Eriya Kategaya, the First Deputy Prime Minister and minister for East African Community Affairs, sets himself on the pedestal as one of the most incorruptible Ugandans, a thing he believes came to pass because of his childhood foundation built on honesty and transparency.
My mother tells me I was born in 1945 in Karagwe, Itojo, now Ntungamo District where I spent most of my childhood. Back in the day, children were attached to relatives, so I attended a number of primary schools where my relatives had a connection.
I began with three years at Itojo Sub Grade School in 1952, where we used sand as “paper” and our fingers as pens. I remember staying in a class for two years because I was too small and could not be promoted. I then went to Kyamate Primary School where my uncle was a catechist, shifted to Rubare Primary School where another uncle was a teacher and finally finished my Primary Six from Kyamate.
I have vivid memories of these primary schools. One of them is my Primary Four teacher who introduced me to English language, but used to pronounce pawpaw as pawa pawa. Another is meeting Yoweri Museveni at Kyamate. We were naïve about politics and what I recall about my friend was that he loved quarreling with teachers. At one time, my uncle who was a teacher caned him for being insolent.
I grew up in a family built on strong pillars of religion; my parents were devoted balokole (born again.) We, therefore, grew up in an atmosphere where we knew people were created in God’s image regardless of tribe or status. We used to pray as a family every morning and before bed time and this instilled honesty in us.
As a child, I was very serious with and committed to my books. I always knew anything to do with girls was sin. I was social in my own way but very reserved. Later on, I rebelled against the kilokole business at home and sat my parents down, pointed out how the religion was detaching us from our culture like going for village parties and entertaining guests using the local brew. However, I remained religious despite my grandfather tactfully trying to initiate me into smoking. It was always me lighting his pipe, but I stood the temptations and never touched a cigarette. The first time I tasted booze was in Senior Five at Ntare School, just out of adventure.
I aspired to be a District Commissioner. Towards independence, the British picked up a few young people and took them on as D.Cs, they were very important people who commanded a lot of admiration.
But in Senior Six, I made up my mind and zeroed down on the legal profession. I felt this was the right professional path to take so as to fulfill my passion of defending people and championing their rights.
As fate would have it, I joined University of Dar-es-salam for Law, but we always joke that it taught us more politics than law. My sweetest memories rotate around the six years I spent at Ntare School. I can confidently say, the Eriya Kategaya you see today was manufactured by Ntare School. It was there that I first put on brown Bata shoes while going for a singing competition at Makerere University as part of the school choir.
At my former school, Mbarara High where I went for junior secondary, one had to get permission from doctors to put on shoes. It was at Ntare that I first interacted with people from other religions. I used to think Catholics and Muslims were extremely different from us. We were also given the dose of democracy there, as the Headmaster allowed us elect our own leaders, save the head prefect and house captains.
I admired Grace Ibingira, who was an MP and John Kakonge, an outspoken UPC member. In 1965, when Obote arrested five ministers and abrogated the constitution, (we were in senior five) together with Museveni and three others, we visited the Prime Minister of Ankole kingdom, to ask what programme he had to oppose Obote, but he disappointed us by telling us to take it easy. So, from 1966 to date, I have worked closely with Museveni, though one time when I was deputy head prefect, he led a small, peaceful demonstration where students drunk prefects’ tea, arguing that all students must take tea. They later settled and we, the nobles of the school, continued taking our tea!
Away from Ntare, another memorable aspect of my childhood was my mother’s strict discipline, my father never used to care much. My idea of fun then wasgoing to the cinema and I was also deep in love with dancing; from ballroom to Congolese music.
We enjoyed bull dance (obugyenyi or banquet) at Ntare though occasionally we invited girls from Mary Hill High School and our favourite, Bweranyangi Girls. We even coined the term, Bwerantare to seal our relationship. Looking back now, I appreciate the impact my childhood had in nurturing me into the person I am today. I detest discrimination, based on whatever grounds.
I still cherish honesty and transparency, the reason I cannot use public funds for selfish gain. I might rank top among the most incorruptible Ugandans! My milestone was becoming the first graduate in my village, and a lawyer.
As told to Ivan Okuda