By Moses Walubiri
Apart from President Yoweri Museveni, few people in the top echelons of government are as synonymous with NRM’s winding journey to power as Eriya Tukahirwa Kategeya is.
A lawyer and an alumnus of Dar-es- Salaam University, Kategeya has been at the center of the NRM revolution right from its embryonic FRONASA and Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) days in the 1970s and 1980s.
In his memoirs, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni alludes to his close relationship with Kategeya that stretches back more than five decades – when their paths first crossed in Primary One at Kyamate Primary School in Ntungamo district.
Reminiscing about his “political awakening” during his Ntare High school days, Museveni mentions Kategeya among a group of politically zealous young men who gradually “evolved into a political cell of nationalistic-minded young people...”
“Kategeya, whom I have known since our first year in Primary school, is the only one of the four who is still alive today,” Museveni notes in his autobiography, describing Kategeya as “quiet and reserved, but enormously courageous.”
On his part, Kategeya, in his autobiography, Impassioned for Freedom, recollected his encounter with Museveni at Kyamate P/S and later at Ntare, describing him as “a cantankerous student” who used to cross swords with teachers.
Born on July 4, 1945 to Yosia Kategaya and Erina Mpumbya, Kategeya was born in a family of 14 siblings, at one time staying with his uncles – Festos Mukyebezi and Clement Rwabihegye- during his primary school days.
Upon NRM’s ascension to power in 1986, Kategeya was appointed state minister in the Office of the President. He was later to hold the dockets of First Deputy Prime Minister and National Political Commissar (NPC) in 1989.
YOUTHFUL COMRADES: The First Deputy Prime Minister, Eriya Kategaya (centre) chatting with the New Vision Managing Editor, James Tumusiime (right) and the Editor - in - Chief William Pike during a staff party to mark the newspaper’s second anniversary and launching of its daily edition in March, 1988
Before the return to multiparty dispensation in 2006, NPC was the equivalent of a Secretary General of a political party. In Kategeya’s case, NPC was the head of a fully-fledged NRM secretariat with a host of directors and auxiliary staff.
Seven years later, Kategeya was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, besides retaining his docket of First Deputy Prime Minister. It was during this time that the East African Treaty between member states of the defunct East African Community – Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – was designed in an effort to resuscitate regional cooperation, with Kategeya playing an integral role.
In his memoirs, Kategeya fondly remembered his time as minister of Foreign Affairs, describing it as “an exciting assignment” that enabled him to meet different world leaders and represent Uganda at different fora.
“I made many friends and colleagues in the process,” he wrote. Kategeya, until 2001, had represented Rwampara County in parliament, starting with his stint as a Constituent Assembly delegate in 1994-95. However, at just 55 years and with preparations for 2001 polls in high gear, Kategeya set tongues wagging in the corridors of power with his decision not to seek re-election for his Rwampara seat. Reason?
Kategeya sought to scale down on his engagement in public life, care for his aging parents and also mind about his health that, according to him, had taken a battering for a long time. But there was a second reason which he only revealed later in his memoirs (2006); the need to cultivate what he called “a culture of retiring from public life and attend to our personal and family matters.”
“I thought I had done my role in politics. Indeed, since 1971 after the military coup by Amin, I had been involved in politics – both underground and open. I had not had time to attend to my parents’ needs and even accumulate some property of my own,” Kategeya noted.
Kategeya was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs after the 2001 polls, but was later dropped in a snap cabinet reshuffle in May 2003 over what he later labeled his “strident opposition to lifting presidential term limits.”
Suddenly cut off from the trappings of his lofty office, Kategeya returned to practice as a private lawyer with J.B Byamugisha Advocates, a Kampala law firm. He admitted to facing a hard time trying to extensively read in order to attune his mind into the legal framework.
In his attempt to find a new political home, Kategeya played a role in the formation of FDC which was born out of a merger between the National Democratic Forum, Reform Agenda and the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum.
However, Kategeya’s hobnobbing with the opposition was short lived, as swirling rumors that he was in talks with government about a return to the fold was given credence by his appointment as Minister for East African Community Affairs in 2006.
President Yoweri Museveni (centre) chats with former Secretary General, East African Community, Ambassador Juma Mwapachu (left) and Minister for East African Community, Eriya Kategaya after the opening of the first strategic retreat of East African Community ministers at Speke Resort Munyonyo on April 17, 2008
And in doing so, Kategeya gave his critics and political pundits fodder to lampoon him for backpedaling on his promise never to rejoin government after his earlier sacking. “Man can only turn in bed but cannot go back on his word,” Kategeya had said, referring to a known Kinyankole idiom.
Kategeya’s role in the struggle According to UPDF spokesperson, Col. Felix Kulaigye, Kategeya was never engaged in active combat during the 1981- 86 bush war. Occasionally some members of the external wing( him inclusive) would sneak into the “guerrilla camps”.
As Resistance officer (R002) after Museveni (R001), Kategeya was instrumental in organizing NRM’s external wing which was tailored to wooing the support of Ugandans in the diaspora and other diplomatic leverage that could come in handy during the armed struggle.
With a tactical base in Nairobi, Kategeya reminisces in his memoirs how he ‘globe trotted,’ meeting different Ugandan communities in Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Austria. Other notable figures in the external wing included Amama Mbabazi, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Dr. Samson Kiseka, Zakaria Kaheru and Matthew Rukikaire.
Kategeya was subsequently awarded the honorary rank of Brigadier for his contribution that Kulaigye labeled as “heroic and exceptional.”
Kategaya, launching NRM mobilisers in Soroti on January 12, 2011
To senior Media Advisor to the President, John Nagenda, Kategeya has been an effective leader, averse to media attention but very thorough in his work. “He introduced me to the Movement more than 30 years ago. I will miss him as a friend,” Nagenda said of the politician- cum lawyer he worked with in the NRM’s external wing.
So long Kategeya.