The death of the Honourable Karekaho mwene Karegyesa ka Makobore wa Muhoozi has left me with very mixed emotions. I am sad, thankful, fearful and positively proud.
I am saddened, of course, because Karekaho’s death has broken another branch off an old tree that was the anchor to the world in which I grew up. It was once our guide tree – our Muhabura – one upon which we also leaned whenever we were weary, worried or confused.
That is a tree that once had roots with names like Ediwadi Surumaani Karegyesa, Paulo Ngorogoza, Paulo Kangwagye, Gaburieri Katabaazi, F. Gicamwa, Paulo Rukyeribuga, Michael Mukombe and Thomas Rwomushana. These were Banyakigyezi men – our great and revered pioneer chiefs – who laid the foundation of what became a giant tree that gave life and shelter to a new federation.
Like elsewhere, Kigyezi was a very artificial creation of Europeans who did not care about local history and community relations. Bairu-Bahima and Bahutu-Batutsi tensions in Rujumbura and Bufumbira, respectively, that predated the European invasion continued to challenge stability. The forced marriage between Bahima/Bahororo, Bakiga and Banyarwanda/Bafumbira created a new front as the elite of these communities jostled for control and dominance in Kigyezi.
These pioneer chiefs huddled Kigyezi’s people into a kraal that achieved what might have been impossible – the proverbial inosculation of different ethnicities into a unified, albeit very fragile, federation of Banyakigyezi.
Conscious of our inflammable ethnic passions that could have easily exploded into violence and bloodletting, these men kept our fragile sensibilities in check.
Central to their success was a belief in excellence, discouragement of mediocrity and a deliberate effort to cool sectarian temperatures. To achieve this, their strategy was to promote education of Banyakigyezi.
The most passionate advocate for education was Chief Ediwadi Surumaani Karegyesa, the father of Kamu Karekaho. Though baptized into the Native Anglican Church, Karegyesa, within a short time after becoming the county chief of Rujumbura, ensured that good elementary schools were built at the Catholic Mission at Nyakibaare and the Anglican Mission at Kinyasaano in Rukungiri.
Many of the beneficiaries of good formal education in those early years would later become major branches of the great tree that held Kigyezi together. These were the pioneer professionals, politicians and preachers that sheltered us and guided us during our formative years.
Among those branches was Karekaho mwene Karegyesa, who started school at Kinyasaano before joining Kigyezi High School in primary three in 1940. There he joined the same class with boys from all over Kigyezi, among them Ezra Kisigo Mulera, my father.
Mr. Mulera often spoke of his classmates with great pride and unbridled admiration. Being much older than all his classmates, my father could read their characters from the vantage point of one who had started school when he was already in his late teens. Among his favourite classmates was Karekaho, a man born in privilege, but one who did not allow that to go to his head.
That remained the central character of Karekaho, even as he rose to become a parliamentarian, a cabinet minister in Milton Obote’s governments and a fabulously wealthy farmer and rancher. Always down to earth, friendly to all, regardless of their natural or acquired differences, Karekaho was a secure man.
His death reminds me that the vast majority of those who formed the branches of the great tree under which we sheltered died many years ago. Until recently, there were only five known surviving members of that group, all of them boys that were admitted to Kigyezi High School in 1940. These were Eli Nasani Bisamunyu, Justus Muheru Byagagaire, Karekaho Karegyesa, Hezron Kakuyo, Festo Karwemera and Ezra Kisigo Mulera.
Today, it is only Kakuyo, Karwemera and Mulera that are still living. They too are in full retreat, their energies sapped by a long walk that has thrown pain and disappointment at the them, including the disruption of their dreams of a prosperous Kigyezi for which they worked so hard.
To what extent and success we, their children, have carried their batons is a matter that invites self-reflection and collective evaluation. What I know to be true is that Karekaho’s generation represented and served the interests of the people of Kigyezi. Their primary goal was not to use the citizens to advance their own agendas or to act as foremen for the country’s ruler.
At 93 years of age, Karekaho was ready for the journey to join his ancestors. Of course, his family and all of us who loved him were not ready for his departure. We never are.
However, I am thankful that he survived the pogroms in which his political colleagues perished following the military coup of 1971. I am thankful that in him we had a sage at Kagunga in Nyakagyeme, Rujumbura for many years, one who dispensed wisdom, wit and knowledge to all who had the privilege to share his time and presence.
Hopefully he kept notes of his thoughts about a country that he had helped shape and had served with great honour and commitment.
Karekaho’s independent spirit enabled him to jealously guard his freedom of thought and comment. And for that alone, he retained my deep respect and admiration. We are truly blest and proud to have lived in his time, to have benefitted from his great works and wisdom and to say a fond farewell to him.