“My job is not to give you fish but to teach you how to fish.”
This is a line I picked from Rt. Hon Eriya Kategaya’s Constituent Assembly campaign manifesto of 1993. I was only 17 then and fresh into my Form Four long vacation when I first encountered the now deceased fallen Ugandan First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs.
He had been on a campaign trail to represent Rwampara County in the 1994 Constituent Assembly that would later debate a new constitution for Uganda. He won that seat, beating Amon Muzoora, now Deputy Town Clerk of Entebbe and Ugandan envoy Francis Butagira.
When Kategaya died in a Nairobi Hospital over the weekend after battling a long blood clot- related illness, these memories came into my mind. What has been his greatest contribution? The 1994 statement is to me what sums up an illustrious career of this greatest son of Uganda. Empowerment- not such handouts as brown envelopes- was his approach to Politics. I recall an incident during the CA campaigns when he showed up at Kakigani Parish headquarters in Rwampara County, Mbarara District to take part in a joint candidates meeting. The area was home advantage for Muzoora whose house is just a stone throw away from the venue. We had not been used to his sophisticated politics. The politics we wanted was where a candidate must promise heaven on earth, do some yelling, buy us booze, some soap and sugar and in turn, we vote them. This is what partly characterized my friend Muzoora’s type of politics. It had therefore been obvious that Kategaya would lose this hostile territory because he mainly focussed on getting the people’s endorsement to go and debate a new political dispensation for Uganda. He had not come to bring them roads, medicines, sugar, jobs, soap and salt, he said. He instead wanted to join the debate in parliament to help establish a system that would provide the conveyor belt for these things to ultimately come to the people. To him, this is what was critical at the moment. Brilliant!
The people did not understand this type of politicking but they largely voted him because they thought he was closest to Museveni- a viewpoint they held thinking that was a sure guarantee that goodies would automatically flow from State House to their village paths. In a sense, the Rwampara people had the delusional feeling that after Rwakitura (President Museveni’s home village), Rwampara was the other important village. Indeed, later on during the 1996 parliamentary elections, the time when Museveni used the imagery of the grinding stone(Orubengo) to symbolize the burden he was carrying on behalf of Ugandans, he reminded Rwampara to not to forget to send him the grinder (Eseiso). He had perfectly confirmed he was the ‘Orubengo’ and Kategaya was the ‘Eseiso.’ Indeed this association with Museveni made it hard for Muzoora to win that election and the constituency would remain a tall order for him until Kategaya chose to opt out of elective politics in 2001.
Back to CA:
The CA campaign trail showed the accommodative nature that Kategaya was. When I rose up to ask him a question, an over zealous Returning Officer shouted me down reasoning I was too young. An incensed Kategaya looked at him and sternly rebuked him for not letting young people embrace honest debate at an early stage. Besides, they too were like that during their secondary school days at Ntare School, he reason. Although the campaign was coming to a close, as he proceeded to mingle with the people, he sent one of his aides to ‘look out for that boy and bring him here.’ When I went over to see him, he said; ‘So, young man, ask me what you wanted to ask me.’ My question was totally unrelated to the campaigns but very powerful. I asked him why the NRM wasn’t letting those who believe in multipartism have their way. In my naivety, I added that that was why the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was continuing to wreck havoc in the north. I also thought that multipartyists (Ab’ebigombe) were the ones behind the mess in the north. I will never forget his answer for it’s then that I noticed so early that this man was a true nationalist. He said to me that frankly he felt I was correct. And that he genuinely believed that those who wanted to live outside the Movement System (an all embracing political system that was in place at the time) should be left to let go their way. ‘May be that can bring a solution to the quarreling in the north. I will seriously consider studying your proposal,’ he promised me. Ofcourse I knew he wanted to make me feel over the moon but up to now, I feel his answer had pregnant meaning, ideological depth and was a good clue into what truly became of his true political DNA- an accommodative politician.
Kategeya broke new ground in campaigning. His famous statement about fishing was a new ground in modern Ugandan political discourse. He brought responsibility into the characteristic ‘yelling’ Ugandan politics of the 1990s. Talking of teaching people how to fish instead of giving them fish was too sophisticated a concept but one clearly sees that if by 1994, Ugandans had taken this advice correctly, we would not be having large numbers of MPs soaked in electoral debts now. Giving people fish was not a sustainable way of building societies. If you taught them how to fish, then you would have helped build a self sustaining citizenry who don’t have to wait for hand outs from government. Kategaya believed that Empowering them to fend for themselves was a better option. Kategeya therefore despised handouts to the core.
I recall During the time i was chairman of Rwampara Makerere University Students Association, Kategeya was always too mean when it came to funding our bashes. We did not understand why he was doing this. He used to say he would rather fund a student- led programme that would directly impact on the lives of the people on the ground no matter how that would politically cost him. Because he was not easily swayed by our demand for hand outs, he was extremely unpopular with us untill towards the end of my term when i realized something had to be done on the ground to leave a legacy. We planted trees in the constituency and initiated Makarere- led student academic seminars around the constituency which he ably helped to fund. He even attended one of them.
After so many years, and seeing how money has spoilt our elective politics leaving very many politicians impoverished and looking for the next big deal to service their electoral debts, you feel Kategaya’s line of thinking will become not only our poltical cure but also his greatest contribution to uganda’s political discourse. There are many forces who keep asking the likes of us to join elective politics. I always tell them; that I can only accept if the population was prepared to vote me on merit and not on what am going to fill their pockets with. I cannot bribe voters. It is totally unacceptable and not strategically helpful to our future poltics. The Kategaya model will be Uganda’s savior if we constantly reminded our people of the dangers of electoral bribery. When you accept a bribe to vote someone, you will have surrendered your sovereignty and ability to hold them to account. You will also have Lincenced them to pillage national resources to pay themselves back.
Kategaya was one of the few Ugandan ministers who always returned his unused per diem to the ministry’s treasury whenever he came back from a government sponsored trip abroad. In 2005, when he fell out with his childhood friend on account of the direction the country was politically taking, Kategaya took to vending his book. At one time I went to Kampala Club from where i would buy the book directly from him. Somehow, our brief chat went into his precarious situation. Because he was one person who never believed in primitive accumulation of wealth ( he was renting his sister’s house at the time of his death) Kategaya had been visibly ‘grassing.’ It was also around the same time when a number of his former colleagues had been convincing him to return to the ruling National Resistance Movement. He asked me what my opinion was. I frankly told him that everybody in this country knew he was Museveni’s true childhood friend. He was Resistance Officer 002 after Museveni’s RO 001. This was something very significant as it placed him in the second most high ranking NRM historicals position in the country. I told him that for him to therefore abandon ‘their project’ was going to be evidence of a serious rift which their opponents would use to dismantle the system further.
He later asked me what my thoughts were about him returning the fold. I recall giving him what I felt was the best advice he would get from any senior journalist at the time. I told him I had noticed that very many public statements by the president regarding political prodigal sons and how he often took pride in having vanquished them was going to be Kategaya’s greatest humiliation. So i told him to be candid with his friend and tell him never to vilify him publicly. Indeed President Museveni never made a mockery of his friend’s return and by the time of his death, the president was fond of publicly revealing that it was him and Kategaya who were the sole custodians of the country’s foreign affairs. I respect Kategaya for this level of consultative decision making for I strongly feel he thought my ‘small’ advice- though from a very young man- was as critical as it was innocent. Perhaps he thought his own colleagues would selfishly not have given this kind of advice on account that he would outshine them once he returned.
Africa is fast running out of such leaders. Leaders who exhibit honesty, straightforwardness, public service, truth -telling and courage. Kategaya’s legacy will be that he bequeathed us with the need to practice clean politics and a preoccupation with empowering the population with the means to have and not to depend on handouts. At such a time when the government has decided to be seen to tackle corruption, Kategaya stands out as the winner here!
The only issue that keeps blighting some of these achievements is why their authors die outside the country as if our health system is not one to be trusted.
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