‘12 Remarkable African Life Scientists’, by Tabitha Mwangi was published by Jacana Publishers in 2023 and is now available to download for only £1. All the money raised will go towards printing and delivering copies of the book to schools in Africa.

                                                                                                               Credit: Grace Mwango                                                             

The life stories of the 12 African scientists are described as stories of passion, patience and progress, which is pretty much the story of the writing of the book.

This book’s journey began with my wish to see stories about African scientists being well known in my home country, Kenya. My hope was that young people would start to see a career in research as an option. I believe in the power of role models and was convinced that if young people read stories of people who look like them doing something they only dreamt of or had not thought about, they would think ‘if they can do that, so can I’.

Although I had written profiles of several scientists in local newspapers, these stories were unlikely to reach many young people in secondary schools. I imagined that a book would do the trick. However, I was well aware that if I wrote a book and managed to get it published, it was unlikely that families of my target group (secondary school children and undergraduates) would be able to afford it. Books are expensive and for the book to reach its target audience, it would need to be available for free.

I presented the book idea to the then Director of the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Programme in Kilifi, Prof Philip Bejon and the head of their school engagement programme, Dr Alun Davies. They 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, 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 (Philip, Alun and Noni) 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.

Seeing the book in print was great but most amazing of all 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 reading the stories, gave me great satisfaction. The stories have such potential to inspire!

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




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