since then we have been struggling up to the time we are talking about - 1979 - when the Tanzanians came to overthrow Amin - we participated somehow. As a group, there were two military axes: there was Kyotera-Masaka-Kampala. Then there was Mbarara-Fort Portal up to Masindi (what they used to call western). By then we were operating under FRONASA; so FRONASA was given the western axis whereas KIKOSI MAALUM [Special Force] as it was called then, under Tito Okello [and Oyite Ojok], came through Kyotera-Masaka to Kampala.

In March 1973, when the president got married, we were not in [Uganda]. By then we were with the FRELIMO group in Nachingwea (Tanzania).

Genesis of UPM:

After 1979, we came under UNLF (Uganda National Liberation Front) which was I think kind of a Movement, a front of different groups. And we thought that was the best political arrangement at that time. But we were in the National Consultative Council, which was the parliament at the time...

So, we were definitely in a dilemma whether we should join the old parties UPC and DP or form a third force. I think there were attempts to persuade DP so that we should come together but DP was not persuaded. That is how we formed the Uganda Patriotic Movement, UPM, hence our participation in the elections in 1980 under UPM - just because we didn't want to join other political parties.

We campaigned but it was obvious we were not going to win. Nobody was convinced about our winning because we were a new party, young people, we didn't have the resources. [It] gave us an opportunity to more or less introduce ourselves to the Ugandan population. I mean nobody knew us. Few people had read or heard about us. But it gave us the opportunity to introduce some ideas we had.

We selected [Museveni] because we didn't have time [to campaign] so we wanted someone who could capture the young people. He himself had been known especially in the fight in 1979 under FRONASA so that is how we came to zero on him. By then he was the vice chairman of the Military Commission and he had been minister of defence. He was the second in command in the Military Commission under [Paulo] Muwanga and at that time Muwanga was in fact the de facto president.

During the campaigns, we had few candidates. But UPC feared us because they knew that we could also stand our ground... And I remember people used to say you people have good ideas but you are young. And, also, they were raising a question... that we don't have an armed group. Because I think Obote was parading the [Tito] Okellos who were backing UPC. In fact I remember the quotation was: "Where are your generals? Show me your generals?" So, they were saying you are young, you wait a bit.

After the elections, the decision to go to the bush was not decided by the party. As a party, we never discussed it. It was decided by a small group because there was fear that it would leak out.

Museveni influence:

During the NRC (1986-1996), the president did not have as much influence in parliament as he now has. Even the level of debate was much better. Today, the level of debate is so low. During the CA, we decided that we were not going to have a cabinet position on any issue because we thought that it would have been divisive.

We did not even have a cabinet or Movement caucus in the House. But after [Prof] Nabudere formed the first caucus, we had to form our own to counter him.

Museveni personality:

He usually has a single-minded commitment to whatever he wants to do. Once he wants to do something, he will really put all his energies into it. In terms of politics, one should know the kind of influence he had in Dar es Salaam. There was first of all Tanzanian politics at that time. The then president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was trying to shift African development from dependence on Europe to what they called self-reliance.

And at that time there was also a liberation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Guinea Bissau - so there was also that phase. And, of course, the events in Vietnam, and the fresh achievement by the Cubans. So, this was really part of the political environment in which we were operating in, so in a sense one could say the politics of the president was left wing.

I think in the old days he used to have very collective positions, discussing to agree on what to do. At that time it was difficult to use authority within the organisation [NRA] to impose discipline. It was self-discipline and mainly conviction. You know during the early times, it was really conviction - believing in what we were doing, so there was self-discipline and self-discipline can only come about if people are convinced about what they are doing.

And it means even the leader must be able to convince people that they are doing the right thing. I think when you become the president of a country; it is not the same as when you are in the bush. Here you have the state machinery, which gives him more authority. In my view, one needs perhaps to know that you have state machinery but how do you use it to maintain the same principles that drove you to start what you started?

Weak state:

And then also there are more pressures - when you are the president of a country, you have the international pressures, constituency pressures, people coming to demand for this and that. And, also, given the situation of having politicians who have not been in industry, are not in production, it is a problem because these politicians look at politics as a career, which is very dangerous. So, the state has a lot of influence.

If you want to do business, you have to be friendly with the state, or if you want some loan...That's one. The other one is lack of strong institutions. You know, people here don't say I am the Inspector General of Police and the law says this, so I am going to stick to it. Sometimes you say if the big man rings, you choose between your profession and your job.

So, there are two problems: Politicians finding they don't have their own economic base makes them very very vulnerable. I mean, if somebody does not have Shs 5 million, it means he is a poor person. What is Shs 5 million in our situation now? It is pocket money in a sense. But for some people, wow!

I think in the future we will have to work on this: should politicians just come from school and become politicians or should they have some income of their own so that they can have independent views and they can have an overall picture also?

They should have a career on the side so that politics is not the main thing, so that you don't feel that once you lose your political position that is the end of the world. I think we need to work on that.

Dictatorial:

The first time I saw him go against a collective position was on the issue of DR Congo in 1997. I was the minister of Foreign Affairs when we had a meeting [to make a decision on whether to send troops to DR Congo]; I told him that it was not the right thing to do. I have always believed that sending troops to another country would be a catastrophe, especially in a vast country like DR Congo.

I told him that instead, we should train some Congolese instead of sending our soldiers. In fact, we even trained about 200 Congolese to go and fight instead of our soldiers. Then one day I heard that he had sent our soldiers. The Congolese had even finished training and we were getting ready to send them. I did not push it because he had overlooked my advice.

The second time was this kisanja thing (3rd term). In 2002, I was just hearing about it through rumours. But I think [before that] there was a committee that had already been set up to lay the foundation for this thing. One day [while talking to one of the committee members], it was mentioned accidentally to me. I said; 'what?'

They thought either I knew about it or they thought I was going to embrace the idea. But I was not going to be party to that. I spoke out against it.

What has changed?

I think nowadays I find him impatient. He wants to push things to the extent that sometimes he says: "Oh those who do not agree with me, I am no longer going to work with them". I find that one very strange. If you are working with a large group of people, I think if you are going to work with only those who agree with you, you will narrow your base. And sometimes the question is; 'you disagree on what? Is it fundamental or not?'

I think he has to be able to say yes, we have a disagreement but it is not fundamental. It is not dangerous to what we all want to achieve. So, I find him a bit impatient. Even when you talk to him and you find he does not agree with you, he looks a bit frustrated.

Strong points:

Overall, he used to be concerned with improving the conditions of the poor. He used to be concerned about that and also, he used not to be very much obsessed about acquiring property. He used not to really have that problem. Now you find that he has a lot of property, he has very high tastes.

You remember when we used to use mugs from TUMPECO and he was talking of furniture from Kawempe and the rest. We are no longer following those lines. I remember we used to say that weddings for soldiers should [have] soft drinks, no beers... I think that was good on his part to live by your means; live as much as possible to the same level as the people you are leading.

Weak points:

I think he should listen more. He should go back to listening, and I hope he will have the courage not to see an enemy around every bush, because it is dangerous. The moment you think everybody who doesn't agree with you is an enemy, it will lead you to making mistakes. In other words, he should listen to people who may criticise him but with a view to correcting him; not because they want to run him down.

My biggest weakness with those who want him to continue is the argument they advance. For me, arguing that Museveni has done very well is not an argument I will buy. We were supposed to do very well. That is why we fought. Why did we fight? In order to bring better governance in this country.

So, if we have achieved what we fought for, it is not something to think about. Or to say oooh Museveni has done very well. Yes, he has done very well. That is okay. But there are other things to consider in the future, there is a future. Because for me, the moment you start changing goals and goalposts, then you are creating problems.

Best/worst moments:

The worst moment of my working with him is when he decided to reshuffle me from government. I think he should have had the courtesy to inform me in person. I did not have to find out the way I did [on radio].

The best part was our modest contribution to build this Movement. My prayer for the president is that whatever he does, it should be in the interest of the country. I think it would be irresponsible to drag this country back to where we came from.

A lot has been done and it should not be thrown away.

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