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Week 13: War: Disease and Warfare in Africa

Disease and Warfare in Eastern Africa: conquest and rebellion

Lecturer: David Anderson

Warfare in eastern Africa has always been closely linked to disease. This lecture will look at two episodes that illustrate this relationship, spanning the experience of colonialism in eastern Africa from conquest to decolonization. The conquest of tropical Africa by European imperial powers in the final quarter of the nineteenth century has long been understood as having a severe ecological as well as political impact. In eastern Africa, conquest prompted an ecological crisis in which disease played a significant role. The dislocation of populations brought about by the warfare of conquest caused changes in the transmission of disease, increasing the incidence of sleeping sickness, malaria, foot jiggers and other illnesses. Disease was also a feature of the wars of decolonization in eastern Africa. Our second illustration concerns the outbreaks of disease in the detention camps where nationalist supporters of the Mau Mau rebellion were held in Kenya during the 1950s. Nutritional diseases, and tuberculosis, were a common feature of the detention camps, the war period (1952-60) marking a sharp decline in health among the peoples of Central Kenya.

Discussion/Essay Questions

  • Why has sleeping sickness been described in eastern Africa as ‘the colonial disease’?
  • What was the ‘ecological impact’ of colonialism in eastern Africa?

Required Readings:

Kjekshus, Helge (1977, rep.1996) Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: the Case of Tanganyika, 1850-1950 (Oxford: James Currey) 126-160 (ch 7) course extract

Anderson, David M. (2005) Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), pp.311-327 course extract


Blacker, John (2007) ‘The demography of Mau Mau; fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s’, African Affairs 106 (2007) 205-27 e-journal

Further Reading

Sleeping sickness and colonial conquest:
Kjekshus, Helge. Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: the Case of Tanganyika, 1850-1950 (Oxford: James Currey, 1977, rep. 1996)
Crosby, A. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe 900-1900 (Cambridge: CUP, 1986)

Giblin, James L. The Politics of Environmental Control in Northeastern Tanzania 1840-1940 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992)
Hoppe, Kirk Arden. Lords of the Fly: Sleeping Sickness Control in British East Africa 1900-1960 (Westport CN: Praeger, 2003)
Giblin, James L. ‘Trypanosomiasis control in African history: an evaded issue?’ Journal of African History 31 (1990)
Waller, Richard D. ‘Emutai: crisis and response in Maasailand 1883-1902’, in Douglas H. Johnson and David M. Anderson (eds), The Ecology of Survival: Case Studies from Northeast African History (Boulder CO: Westview, 1988): 73-114
Waller, Richard D. ‘Tsetse fly in Western Narok, Kenya’, Journal of African History 31 (1990)
Lyons, Maryinez. The Colonial Disease: A Social History of Sleeping Sickness in Northern Zaire 1900-1940 (Cambridge; CUP, 1992)
Lyons, Maryinez. ‘From death camps, to cordon sanitaire: development of sleeping sickness policy in the Uele District of Belgian Congo, 1903-1914’, Journal of African History 26 (1985)
Vaughan, Megan. Curing Their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness. (Oxford: Polity Press, 1991)