By Yoweri Museveni
I first met the late Eriya Kategaya in May, 1952. I had just started school, which had only one class – divided into sections of 1B and 1A. Section 1B was for the pre-primary pupils while 1A was a section for P1.
There were just two female teachers – Madame Bagambireeryo and Kenshuubi. There were three other boys in the girls’ school – the late Sam Magara, his brother Nasani Tandekwiire and another boy whose name I cannot remember.
Our headgirl was Lydia Kasukukuru (Mrs. Lydia Butagira).
One other girl was Margaret Kyogira. The 1B pupils had to start by writing in the sand and, eventually, start writing on the slates (amabaare).
It was during this time that I met the late Eriya Kategaya. Together with his cousin, Karakweende, they were staying at Mr. Mukyebizi’s place – a muburiizi (lay reader) who was also from Itojo.
All this was at Kyamate Boys’ and Girls’ Schools. I do not remember whether Manasi, Eriya’s brother, was also with them. I, however, remember his face very well.
At the beginning of 1953, I graduated from the 1B of the Girls’ School to Primary One of the Boys’ School.
Our headmaster was a newly posted teacher, Mr. Ikuraibwoine from Bunyaruguru (Rubiriizi now). Kategaya (using the name of Tukahiirwa at that time) was at the Boys’ School with his cousin, Karakweende.
I do not remember when they left Kyamate and went to Rubaare. What I remember is that they came back to Kyamate in 1958 or thereabout when we were, together, in Primary Six (being described as “goers” – the ones about to leave the Primary School system).
They had been staying with their uncle, Rwabihegye, with whom I got into a fracas. I insulted him by exposing my teeth and my upturned and inclined thumb at him (okuhema n’okuha mutiinzi).
This is a very big insult. I had done this at his back because he had sent me out of the class for some reason I thought was unfair.
When I kuhemad him, I thought it was only the other pupils that were watching. I did not know that there was another teacher, Mzee Wampeeha, sitting at the back of the class. He, then, exclaimed:
“Wakoraki? Wakoraki!! What a terrible thing you have done okuhema your senior – a teacher”? Rwabihegye gave me a good beating and sentenced me to cutting a huge amount of papyrus (okutema ebifuunjo), bare-chested for several weeks.
I wisely decided to damage control by not telling the late Mr. Kaguta because he would have come to fight Rwabihegye and it may have resulted into my expulsion from the school and missing my Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), which was due that year.
Nevertheless, Rwabihegye would get most amused and laugh uncontrollably by the way I boldly and closely looked into the face of Mr. Edward Cleaver who came to interview us for entering Mbarara High School.
You had to pass the PLE, the Junior Secondary Entrance Examination and the oral interview conducted by Mr. Cleaver himself.
After Kyamate, I stayed with Eriya Kategaya in the school system through Mbarara High School (Junior I and II), Ntare (O’ and A’ levels) and the University of Dares- Salaam. This was a total of 11 years.
After university, Eriya joined the Attorney General’s Chambers and I joined Foreign Affairs briefly and, then, the President’s Office until Idi Amin’s coup of the January 25, 1971.
In the primary and junior secondary schools, I was friends with Eriya Kategaya as I was with other boys – Kamuhangire, Rwivanga, Kamezire, etc. It was at Ntare that our interactions became more political and ideological. Politics had started around 1955, in Ankole. Prior to this, the British, assisted by the chiefs, were running Uganda as a dictatorship – no democracy.
Unfortunately, when democracy started, the opportunists hijacked it with sectarianism – using religion (Catholics vs Protestants) and occupational castes (Bahingyi vs Bariisa – cultivators vs cattlekeepers).
UPC was out as a party for the cultivator Protestants and DP as a party for the cultivator Catholics plus the cattlekeepers. How an ordinary Catholic, Protestant or cattlekeeper would gain from that sort of politics, could not be explained and it was none of the opportunists business.
What mattered was that the elite would pressgang our people into these pseudo-political groupingsand really create a lot of antagonism among the people (defecating in churches, cutting people’s crops and, eventually, leading to extrajudicial killings during Amin’s and Obote II regimes).
On account of that intoxication with sectarianism, I belonged to DP and Eriya belonged to UPC; so did the other boys – divided in that manner.
By 1965, however, Eriya, Mwesigwa Black, Valerian Rwaheru, Martin Mwesiga and others started rejecting this irrational and opportunistic divide of our people and, effectively started the nucleus of a Third Force i.e a non-sectarian force – in Uganda’s politics.
Disenchanted with both Obote’s and Kiwanuka’s politics of not supporting the East African Federation, we decided to put our university choices to the University of Dar-es-Salaam and the University of Nairobi.
Eriya Kategaya, Martin Mwesiga and myself went to Dar-es-Salaam where we were joined by the likes of late Wapakhabulo, Namugowa, John Kawanga, Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, etc.
With this group, we formed USARF (University Students African Revolutionary Front) to educate ourselves about and agitate for Pan-Africanism. The other students i.e Mwesigwa Black, Valerian Rwaheeru, etc, went to Nairobi University.
After university, we briefly worked as already pointed out above until Amin’s coup.
On the day of Amin’s coup, our group, joined by the Rugundas from Kabale, met briefly and we decided to oppose Amin’s coup right from the beginning. I was selected to head for Tanzania to link up with Mwalimu who had opposed the take-over immediately.
Eriya Kategaya headed the internal operations until 1973 when he was forced to run away following our misfortunes which led to the public executions of some of our supporters as well as other innocent Ugandans by Idi Amin. Those misfortunes exposed his role and he could not stay within Uganda anymore.
The fights with Idi Amin of 1972 and 1973 had caused us to lose some of our comrades such as Mwesigwa Black, Martin Mwesiga, Valerian Rwaheru, Malibo, Raiti Omongin and others.
Owing to these setbacks, disagreements arose among us, leading us to working separately when we were both in exile. Eriya Kategaya and others were operating from Zambia while I shifted base from Dar-es-Salaam to Moshi where I was also teaching at the Co-operative College. This was 1973-74.
We had one meeting in Lusaka to try and re-unite our group but it did not work out well. With the war of 1978-79, following Idi Amin’s attack on Tanzania, I linked up with Eriya again and invited him to be part of our delegation to the Moshi Conference of Ugandan exiles.
Since the conference gave us only two slots on the NCC (National Consultative Council), the two were taken up by Eriya and Father Okoth.
In the interim Government of UNLF (1979-80), he became one of the ministers representing FRONASA. Eriya, Bidandi Ssali and others were the main movers in creating UPM.
Initially, I was hesitant because I could see that the only way out was to fight. Eriya and others outargued me by saying that even if we were to fight, we needed a political platform first.
When the elections were rigged, we, indeed, started the armed resistance. Initially, Eriya hid in Kampala. Eventually, he went to the bush and stayed there until August 1982, when he left for the External Committee.
While in Kampala, through Sam Male, one of our supporters, he linked us with the Libyans represented by their young ambassador, Al-Faghee.
Kategaya brought Al-Faghee and I met him at Migadde at Semakula’s house (17 miles on Bombo Road).
That is how the Libyans invited me to meet the late Gadaffi on the June 21, 1981.
Gadaffi in the end, gave us a total of 310 rifles that were useful to us in the years 1981-1985. As a member of the External Committee, he (Kategaya) visited the bush once in 1984, after the successful attack on Masindi barracks, crossing Lake Victoria in the small boats that we were using for that purpose.
After the victory of 1986, he became a member of the NRM government for most of the time until the time he died.
We had a second round of disagreement some years ago. That is when he temporarily left the Government until we negotiated again and he agreed to come back as the First Deputy Prime Minister specifically in charge of East African Affairs which was one of our core issues as far as our political orientation was concerned.
Eriya was very principled and firm in his opinions. He was a patriot and a Pan-Africanist. His premature death deprives us of a very valued comrade.
I salute, on behalf of the NRM and the country at large, his decadesold contribution to the cause of patriotism and Pan-Africanism.
May his soul rest in Eternal Peace. Yoweri K. Museveni
Gen (rtd) President and chairman of the NRM