Kategaya was a good man who blew the chance to become great
Posted Thursday, March 7 2013 at 02:00
Sometime in 2000, Members of Parliament from Ankole met at Amanya Mushega’s office at the Ministry of Public Service to discuss the fall-out between President Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye.
Besigye had called for deep political reforms and argued that Mr Museveni would seek to block them or use them for his personal political advantage. He wanted Museveni to be challenged in the 2001 election.
The Ankole MPs disagreed. Besigye, they said, was being impatient and disrespectful; why not allow Museveni stand for his last term according to the Constitution, and then discuss the transition with his input.
Museveni will not respect those term limits, Besigye argued.
Then one of the MPs in the meeting leaned forward and shot back: “You mean Museveni can change the Constitution?” Yes, insisted Besigye, before the meeting came to an end with the MPs choosing to give Museveni the benefit of the doubt.
The MP who spoke out was Eriya Kategaya, who had known Mr Museveni since childhood, and who was regarded by many as the de-facto number two in the NRM regime.
In three years, Kategaya would be proved wrong and Besigye right, when President Museveni engineered the amendment of the Constitution to remove term limits. Kategaya expressed shock at the turn of events and spoke out against them but by then the die was cast; he was fired from Cabinet, proving that there was no queue, no number twos or threes.
Cut from the steady moorings of the mother ship, Kategaya bobbled listlessly in the stormy waters. There was an autobiography that promised more than it delivered, and a short-lived return to legal practice three decades too late.
Eventually, buffeted from side to side by financial and other pressures, Kategaya dug into the humble pie and returned to Cabinet, taking the East African Affairs docket that took him away from the local politics that he clearly detested but not a word was heard from him again.
As small fates go, the news of Kategaya’s passing on, in a Nairobi Hospital on Saturday evening, trickled in around the same time of news that Besigye had, once again, been arrested for no apparent reason.
Besigye had also penned in the day’s Sunday Monitor newspaper, another letter to President Museveni attacking the governance and developmental credentials of his regime, almost 14 years since he first did so.
Some have argued, with merit, that Kategaya was naïve and gullible to have spent so much time around Museveni without seeing through his political cunning. Others have questioned his principles after he turned on his word and returned to the government he despised.
There are two issues here. The first is the sum of the circumstances that forced an honourable man like Kategaya to go back on his word. The system of patronage that has evolved over the last 30 years is designed to reward support and sycophancy while punishing dissent and disagreement.
Honest people like Kategaya can only survive and pay their bills if they stay quiet and smile through gritted teeth. Once cut from the dinner table, they often drift away to oblivion and, often, destitution.
The bigger issue, however, is that Kategaya could have done something to try and change things for the better but chose to keep quiet. He can be forgiven for being taken in by his childhood friend and for the pragmatism of returning to a government job, but it is hard to forgive him for remaining silent in the last seven years as the country reeled from one governance crisis to another.