Former First Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya was genial and held lively conversations with his caretakers and guests throughout Saturday, before suddenly dropping dead roughly an hour after taking evening tea, his widow Joan Kategaya said.
In an emotional recount of Kategaya’s last hours, Joan told the Daily Monitor at her Muyenga home yesterday that there was nothing to suspect that the East African Community Affairs minister would die since he seemed much improved from when admitted on January 20.
She said her husband spent much of what turned out to be his final day discussing Uganda’s politics; and delightfully recollected their involvement and the sometimes perilous escapades during the country’s liberation struggles.
“He was very okay and very alert at all times,” she noted. “We kept discussing together, reminiscing about our old times how we fought for the freedom of this country; how they (with President Museveni) were locked up in Dar es Salaam for 11 days.”
That fateful Saturday, according to Joan, Kategaya read newspapers and keenly followed the final presidential campaign rallies on television, and at one time bellowed out the word “harambee” when one of the family members alluded to the bravery of Kenya’s founding fathers; Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Family members by his bedside, including their son Machel – who was scheduled to fly back to Uganda the next day, his step mother Diana and Kategaya’s sister Gwennie, had an engaging conversation that nurses had to remind them that the deputy premier was overdue for scheduled hydrotherapy.
Uganda’s High Commissioner Angelina Wapakhabulo visited Kategaya and noted she would be pre-occupied with monitoring the Kenyan General Elections, promising to return to Nairobi Hospital today since the deputy premier seemed fine. The family was joined by two ladies – identified as Vasta and Kemirembe – and all sat chatting lively.
At one point, Machel said his father had lost some weight and now matched him in physique to which Kategaya quipped: “Except, I was more handsome [at your age]”.
Such was the warm mood that when nurses asked him to go for hydrotherapy, he had even opted to first have tea because everything seemed a routine, before he would be discharged. “He looked forward to returning to Uganda,” Joan said. It was not to be. After nurses depressed and prepared Kategaya for the hydrotherapy, the attendants and other guests were asked to leave the room. They did.
Breaking the news
At that point, Joan updated an aunt who telephoned from Kampala that Kategaya was “well”. Then she terminated the call and tried a bite. Moments later, she received a call from her sister-in-law Gwennie and in came the unexpected dreadful news. “I had just put down the phone and was serving myself a cup of tea and then Gwen called shouting: Joan, where are you? Come back quickly; Eriya has died.” “I couldn’t believe this and I asked how?”
The nurses had called Gwennie hurriedly to say Kategaya collapsed as he was being moved to the room for hydrotherapy. Health workers there scrambled to resuscitate him, but it was late. Eriya Tukahirwa Kategaya had succumbed to thrombosis (blood clot), capping a nearly 70 years of an illustrious and influential life, more than half lived struggling for Uganda’s liberation or its political stewardship.
In honour of that invaluable contribution, government decided yesterday that Wednesday’s requiem mass for Kategaya, earlier scheduled to take place at All Saints Cathedral Nakasero, instead be conducted at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds to enable as many mourners.
Joan said Kategaya’s last words to her were: “Thank you for coming to see me.” I said, no; it’s my duty to check on you.” The next time she will check on him will, unfortunately, not be in this physical world.
As the only wed wife, Joan said she remains Kategaya’s “legal wife”, although the pair had had marital misunderstandings. “Even brothers have problems [and] were really friends,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. Joan is all praises for the medical team at Nairobi Hospital led by Prof. Lule, for doing their best to give Kategaya’s life another chance, even though they lost the battle.