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Dr. Apuuli Sanyu Byabanyagi: a patriot betrayed by his government

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Dr. Apuuli Sanyu Byabanyagi: a patriot betrayed by his government

This time fifty years ago, young men and women in various parts of Africa, preparing to write their university entrance examinations, probably did not have death on their minds. Not their own or that of close colleagues with whom they were preparing to conquer the world. 


Among them was a group that was destined to meet the following year at Makerere University Medical School, Kampala. We did not know it at the time, but Medical School was about to give us a special family, with a bond that would withstand time and the dispersion that we could not have anticipated during those days of unlimited optimism.


The class that met in July 1972 to embark on a career in medicine was young, physically and intellectually energetic, full of humour and laughter, even as we made acquaintance with morbid subjects and increasingly complex science.  We were 110 or so students, a lovely mix of complexions and mother tongues.


One was from Lesotho, another from Nigeria, a lady from Malawi, a Kenyan, ten Tanzanians and more than ninety Ugandans, several of whom were of Indian or Pakistani ancestry. 


One of the Ugandans was Apuuli Sanyu Wilson Byabanyagi, a 21-year-old

Mutooro who had had his early education at Busiita Nursery School, Kisomoro and Rubona Primary Schools, and Kibiito Junior Secondary School, all of them in the Kingdom of Tooro. He had attended Nyakasura School for O-Level and A-Level. 


We lost all our Ugandan Asian classmates when Gen. Idi Amin Dada expelled them in August 1972.  We lost a classmate who drowned in the Makerere University swimming pool less than three months after we started medical school.  His name was Solomon Ndamaare. He had come from Ntare School.  The Malawian lady relocated to Nairobi in the fourth year due to her sponsor’s concerns about security in Uganda. One Ugandan escaped to Zambia six months before our final examinations. 


The rest of us hang in there and graduated in a depressing atmosphere.  Archbishop Janani Luwum and cabinet ministers Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi were murdered a few days before we sat for our final examinations.


The non-Ugandans returned to their homelands after our graduation on March 18, 1977.  One Ugandan immediately fled to Kenya to do his internship there.  Then others followed in the drip-drip flight from home in search of personal security or further education. By the end of the 1980s, at least twenty Ugandans from my class had left the country.  


Among those who stayed and continued to serve Uganda was Dr. Apuuli Sanyu Wilson Byabanyagi. Unfortunately, his sacrifice soon became a nightmare. Following his internship and a short stint at Kambuga Hospital in Kigyezi, Dr. Byabanyagi joined the Uganda Army in 1978 to serve as a military doctor.  He was posted to Mbuya Military Hospital in Kampala. Before settling in, the young doctor was faced with serious war. 


In October 1978, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada provoked a war with Tanzania by invading the Kagera salient.  President Julius Nyerere ordered the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) to recapture Tanzanian territory and invited Ugandan exiles to tag along. By the end of December 1978, Uganda was under heavy bombardment by the Tanzanians. A full-scale invasion swiftly swept towards Kampala.  Amin, together with many senior military officers, fled the capital on April 11, 1979. The Uganda Army was formally defeated by the TPDF on June 3, 1979.


Dr. Byabanyagi, holding the military rank of captain, was arrested in May 1979. He was incarcerated in Luzira Maximum Security Prison until October that year.  He joined the civil service in 1980 and, for the next twenty years, served as a doctor at Fort Portal Hospital, Virika Hospital and back to Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital. 


In 2000, he was posted to Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital. Unable to find accommodation and with his general health deteriorating due to a severe head injury he had sustained in a motor vehicle accident in 1997, Dr. Byabanyagi requested the Ministry of Health to repost him to his home area where accommodation was available. 


The Ministry of Health ignored his request.  His many years of dedicated public service and his struggle with post-accident recovery did not seem to matter to the custodians of human health care. Dr. Byabanyagi quit the government job and embarked on full-time private practice in Kabarole, Tooro.  He owned Ageteraine Nursing Home, a 9-bed health centre where he worked until illness disabled him seven years ago. 


Dr. Byabanyagi, who was born on Friday, October 28, 1949, died on Saturday September 4, 2021. He was buried yesterday in Kitumba, Kisomoro, Bunyangabu District, Tooro Kingdom.  


The news of his death, which was shared on our Class of ’77 WhatsApp Group Forum, hit us very hard. He joined a depressing list of our classmates whom we have lost during the last 34 years. Among our deceased are Drs. Liri Abongomera, Jackson Banana, Livingstone Byarugaba, Naphtali Ebamu, Justus Katungu, Christopher Kayonga, John Ddamulira 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, David Senoga, George Ssentamu-Majwega and Samson Tibagendeka. 


We honour our deceased colleagues and remember them with fondness and gratitude that we shared one of the greatest adventures of our lives. They were not only our colleagues, but they were also our teachers in what would be best described as a mutualistic intellectual symbiosis.  We salute them and feel the obligation to carry on in our stations, serving humanity, advancing the cause of human health and medical knowledge.


Dr. Byabanyagi’s journey reminds us of the struggles of many of our colleagues whose dedication to serve our country has not been reciprocated by the rulers of the land.  Besides his unjustified incarceration, the Government of Uganda denied him money that he had worked for. According to his wife, Adyeri Joyce Byabanyagi, her husband “died frustrated because he was still struggling to get his gratuity.”  Is that not a national shame?


Apuuli Byabanyagi is survived by his wife of 41 years, three daughters and four sons. On behalf of the Class of 1977, I extend our condolences to Adyeri, to daughters Linda Mbabazi Aturinda, Laura Kaahwa, and Lillian Sanyu Wilson, and sons Jackson Magezi, Patrick Mugabe, Lambert Kasaija, and Leslie Murungi.  


Though death relentlessly prunes our numbers, we remain defiant. We keep living, serving humanity, and glorifying the Lord God who gave us life for that purpose. We do not know when our turn comes. However, the inevitable death of our bodies has already been swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. We mourn the loss of our brother, but we know that it is well. 

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