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The Politics of Disease Control

Sleeping Sickness in Eastern Africa, 1890–1920 (New African Histories)

Mari Kathryn Webel, Mari K. Webel


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (11/12/2019)


A history of epidemic illness and political change, The Politics of Disease Control focuses on epidemics of sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika in the early twentieth century as well as the colonial public health programs designed to control them. Mari K. Webel prioritizes local histories of populations in the Great Lakes region to put the successes and failures of a widely used colonial public health intervention—the sleeping sickness camp—into dialogue with African strategies to mitigate illness and death in the past.

Webel draws case studies from colonial Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda to frame her arguments within a zone of vigorous mobility and exchange in eastern Africa, where African states engaged with the Belgian, British, and German empires. Situating sleeping sickness control within African intellectual worlds and political dynamics, The Politics of Disease Control connects responses to sleeping sickness with experiences of historical epidemics such as plague, cholera, and smallpox, demonstrating important continuities before and after colonial incursion. African strategies to mitigate disease, Webel shows, fundamentally shaped colonial disease prevention programs in a crucial moment of political and social change.

Praise For The Politics of Disease Control: Sleeping Sickness in Eastern Africa, 1890–1920 (New African Histories)

“Striking a deft balance between historical analysis and training historical attention to contemporary global health endeavors in Africa, Webel makes a substantial, original contribution to the history of science and medicine in Africa, the relationship between public health and politics in early colonial Africa, and African history more broadly.”—Neil Kodesh, author of Beyond the Royal Gaze: Clanship and Public Healing in Buganda

“Reading Mari Webel’s history of sleeping sickness control in German colonial East Africa in a time of global pandemic feels disturbingly relevant.”—Kirk A. Hoppe, author of Lords of the Fly: Sleeping Sickness Control in British East Africa, 1900–1960, H-Net/H-Africa

Ohio University Press, 9780821424001, 272pp.

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

About the Author

Mari K. Webel is assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a specialist in modern African history and the histories of public health, healing, and medicine.