A Tribute to Dr. Margaret Mungherera

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The iconic Martin Luther King once remarked, “The quality, not the longevity of one’s life, is what is important.” This seems to be the script by which Dr. Margaret Mungherera lived. She may have lived for only 59 years, yet what we celebrate of her is not just the years in her life, but the life in her years.

She served as a doctor for thirty years, twenty of which she passionately worked as a psychiatrist. Very importantly, she gave the last thirteen years of her life to the service of Kampala International University (KIU).

This is, therefore, a tribute to her invaluable contribution to the rise of KIU.

Mungherera, the Global Icon, and National Hero

In reaction to her passing, Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, a former Chair of the World Medical Association (WMA) and Past President of the Australian Medical Association described the late Dr. Margaret Mungherera as “a beloved and highly respected former President of the World Medical Association, a wonderful person with a heart of gold devoted to the health and welfare of her family, country, profession, colleagues and their patients.”

“During her tenure as Chair of the WMA, it was a marvel to witness her galvanize the medical profession in Uganda, East Africa and across the World. Traveling to the United States at the American Medical Association, she was feted as a ‘Rockstar’! I was in awe at her passion and tenacity which I had the privilege to witness first hand where she maintained excellent relations with the Government of Uganda whilst advocating for better health. She will be missed but never forgotten.”

Indeed Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal’s words sum up Dr. Margaret Mungherera and what she committed her entire life to. As a result of pursuing that commitment, she found herself ascending to profound heights emerging the first female President of the World Medical Association and the first female President of the Uganda Medical Association.

In responding to a journalist in 2015, Mungherera said she wanted to be remembered as someone who worked for the transformation of the medical profession in Uganda. And it was the pursuit of that noble dream that brought Mungherera to cross path with KIU in 2003.

Mungherera’s Legacy in KIU

In 2003, Dr. Margaret Mungherera challenged the Board of Trustees of KIU to establish a medical school. At the time, this was a far-fetched dream. There was no precedent of a private medical school in the country. Moreover, the popular mentality both within the general public as well as the medical fraternity was that it was unimaginable for a young private University to run a medical school. But to Mungherera, the vision of access to quality healthcare for all Ugandans was mission impossible if the country remained with only two public medical schools, with very limited student intakes.

KIU will forever remember Dr. Margaret Mungherera as one of the few senior medical officials who refused to be blinded by prejudice and stereotype. She stood with KIU and did everything in her professional means to ensure a successful opening of the KIU medical school in … She was instrumental in the development and review of the curricula as well as sourcing for teaching staff.  Because of her resourcefulness and dedication she was appointed a member of the Board of the KIU Teaching Hospital as well as a Member of the University Council. She was also a Member of the Appointments and Promotions Committee of the University Council. Dr. Mungherera served so diligently and faithfully in all these capacities. Whenever she felt the University was not up to the mark, she was never afraid to take the University Management, University Council or Board of Trustees to task. She used tough language when called for, but all in good faith often addressing hard issues with humor. When she used tough language, everybody understood it was only because she was too passionate about the values she stood for, anything less than excellence was not acceptable to her and she always shared the best practices and insights from her extensive local and global exposure.

One of the things that will remain in the memory of her colleagues within the University Council is her unmatched energy and enthusiasm. When it came to KIU, she was like a doctor on ward call, always ready for service whenever the need occasioned. Even when she was under the cancer treatment, it was not unusual to see her come to the University to check on the progress of the University Council’s concerns.                                                                                                     One of the things she often raised in Council meetings was that no one in the University was telling the true story of KIU’s triumph to the public. She felt the Institution needed to do a lot more in the area of Public Relations. What she knew about KIU first hand was the opposite of the “gossip” and “rumors” that circulated in the media and public domain about the University. She often gave the example of the KIU Medical Interns who she knew performed well at Mulago Hospital, many times better than those from other medical schools.

Dr. Mungherera religiously attended KIU graduation ceremonies, her last one being the 15th graduation ceremony held on 19th November 2016 at the Main Campus in Kansanga. Perhaps the medical graduands will remember her most. She was often eager to ensure that medical graduands observed the highest level of etiquette when taking their oath. She was particularly irked by the artificial flowers and ornaments that they wore on top of their graduation gowns. According to her, such ornaments diluted the value of the gown by distorting its appearance. She would leave her seat in the VIP tent to personally ensure that they removed that excess baggage before taking the oath. This was the meticulous Dr. Margaret Mungherera.

She was one of the finest human beings you would ever meet, and she will be dearly missed by KIU. Nonetheless, we remain ever grateful to the Almighty that enabled us to cross her path. She leaves invaluable lessons and a huge challenge to each one of us. I guess if she had a chance to tell us her last words, they would be similar to the words of Horrace Mann: “Feel ashamed to die before winning any victory for humanity.” She won many victories for humanity.  May her enduring spirit of duty and service inspire many of us to walk that path of greatness through service.

Fair thee well Mungherera the great.

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