Academic journal article Africa

Lords of the Fly: Colonial Visions and Revision of African Sleeping-Sickness Environments on Ugandan Lake Victoria, 1906-61

Academic journal article Africa

Lords of the Fly: Colonial Visions and Revision of African Sleeping-Sickness Environments on Ugandan Lake Victoria, 1906-61

Article excerpt

District Commissioner. I believe that their numbers have been much exaggerated, and that no fear need be entertained that the cost of buying flies will amount to a very large sum. We might begin by offering a shell apiece. At that rate ... an expenditure of 20 Pounds should ensure the destruction of 15,000 flies. I am inclined to doubt that there are that number in existence in our infected districts.

Dr Hodges. I am exceedingly sorry to differ from H.E. both on the efficacy and the utility of the plan here considered. In reality, the experiment has already been tried at Entebbe. During about two years from four to six fly-boys were employed by the Sleeping Sickness commissioner solely in catching flies, and they brought in, on the average, 100 to 150 flies each per day. I satisfied myself by personal observation, by going down with the boys to the place where they caught the flies, which, indeed, remained practically the same throughout, that no appreciable diminution of them had taken place.

District Commissioner. Were the four to six boys employed continously for 2 years? And may it be taken that they brought in about 2,500 flies a week, i.e 250,000 flies during the two years? Were all the flies got from one place--`the same throughout', and was there really `no appreciable diminution'? Where was this place?

[Uganda National Archives, 1906a]

In response to increasing sleeping sickness deaths in Uganda in late 1906, a British scientist and a colonial administrator debated conflicting British plans for Uganda. The Busogan district commissioner's primary concern lay with the financial cost of avoiding an epidemic in the region. A sleeping-sickness epidemic might threaten the availability of African labour before it could be put to British advantage. In the commissioner's view, a harmonious administrative and ideological solution to the problem would be to attach a profit motive to the collection of tsetse flies; such a plan might put an end to fly infestations and serve to organise African labour as well. To the contrary, Dr. Hodges, the medical officer in Busoga, suggested that the control of sleeping-sickness in Uganda lay beyond the power of economic incentives, and stressed the need for on-going scientific research and intervention. The district commissioner, though irritated, could not ignore the scientist's judgement. He recognised that new scientific methods and technologies could supply, or at least suggest, a precision integral to the institutionalisation of British sovereignty. But British scientists would never completely control sleeping-sickness, tsetse flies, or African research, more disruption of Ugandan lives, and on-going restructuring of African environments.


In 1906 the colonial administration responded to large numbers of sleeping-sickness deaths among Ugandans by designating certain environments `Infected Areas' and making human occupation in those areas illegal. Simultaneously, for purposes of policing, communication, and commerce, they ordered that levied Ugandan labour should clear tsetse-harbouring bush from a limited number of authorised roads and landings to allow essential human access through tsetse fly-infested land. Colonial medical officials forcibly tested Ugandans for trypanosome infection, and incarcerated the infected in sleeping-sickness camps.(1) In this article I examine the relationship between colonially designated Infected Areas and fly-free areas both in terms of the production of ideology for British and Ugandans alike, and in terms of the production of new spatial arrangements in Uganda. By 1910 there were six declared `Infected Areas' in Uganda. My focus is on the Lake Victoria Infected Area, which was the first and reportedly most virulent infected sleeping-sickness area in Uganda. This was a Two-mile-wide strip running the entire southern length of Uganda, along the Lake Victoria shore, through the kingdoms of Buganda and Busoga, and including all Ugandan islands in the lake. …

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