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The early colonial period in the Somaliland Protectorate was marked by the intrusion of new ‘colonial’ epidemics and diseases, such as smallpox, cholera, influenza, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, relapsing fever and the decline of the population.


Epidemics And Public Health In Early Colonial Somaliland

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By Jama Mohamed

Department of History, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

Abstract

The early colonial period in the Somaliland Protectorate was marked by the intrusion of new `colonial’ epidemics and diseases, such as smallpox, cholera, Influenza, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, relapsing fever and the decline of the population. The etiology of the diseases was social. They were introduced into the country through the movement of imperial armies and displaced people, the improvement in transportation and the integration of the country into the British Empire. The protectorate administration attempted to control the epidemics. However, since the medical staff and medical facilities were thin on the ground, the effect of the medical campaigns were limited. Not all the medical campaigns were a `mirage’, however. Medical campaigns played an important role in the control of venereal diseases, particularly syphilis. Overall, the incidence of epidemics declined from 1937 onwards. The cause was again social and had very little to do with medical campaigns. The ending of the campaigns of conquest, the massive movement of armies and people and the development of relative stability in the country played a key and decisive role in the decline in the incidence of diseases. The etiology of colonial epidemics and their decline had both socio-political origins and explanations. The article deals with the neglected aspect of the history of Somaliland. # 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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1. Introduction

The historiography of epidemic diseases and empire is extensive (Ford, 1971; Crosby, 1976a,b, 1983; Hartwig and Patterson, 1978; Davies, 1979; Dawson, 1979; Janzen and Frierman, 1979; Patterson, 1979, 1983; Headrick, 1981; Patterson and Pyle, 1983; Packard, 1984; Arnold, 1988; Macleod and Miton, 1988; Vaughan, 1991; Lyons, 1992; Ranger and Slack, 1992). However, the Somali case has yet to be addressed. This paper is a modest attempt to address that scholarly gap. Temporally it focuses on the early colonial period; spatially it is confined to British Somaliland and theoretically, it draws on the rich historiography of disease and empire. It argues, to liberally paraphrase Hartwig and Patterson that the unhealthiest period in British Somaliland was between the 1890s and 1930s. During that period, various diseases such as smallpox, influenza, cholera, relapsing fever, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases repeatedly swept the country. The key factors in the spread of diseases were colonial conquest, the intensified interaction between Somaliland and the regions of the British Empire, the movement of armies, the wars of conquest and pacification and the dislocation of people. These factors contributed to the introduction of new diseases in an unprecedented scale and in the disturbance of the relative tolerance the people acquired for local strains of malaria, smallpox and other diseases. (Hartwig and Patterson, 1978, p. 12).

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