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Dr. Aggrey Kiyingi, Dr. Joseph Bukenya and The Class of 1977

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Dr. Aggrey Kiyingi, Dr. Joseph Bukenya and The Class of 1977

Photo: Dr. John Mary "Joseph" Bukenya 


It has been a very dark October for The Class of 1977, that being the year that we graduated from Makerere Medical School, Kampala. Our ranks have been thinned once again, with the deaths of two dear brothers with whom we shared five venturesome years.


The news of Dr. Aggrey D. S. Kiyingi’s death in Sydney, Australia hit us hard. Slightly younger than most of us, Aggrey was not on our subconscious watchlist of those we worried about. With the apparent retreat of COVID-19, we had suspended the acute awareness of our mortality that the pandemic had imposed on us. We had, once again, embraced humanity’s denial of death that lurks beneath each breath, each heartbeat, each step, each smile, and each happy moment.


In any case, we had not heard that Aggrey was burdened with any life-threatening illness. He had not even crossed the “three-score years and ten” that Moses so accurately affirmed in Psalm 90:10 as the years of our life. For the younger generations, to whom the language of the King James Version of the Bible may be foreign, the English Standard Version translation of that verse states: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away.” 


The news of Dr. Kiyingi’s death was shocking and saddening. He was a brother beyond our shared time at Makerere. We had shared a friendship since high school that had continued into university. Like many of our contemporaries, our subsequent exile had robbed us of opportunities to share adulthood and professional journeys. However, to me a brother is always a brother. A sister is always a sister. The ups and downs of life, including the darkest challenges that afflict us differently, never erase the reality of brotherhood and sisterhood born in childhood. 


As we were beginning to adjust to the reality of our brother’s death in Australia, news reached us this past weekend that another brother had died in Uganda. The news was sent to us by one of our classmates who was writing from New Delhi, India, a remarkable comment on how the world had changed since we first met in medical school on July 1, 1972.  Dr. John Mary Bukenya, whom we called Joseph, died in Masaka on Sunday October 22nd. Most of The Class of 1977 had not seen him in a very long time. Many of us had last seen him on Friday March 18, 1977, when we began our journeys of fighting disease, and lifelong learning about the human condition. 


For inexplicable reasons, we had spoken about him on our class WhatsApp Group the day before his death, just wondering where he was. We had been updated about his unique journey of being among the small group of classmates that had joined their national armies as doctor-soldiers. Dr. Bukenya had served as a doctor in the armed forces of Uganda, a distinction that he shared with Dr. Apuli Sanyu Byabanyagi, Dr. Haroon Masika, Dr. Ezra Muhuumuza, Dr. Godfrey Barbosa Ndimbirwe, and Dr. Brent Nduhuura. Until this past weekend, to our knowledge, Joseph Bukenya had been the sole surviving member of that special group among our classmates. So, news of his death was stunning. 


After service in the army, Dr. Bukenya worked as medical director at Rubaga Hospital. A native of Kalisizo in Masaka, he repaired to Masaka City, where he spent his final years. Sadly, I last saw him forty-six years ago, another forced social distancing by our troubled country’s history that tore up our lives and dreams of youth. My memory of him remains that of a fine gentleman with very easy laughter, the quintessential medical doctor, always smartly groomed, with an evidently effortless navigation of the complexities of medical school. A photograph of him that accompanied news of his death showed the same Bukenya, smartly attired in his kanzu (traditional white tunic), a well pressed European jacket, a nod to his dual identity as a Muganda gentleman with a western education. He had the same smile and look that made him one of the most environmentally friendly brothers five decades ago.


Dr. Kiyingi and Dr. Bukenya have joined a very gloomy list of our classmates whom we have lost during the last four decades. Among our deceased are Drs. Liri Abongomera, Jackson Banana, Livingstone Byarugaba, Naphtali Ebamu, Justus Katungu, Christopher Kayonga, John Kisitu, Manases Malabason, Gabriel Mariko, Haroon Masika, Charles Matovu, Sarah Mubiru, George Mugambwa, Dick Mulumba, Samuel Mutumba, Denis Mpwereirwe, Godfrey Barbosa Ndimbiirwe, Augustine Nnywevu-Kasenge, Brent Nduhuura, Margaret Nyirenda-Momo, and David Senoga. 


One is distressed by the loss of these colleagues, our sadness rekindled with each addition to the list. Seven have died in the last seven years alone. We remember them with fondness and gratitude, with a promise to keep going as long as our minds and bodies can hold out. Yes, our gait may not be as brisk as that which propelled us across the Katanga Valley on our quest for knowledge and experience in one of the greatest medical schools in the world. Our physical response to emergency calls from the other side of a hospital may not be as swift as was the norm a few years ago. However, most of us, whether retired or still in active service, are determined to continue serving humanity, advancing the cause of human health and medical knowledge, learning new directions in the field, and encouraging our younger colleagues and future medical students to always think of the patient first. Always.


Some of our classmates are courageously struggling with their own health. We salute them and send them warm regards and best wishes on behalf of The Class of ’77. We also celebrate the spirit of brotherhood manifest by Dr. Samwiri Patrick Mwesezi Kigongo, and Dr. Geoffrey Ananias Mukasa Mukwaya, two of our classmates who recently flew from the United States of America, where they live, to the Republic of South Africa to visit one of our classmates who is dealing with ill-health. To see them with him, joined by Professor Gregory Thabiso Lebona, a classmate from Lesotho, was very heartwarming indeed. It is brotherhood in action. It is the eternal flame of the bond that we tied during our formative years and early adulthood. 


The Class of ’77 had a reunion in Kampala in November 2017. The itch to see each other again is gaining strength. Though we are scattered around the world – Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, Australia, USA, Canada, and Sweden, - we hope that most of the forty-five or so surviving members of the class will gather somewhere in Africa for some refuelling of the flame. Some of us may struggle to see or hear others. Some may be challenged by recall of names and other details. Others may need aids to assist mobility. However, none will need help with their attachment to the memories of our time together. We shall celebrate our deceased brothers and sisters, even as we miss and mourn them, and toast to precious life.


© Muniini K. Mulera



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