Great People

Theresa Nanziri Bukenya – The Mathematician Killed by Idi Amin’s Government

Courtesy "The Wall Of Great Africans"

Theresa Nanziri Bukenya (1939- June 24, 1976), was a Ugandan mathematician and warden of the women’s-only hall of residence, Africa Hall, at Makerere University, who was killed by the government of military ruler Idi Amin for refusing to fudge evidence ahead of her testimony at a commission of inquiry into the killing of Uganda Law student Paul Serwanga, and disappearance of Kenyan student Esther Chesire. At the time of her killing, she was eight months pregnant.

Esther Chesire, was a Kenya Second Year law student at Makerere University.

She was picked up by Amin’s security officers in March 1976 as she waited to board a flight at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport to Nairobi. It’s widely believed that it was part of a crackdown, in the wake of unprecedented protest against the Amin military junta by university students.

During the protests, in which the government swamped the university campus with soldiers, a charismatic Law student, Paul Serwanga, who was a classmate of Ms. Chesire’s, was shot to death on March 5, 1976.

In a rare show of defiance at that time, 4,000 university students took to the streets in Kampala, calling for Amin’s overthrow.

The street protests grew, with about 30,000 city residents joining in. At a time when thousands of Ugandans were being killed by the Amin regime, and when there was no public dissent, the student’s protest and demand for Amin’s resignation was seen as crossing a red line.

The Amin government set up an inquest to investigate the Serwanga killing, and related issues like the disappearance of Chesire. Nothing came of it. Chesire whereabouts remain unknown, and her remains – if any – have never been found. It also remains unknown whether she knew anything about the shooting of Serwanga, or played a role in the demonstrations that followed.

All Kenyan university students at Makerere were subsequently recalled to continue their education at the University of Nairobi. Some made their way to other universities out of the country.

Efforts by the Kenyan government to make the Ugandan authorities to produce Esther were met with cover-ups and flimsy excuses.

One of them was that Esther “never reported back” for studies at the beginning of the semester, yet she had signed her Africa Hall’s registration book at the beginning of the term.

Nanziri Bukenya, warden of Africa Hall where Chesire had been resident, was due to testify at the inquiry, when the evening before on June 22, 1976, she was picked from her residence by men from the dreaded State Research Bureau security service.

She had reportedly refused to lie at the inquest that Chesire had not reported to the university. During the March demonstration, Nanziri Bukenya had also prevented soldiers raping the students at Africa Hall, and it’s believed she might have been marked as early as that.

Two days later on June 24, her mutilated body was found with bullet wounds on the neck, at River Ssezibwa, about 50 kilometres northeast of Kampala. She was 37, and to make her murder more horrifying, 7 months pregnant.
She had only recently got married to Achilles Bukenya.

Lawyer Peter Mayiga, who is the prime minister in the regional kingdom of Buganda, is Nanziri’s brother, and was 12 years old when she was killed.

He was quoted in a memorial article saying his childhood memory was of Nanziri driving him around Kampala, picking him from boarding school for holidays at her home, and taking him to the beach.

“She lived a robust life and was a lively person, caring, yet firm in whatever she believed in. One time she drove us to Masaka at night to the disappointment of our parents,” he said.

(Credits: Various media, including and Sunday Nation) and the Great Wall of Africans Facebook Page

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