Unmasking David Kato

The late David Kato.

What you need to know:

Up until his death, different people knew Kato differently. Eunice Rukundo tells you more of the man whose murder caused an outcry both in his village and internationally.

It may be a while before another local death stirs up as much global dust as David Kato Kisule’s last month did. You would think that living and being murdered in Mukono would have basically instigated another call for help with the iron bar murderers that have recently tormented the residents, and as usual, the matter would ambiguously be forgotten.

Instead, Kato’s murder angered a certain group of nationals, confused others and stirred such protests amongst the international community that even the US president had something to say about it.

Up until his death, different people knew Kato differently, depending on how they related with him and this resulted in the different opinions about why he could have been killed as brutally as he had; bludgeoned with a hammer to his head in his home in broad day light.

An ‘outed’ homosexual
One unwavering fact emerged about the man whose murder attracted so much attention; he had been a homosexual and international gay rights activist. His sexuality first became a national issue last year in October after a tabloid published his picture among others on the front page under the headline “Hang Them, they are after our kids: Pictures of top 100 Homos”. Even then however, it seems that a good number of his acquaintances were only introduced to this fact, in details emerging internationally after his murder.

Claire Nakato, 43, who says she came around to help the late with errands and household chores, now narrates that she had noticed he only had specific visitors that came to his home, most of them male. “There were no women friends that you could say he was in a relationship with. There was instead a particular man that visited frequently, sometimes spending the night,” she relates in Luganda.

The late’s cousin also confesses to having only heard rumours that he never bothered to verify. “I now understand why he only laughed at my pestering him to get married and didn’t seem bothered even though he was 46 years old. It was his life though; he was an adult so whatever he wanted to do with it was his business.”

In a country whose culture and traditions are largely uncompromising of issues relating to sexuality however, not everyone was as accepting when confronted with the truth. One woman among those keeping vigil at his home could be heard swearing, “If I had known what he was involved in and where he got his money from, I wouldn’t have taken it. I wish I could return it all!”

An advocacy officer for the gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, at the time of his death, Kato was a school teacher by profession, only becoming a prominent gay rights campaigner in recent years. In his work, he is described as having been authoritative and proactive, always wanting to lead in every way. “David juggled almost every responsibility within the movement, his major concern our safety. He hated “slow work” and red tape and in most cases he came off as a leader in his own category,” testifies Val Kalende, a fellow activist.

Kalende adds that he was also known for his energy and quick response to security matters, which saw him nicknamed “security”. “It didn’t matter who you were, he reached out to help you. He fed, dressed, comforted, and housed many members of the community who were homeless,” adds Kalende.
Not everyone seems to have appreciated his outstanding stance, as one member of the community who claims to have been an ex-lover to the late confesses, “When I heard Kato was dead, I was saddened but also relieved. He was such an assuming person who thought he was better than anyone else, even amongst the gay community.”

Paul Kagaba, a former homosexual now crusading against gay practices who claims to have known Kato in Masaka during his senior four vacation, at a time when the late was head school teacher for a primary school, describes him as loud, rude and arrogant. “Some people found him impatient and sometimes rude but that was his way of getting things done. At the same time, he was a man who didn’t mince his words. He told it as it was. His selfless leadership is what endeared many of us to him,” defends Kalende.

A prominent feature in his life’s story from whoever you hear it from is that he was a generous man, as Aleper Fpay, the Local Council chairman for Bukusa village in Mukono where the late had resided for three years states. “He was greatly known for being developmental and generous. He paid people’s hospital bills, was among the first people to install electricity poles and wires in the area and even helped many neighbours with money issues.”

Even this generosity however seems to have been perceived differently by its beneficiaries. Kagaba for instance believes this was only so he could trap innocent people and use them for his sexual desires. “I was young when I met him. He bought my first ‘take away’ ever and two Guinnesses and I ended up in his house being sexually used which is how I was initiated into homosexuality. That’s how he always initiated other people then went about the job of verbally turning them against women, insisting they’re filthy,” he claims.

One of the theories surrounding his murder is in fact that the prime suspect is a man Kato had bailed out of jail a few days back that could have killed him because of his sexual advances. Kagaba adds, “Whoever knew Kato and is truthful knows that he was not a kind, generous person but a sly show off, popular in bars where he offered free drinks to unsuspecting victims that he later initiated into sex partners.”

Bars and alcohol also seem to feature prominently in his life anecdotes. Kalende recounts the times he showed up for work with bruises saying he had been attacked by thugs late in the night coming from a bar. Another member of their community on his blog GayUgandan confesses to times when the deceased’s drinking worried them.

His aforementioned ex-lover however says he could know the reason for his over indulgence. “When we had dated a while I asked him to take an HIV test with me after hearing rumours that he could be infected. His refusal confirmed my fears and I left him. I always thought that his positive status which most people didn’t know about could have been the reason for his over drinking sometimes.”

A medical doctor that claims to have been the late’s doctor confirms that indeed Kato was HIV positive, having confirmed his status in December 2008. “In fact the day he was murdered at his home I was expecting him at the hospital but he didn’t show up,” adds the doctor. Nakato also enlightens that when on her way out to run some errands, she’d inquired about why he was staying home that day, and Kato had said he wasn’t feeling too well and would stay to rest.

The most consistent facts emerging about his family is that his father is a deceased reverend and it is not clear how he relates to his mother who lives in Masaka and refused to offer any information about her son at the funeral. That she attended his funeral, evidently distraught about her son’s passing, tallies with Kalende’s testimony of the two’s close relationship. But Kagaba, who says to have known him beyond his activism days, insists she had disowned him the moment she discovered the truth about his sexuality.

Kato is otherwise said to have had a twin brother who some people say he came out to and they remained close, and a sister that anyone hardly seems to know anything about. How he truly related with his family however remains a mystery. For all that came to life in his death, the details of his family may be the one thing the public never gets to know as even they remain tight lipped, refusing to add to the international furor that his death has already caused.