The story of ‘12 Remarkable African Life Scientists’

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This book’s  long journey began with a wish to see stories of African scientists as role models to inspire young people to research. When young people see someone who looks like them doing something they had not clearly articulated in their mind, it makes them think, ‘if they can do it, so can I’.

I profiled African scientists in newspapers back at home in Kenya but I knew that newspapers do not have a great reach – and a book that would be freely available would reach more young people. I presented the book idea to colleagues at the KEMRI-Welcome Trust Program (KWTRP)in Kilifi, who agreed to fund the printing and distribution of the book in Kenya. This gave me the stamina for what was to be a rather long journey ahead.

My initial idea was to write about Kenyan scientists, but with the help of a committee set up by KWTRP colleagues, 10 scientists from across Africa were selected. I got in touch with the 10 scientists, interviewed them and drafted their life stories, ensuring that each scientist was happy with the telling of their story. The scientists gave many hours of their time and were open about their life experiences in a way that enabled me to get a good idea of what the turning points in their lives were. Three KEMRI colleagues looked through the drafts of the stories. Ruth Taylor, a former malaria research scientists herself, turned novelist, gave great insights that helped me write engaging stories.

 After the book was done, I begun the hunt for a publisher. I received close to 20 rejections but was lucky to be accepted by Jacana publishers from South Africa. They however insisted that I add two South African scientists to the list of 10 – and what a lovely idea that was! The additional stories were amazing to listen to and write about.

This is what one of the scientists, Prof Noor, from Kenya, thought about the process:-


Congratulations to Dr Mwangi and her team for this excellent book. It is not easy for people to reveal the intimate details of their life’s journey. Dr Mwangi has captured these inspiring stories with the mastery of a highly experienced psychotherapist. Despite initial hesitation, I found the process cathartic. I am also in awe of the other 11 scientists whose stories are captured this wonderful book. It is a testament to what is possible with a lot of dedication, great mentorship, and some luck along the way. Despite the exemplary careers of these scientists a common thread in their story is lifelong learning, the courage to change course, the discipline to keep going even in uncertainty and the desire to give back to make a difference in the world.

Seeing the book in print was great but the most amazing thing was to watch students in Kilifi, Kenya, engage with the stories during the book launch. Listening to the skits, poems, and a rap song that they produced from the stories they read, gave me great satisfaction. The school that inspired me the most was the Pwani School for the deaf, who made a skit on Prof. Christian Happi. At the end of their skit, we all knew how to sign Christian Happi’s name!

It was clear from the occasion that the stories have great potential to inspire young people on the African continent.

Through funding from the Welcome Trust, about 2,000 copies of the book have been printed for distribution in Kenya. The book is available on Amazon: and royalties will be used to purchase more books for distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa – so please do purchase the book.

 By Tabitha Mwangi

Tabitha is launching the book in Cambridge on 25th April at Fitzwilliam College Storey's Way and you are welcome to attend please register here