Eriya Kategaya was the critical conscience of NRM
Posted Wednesday, March 6 2013 at 02:00
If a cadre were found out by the regime, there would be no questions, trial or investigation, simply execution- and thus it was extremely dangerous. That kind of work needs a person with a special kind of courage, patience and stability.
“Eriya Kategaya had a particularly important role to play in the struggle, although he never took part in the actual fighting. He was in the bush in [Luweero] for some months, but more as a political than a military leader.
Mostly, he was doing clandestine work in town, either in Kampala or Nairobi. What many people did not realize at the time was that being in town was in fact more dangerous than fighting in the bush.
In the bush, a cadre is free to defend himself, and there is a certain safety in numbers. When doing urban clandestine work, on the other hand, the cadre is really on his or her own and survival depends on total concealment. The contacts that are made may not always be reliable, and then cadres are very vulnerable because the contact has information about their identity and movements.
If a cadre were found out by the regime, there would be no questions, trial or investigation, simply execution- and thus it was extremely dangerous. That kind of work needs a person with a special kind of courage, patience and stability. Kategaya is just such a man and as such he has always been central to the work we have done over the years”.
I have had to quote the above extract extensively from President
Museveni’s book , Sowing the Mustard Seed which, according to the author,
covers ‘the struggle for freedom and democracy in Uganda’ by the National
Resistance Movement (NRM) against Amin and other regimes between 1971 and
1986. The book was first published in 1997 and reprinted with corrections
Kategaya’s role in the formation and development of NRM subsequently
earned him the titles and ranks of National Political Commissioner, Brigadier (honorary), first Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of Foreign Affairs and, finally, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs.
When he succumbed to Thrombosis in Nairobi on Saturday, the first SMS I received from a friend aptly described him as the ‘critical conscience’ of the NRM. And indeed he was, because when he quit the NRM in protest
against the removal of presidential term limits, the party fell apart and may never be the same again. He was of course pursuaded by his boyhood friend, Museveni, to return to the fold, but it took prolonged persuasion and negotiations to convince him.
Long after Museveni abandoned socialism, Kategaya never showed any signs that he embraced capitalism. He dressed in plain colours, enjoyed spirits and dined like a capitalist, but that was about all. Once, when I wrote a subtly critical piece in this column about ‘Museveni’s Middle Class’, the quiet, reserved but courageous Kategaya could not hide his amusement when we met.
He was my friend and tennis mate at Kampala Club. In our club-within-a – club fraternity that included John Nasasira, John Nagenda, Magala Nyago, Kenneth Kereere, James Tugume, Dr Ben Mbonye, Gideon Karyoko, Jack Karyarugwoke and a few others, he was the obvious leader.
When I expressed a liking for eshabwe, a Bahima sauce made out of cow ghee, Kategaya’s wife, Joan, invited me and my wife, Rebecca, to their home in Kololo and entertained us to a delicious dinner that included a whole roasted goat.
Because Kategaya was extremely discreet, he was a better listener than a talker. A spy could sit next to him for hours and get away without anything worth his while to write about. He, in fact, never cared who sat next to him, depending on the occasion.
Once, while we were having refreshments after a tennis foursome, our now shabby ball-boy joined us at the swimming pool and sat next to the First Deputy premier. He had been misinformed by his fellow ball-boys that after
a game, he should always sit with the ‘bosses’ and have a drink. I was public relations secretary of the club at the time, and I asked the boy to scram before Kategaya had noticed his presence.
In 1989, in what was then East Berlin, I, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga of the Uganda National Assembly and the Late Francis Hatega, Charge de-Affaires in Moscow and East Berlin, spent a week with Kategaya at a posh villa. Our Germany bodyguards became part of our delegation and, with Kategaya’s permission, had dinner with us throughout our stay. We were attending a Nuclear Free Zones Conference which preceded the collapse of communism.
The only time Kategaya lost his composure was when his luggage and mine got lost at Amsterdam Airport on arrival.
The loss was all the more puzzling because we had travelled by different flights. The East Germany authorities intensified their search for the luggage when Kategaya refused to wear the two suits, one of them of maroon
colour, which, to appease Kategaya, they had purportedly bought him from a shop patronised by East Germany’s leaders, including their Head of State.
On the third day of our stay, the lost luggage was located in a room at Amsterdam Airport. May Kategaya’s soul rest in eternal peace.
Mr Kiwanuka is a journalist and retired Foreign Service Officer.