RHODIA MANN: Courage and hard work that left an indelible mark - Daily Nation

Courage and hard work that left an indelible mark

Sunday September 1 2013

Mr Igor Mann, founding director of the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute (AHITI) with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. PHOTO/FILE

Mr Igor Mann, founding director of the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute (AHITI) with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. PHOTO/FILE NATION

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My father, Igor Mann, was a famous veterinarian in Poland before World War II.

When Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, he fled to Romania and quickly established a new clinic in Bucharest.

He met my mother, Erica, who had studied architecture at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. It was love at first sight, and within weeks they were married.

Six months later, they were forced to flee, embarking on an epic journey in search of a new homeland. It would take two years and 7,000 miles for them to find one.

They were ferried by boat across the Danube one night, then travelled through Bulgaria and across the Caspian Sea to Turkey.

A boat took them to Cyprus, where (like many boat people of today) they were turned away. The boat continued to Palestine, where they spent a year before boarding a British ship heading for South Africa.

My father was taken seriously ill and my parents were offloaded. When he had recovered, a long journey northwards took them to what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

They spent a year in a refugee camp before my father was flown up to Athi River, installed in a mud hut, and given three months in which to “prove himself useful to the British Crown”.


He immediately made himself indispensable and, in September 1942, my mother was permitted to join him. I was born just one month after her arrival.

My father became a meat inspector at what was then Liebigs (now the Kenya Meat Commission), producing corned beef for the British Army in Burma and North Africa.

He became interested in diseases that were transmitted from animal to man and this was to become the focus for his future. While he inspected carcasses, my mother assisted him in the laboratory.

Anxious to test her architectural skills, she found employment in the newly-formed Town Planning Department, travelling to Nairobi. She planned the early housing estates such as Jericho and Ofafa.

In 1952, my father found work with the Department of Veterinary Services at Kabete. We left Athi River behind us and moved into Nairobi.

In 1963, my father was (ironically) awarded an MBE by the British Government “for services to the Crown”.

Two years later, he founded the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute (AHITI) at Kabete and became its first director.

In 1969, he travelled to Brno in the Czech Republic to receive a medal from his former university for outstanding achievements in the field of veterinary medicine. In 1973, he handed AHITI over to a Kenyan counterpart.


He worked as a consultant for the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, as global coordinator of research into tropical diseases transmitted from animal to man and became a UNDP Global award winner.

As for my mother, she became editor of Build, Kenya’s first architectural magazine. Before her death in 2006, she was made Architect Laureate of Kenya.

Igor and Erica rapidly formed around themselves a coterie of intelligentsia, drawn from all walks of life — and more importantly — all races.

Having suffered so greatly themselves, they would not tolerate any form of discrimination. Afternoon tea at “The Mann’s” became an institution.
Apart from professional colleagues, artists, and actors, Kenya’s young politicians found a warm welcome there.

The core of Nairobi city centre is still as originally planned, although I am glad my mother cannot see the current chaos prevailing in our once “Green City in the Sun”. The original housing estates still exist, although without basic infrastructure.


AHITI still trains 300 students each year, drawn from the entire East African region.

Graduates provide invaluable services as para-professional fieldworkers. Sadly, the institute has been much neglected and is now in urgent need of structural repairs.

Following his death in 1986, my father’s ashes were scattered on the ornamental map of Africa at AHITI.

His portrait still hangs in the current principal’s office as a memorial to better times.

Both my parents fought their way through the discriminatory British administration system, which referred to them as “bloody foreigners” and refused to recognise their qualifications.

Despite these tremendous setbacks, they were determined to succeed. Their contribution to both colonial and independent Kenya was immeasurable. They were great visionaries who, by dint of discipline, courage, and endless effort, left lasting and indelible legacies.

Where are the visionaries of today, I ask? It is time for another generation to prove its mettle and carry Kenya into the best possible future.

Rhodia Mann is an expert on Samburu culture. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of her research. As a jewellery designer, she spent 40 years collecting rare beads in far-flung lands. Her guidebook, Ushanga: The Story of Beads in Africa, is available in Nairobi bookshops.