Poverty, Health, and Reproduction in Early Colonial Uganda

By Tappan, Jennifer | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Poverty, Health, and Reproduction in Early Colonial Uganda


Tappan, Jennifer, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Poverty, Health, and Reproduction in Early Colonial Uganda. By Jan Kuhanen. University of Joensuu Publications in the Humanities 37. Joensuu, Finland: University of Joensuu, 2005. Pp. 434; 8 illustrations.

Jan Kuhanen places the history of disease and colonial medicine in the context of the socioeconomic and political transformations brought to Uganda by British colonial rule. Kuhanen's primary interest is the impact of colonial imposition in the decades following the establishment of the Protectorate in 1894. The author analyzes the creation of a landed oligarchy through the 1900 Buganda Agreement as well as the coercive demands made by the colonial state through forced labor and taxation. What makes Kuhanen's analysis of this period unique is the emphasis he places on nutrition, culminating in a discussion of the relationship between malnutrition, disease, and reproduction. Kuhanen also brings together, in a single narrative, earlier accounts of the sleeping sickness epidemic and the antisyphilis campaign that consumed colonial and missionary endeavors to combat disease in the initial decades of colonial rule. In his reassessment of the syphilis epidemic, he draws his most provocative conclusion that the slow population growth observed in Buganda and Bunyoro was the result of malnutrition rather than venereal disease. According to Kuhanen, colonial imposition contributed to a process of social, economic, and political destabilization that left the peasantry destitute, impoverished, and increasingly vulnerable to "recurrent food shortages, famines and epidemics" (p. 242).

Poverty, Health and Reproduction is based on a variety of documents including travelers' accounts, colonial reports, and scientific publications and papers, gathered from the University of Joensuu, London, and Uganda. The interpretation echoes the important previous works on Uganda. With the exception of Busoga, a region that figures prominently in sections concerning famine and sleeping sickness, Kuhanen focuses almost exclusively on the kingdoms of Ouganda and Bunyoro. This regional emphasis is most pronounced in the initial chapters that serve to establish the social, economic, and political transformations underlying a series of famines and epidemic and endemic diseases documented in later chapters. The study begins with the precolonial period as a standard against which to measure the impact of colonialism and to illustrate the dynamic and far from idyllic conditions that prevailed prior to colonization. …

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