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Vol. 9 No. 3: September issue

Colonial Entanglements and African Health Worlds

March 28, 2022


Following Ann Stoler’s (2016) idea of colonial and (post)colonial history as recursive, a history which folds back upon itself, emerging in new shapes and forms yet still carrying the formations that they are folded into, and Achille Mbembe’s argument that in the (post)colony the ‘past and present are entangled in hydra-headed ways’ (Mbembe and Hofmeyr 2006), this Review essay puts into conversation three recent publications: Marrku Hokkanen’s Medicine, Mobility and Empire (2017), Simukai Chigudu’s The Political Life of an Epidemic (2020), and Luke Messac’s No More to Spend (2020). I argue that these books help elucidate the transitions from colonial to postcolonial biomedicine in Africa and show what has endured. Focusing on books that look at a small part of south-eastern Africa, the essay examines how detailed historical analysis of the colonial creation of the medical world in the region can allow a temporally entangled understanding of medicine in the (post)colony. In particular, I observe how these three books highlight the impact of colonial logics of spatiality on African medical and healthcare worlds and suggest that paying careful attention to the colonial entanglements of African health worlds is crucial to understanding their contemporary shapes and forms.