As NRM historical Eriya Kategaya takes the final bow, some curious details about his life, especially after he fell out with his childhood friend President Museveni, have emerged.
Sources close to the family have indicated that Kategaya started falling sick after leaving government around 2004, following a sharp disagreement with President Museveni on third term manoeuvres.
Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, who interviewed and interacted with him while working as a journalist, and later as a fellow politician, writes that the former First Deputy Prime Minister failed to recover fully from disappointment and betrayal at the hands of his childhood friend and comrade.
Eriya Tukahirwa Kategaya rarely granted media interviews. When he did, the interaction was often minimal and formal. But following his 2003 fallout with President Museveni over the latter’s manoeuvre to change the constitution to continue in power, the NRM’s second most important personality became abundantly available. Early 2004, I sought an interview with Kategaya for The Observer and he gladly granted it.
Being a man who never wanted to be misunderstood, Kategaya demanded that before the interview, The Observer must first correct an impression it had created in an earlier story which quoted him as saying that he might consider working with Museveni again in future. He swore he would never, something he must have regretted later on when he changed his mind.
I conducted this interview in Kategaya’s private office, which was located at the East African Development Bank building, next to Bank of Uganda. After losing his cabinet job, which he had held since 1986, Kategaya, a lawyer, had gone to work with his brother-in-law, Dr Joseph Byamugisha, in his law firm. As the interview commenced, Kategaya called in a girl who served us black tea. The main theme of the interview was the efforts by Museveni and his supporters to change the Constitution to enable the president stay in power beyond the constitutional two five-year terms.
There is no doubt Kategaya was a modest man but the office where we met was again too modest for his status. Nevertheless, this office was to become our meeting point for the next couple of months as I sought the wise counsel of an elder statesman. We spoke about many things, including starting a debating club which he offered to serve as patron.
I was later told that the hounding by his friend hadn’t stopped with cabinet. That his friend pressured his new partners or employers to throw him out of the law firm if they wanted to continue winning lucrative government contracts. Truth be told, I don’t know whether Kategaya was thrown out but somehow he left Dr Byamugisha’s law firm which was feeding him.
So financially squeezed was Kategaya that at one time young lawyers got embarrassed when they found him filing a bill of costs of about Shs 3 million in a magistrate’s court. On another occasion, I saw Kategaya with my naked eyes buying fuel worth Shs 5,000 for his Volvo car at a Total fuel station near the City Abattoir on Old Port Bell road.
When the NRA captured power, Museveni its leader first lived in Kololo. When he left the house, according to security sources, Kategaya and Dr Ruhakana Rugunda jostled for it in a battle meant to confirm who was next to the president. We are told Kategaya won this particular battle and took the house. It is not clear what eventually happened to this house.
Some people believe that he sold it while others say he left it for his wife Joan after they separated. Whatever the case, Kategaya moved on and rented one of Prof Gordon Wavamunno’s houses in Bugolobi. He was able to afford it while still serving as a minister. However, when his childhood friend sacked him from his cabinet, Kategaya lost the ability to pay rent and was accordingly thrown out of the house.
With no where to go, it is said that Kategaya temporarily relocated to his village in Rwampara county, Mbarara district. His young sister, who has worked with Internal Security Organisation (ISO) for a long time, had to vacate her house in Kiwatule for Kategaya. This is the house Kategaya inhabited until his death. Media reports that he owned this house are, therefore, false, according to our sources.
Given that he had not saved much and was neither materialistic nor corrupt, Kategaya nearly became a pauper. His childhood friend and his attack dogs used this fact to make fun of him and dismiss him as a lazy person. Ofwono Opondo, Charles Rwomushana, Fox Odoi and Frank Tumubwaze were particularly guilty of characterizing Kategaya that way. When I interviewed him in 2004, this is how Kategaya described these Museveni agents:
“I get concerned with these fellows; Fox Odoi, Ofwono Opondo, Moses Byaruhanga. Then there is another fellow called Tumwebaze. If these now are the ideologues of the Movement, then we are in problems.”
Times change, Tumwebaze is now the one coordinating Kategaya’s burial arrangements as minister for the Presidency.
Kategaya’s dream was to witness an orderly succession in the presidency. That is why he, alongside Col Nuwe Amanya Mushega, tried in vain to persuade Col Kizza Besigye not to stand against Museveni in the 2001 elections. Kategaya and Mushega were part of a meeting of Ankole MPs at the ministry of Public Service (where Mushega was minister) in Wandegeya.
Besigye remembers that in that meeting Kategaya swore that Museveni was going to serve his last term and that there was no way the president would change the constitution to remain in power. Kategaya didn’t even want the meeting to discuss the possibility of Museveni changing the Constitution because to him it was “impossible” and would “never happen.”
Kategaya was wrong. By 2003, two years after the 2001 elections, noises in favour of amending the Constitution were getting louder and louder, and the sole beneficiary of that scheming, President Museveni, was uncharacteristically quiet. Kategaya inevitably opposed the scheme and his childhood friend responded by sacking him from his cabinet job. He had been First Deputy Prime Minister and minister of Foreign Affairs.
Outside government, Kategaya became a key speaker at many of the anti-third term seminars organised by the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) that later merged with Reform Agenda to form FDC. But having been in public life almost all his life, Kategaya found himself in unfamiliar territory. It was, therefore, not very surprising when the man who had famously said that a Munyankore man only turns in his bed not on his word made a u-turn and rejoined Museveni’s cabinet after the 2006 elections.
The problem of the blood clot that eventually killed him started around 2004. But he somehow lived with it until about two years ago when it became life threatening, forcing him in and out of hospital. Suspicion is that the political disappointment he suffered around this time gave the health problem an upper hand.
Even after returning to cabinet, Kategaya kept a low profile. His body language clearly showed he had not reconciled himself with the reality. He told a friend that he rarely met Museveni, having spent a whole year without meeting the president. Even in cabinet, sources say, he rarely contributed. Even in Parliament, Kategaya chose to keep silent most of the time.
One of his in-laws once asked him if he had come to terms with rejoining Museveni after he fiercely opposed the life presidency project. Kategaya replied that “in life there are mistakes that you make and time allows you to correct them but mistakes made at an old age are not easy to correct.”
Eriya, notwithstanding whatever happened in your old age, you will always be remembered as an inspirational and towering political figure.
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