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Prof Joseph Mungai ferried bodies from Uganda to train docs

 An ultrasound was conducted and they found cotton wool and a blade in her abdomen. [iStockphoto]

He earned a doctorate when colonialists thought it would take 50 years for Kenya to produce one doctor or engineer.

However, Prof Joseph Maina Mungai, who shaped the future of medical studies and research in Kenya, could have been anything but.

He dropped out of school to sell sugarcane and herd cattle in rural Kiambu at age 10 in 1942 - when Sir Henry Mason-Moore was Kenya's Governor as he notes in his 2002 bio, From Simple to Complex: The journey of a Herds Boy. Would you believe that Mungai finally attended Alliance High School in 1949, rose to Head Boy, and was the best student in the Cambridge School Certificate?

He proceeded to Makerere University in Uganda in 1954 and went on to win the Swynnerton Prize for Biology and the British Medical Association Prize for Anatomy.

Indeed, his 'immortality' rests on his pioneering forays in human anatomy, since we won't mention his breaking the three-mile athletic record and keeping it for 10 years.

By the time Kenya got her independence in 1963, Mungai was pursuing his Ph.D. on brain cells at the University College of London. His final thesis proved a Nobel laureate's theories on brain cells were wrong. Even his supervisors never forgot "that brilliant student who got lost in administration!"

Little wonder that Mungai started the Department of Human Anatomy at the School of Medicine from scratch in 1967, becoming its first Professor and Chair.

But human anatomy cannot be studied without bodies. But the laws at the time forbid the collection of corpses in Kenya for study. So what to do?

Well, he borrowed cadavers from Makerere, his alma mater. But there was no driver who wanted to ferry 10 'well-treated bodies' to Kenya.

So, armed with a letter from the Police Commissioner and the Ministry of Health, Prof Mungai drove to and from Uganda where he was arrested for driving without a log book for the Land Rover.

AG Charles Njonjo had warned him that cadavers were illegal in Kenya and sure, he was arrested again, and questioned about his 'cargo.' Chiromo Campus quickly emptied when Prof Mungai arrived, with students and staff scampering towards the present-day

Chancellor's Court! The Medical School's first Dean and one-time VC of UoN was honored with the Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) degree for his contribution to higher education in Kenya in November 1998. The Prof's students referred to the 'Posture of Man.' He died at 81 in 2003.

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