Moreover, most people hated the “very bitter taste of quinine” (Clark, 1935). The medical department, nonetheless, played a crucial role in controlling the epidemic, for in 1935 medical officers and an army contingent were posted in the interior owing to the unsettled political situation in Ethiopia. Thus, the medical officers were able to deal with the outbreak of the malaria epidemic without delay (Colonial Office Report, 1935). The medical department undertook certain curative activities against the disease in 1936. The medical staff continuously and routinely treated wells, standing water and drainage in the rural and urban areas (Edge, 1938). Medical officers not only attended to the sick, distributed quinine, treated wells, but also educated the rural folk about public health and preventive measures against the spread of malaria and other diseases. The department undertook a particular initiative to popularize the consumption of quinine. The department sought to train `suitable natives’ in the Burao hospital “in the simple use of medicines, especially quinine” (Chambers, 1936a). The trainees were to be “provided with rations (but not of course with wages) during their period of tuition” (Chambers, 1936b). Those chosen for the course refused to participate in the program “on the grounds that no wages are offered, or prospect of wages is held out” (Chambers, 1936a).

In sum, during the early colonial period, various epidemics swept the country such as smallpox, malaria and relapsing fever. These diseases, as well as the political violence of the period, in particular, the period between 1900 to 1920, led to the decline of the population. As already pointed there is no statistics to back up the argument. We simply lack the statistics necessary to reach a scientifically credible conclusion about changes in demography. Nonetheless, colonial officers made informed estimates about the impact of political instability and diseases on the population. Colonial reports, for instance, pointed to the decline of the population from 500,000 in 1901 to 344,300 in 1911. The reports stressed the role of diseases and political conflict, in the decline of the population. And Jardine argued that the population declined by one-third from 1910 to 1913. Other sources, as already discussed, bolster in a general sense, Jardine’s argument. Jardine, moreover, argued that during the period of disturbance between 1900 to 1920 about 200,000 people died of various causes, such as hunger, disease, spear and gunshot wounds (Jardine, 1923, p. 135). Other unconventional sources, such as literary sources, indirectly support the argument. Ismail Mire, the most important general of the dervish forces and an accomplished poet and stylist, recorded the tragic events of the period in a poem in which he minimized his role in the fiasco. He composed the poem after a woman accused him of numerous crimes: “You destroyed my world she said/ attacked my homestead/made me homeless and took my burden-camel/killed my sons/forced me to live in hunger in many rainy seasons/slaughtered the brave”. Ismail Mire then recalled the various battles that took place in the country and blamed the slaughter on the Sayyid (Ciise, 1974, pp. xi±xii). Another poet, Sheikh Ismail Ahmed, who was a dervish, reflected on the period after he was accused of many crimes in the post-Sayyid period. Like Ismail Mire, he blamed everything on the Sayyid. He said, “Did I encourage the priest to hate the world?” He maintained that the priest came with aggression and hatred and that it was the priest, who built forts in many parts of the country. He concluded, “Did I show the way to his raiding forces/did I loot the camels of the men settled here?” (Ahmed, n.d). Both Mire and Ahmed stressed the violence of the period, the raiding that took place, the death of men and women and the instability that made many `live in hunger in rainy seasons’. There are in fact many other literary sources that reflect upon the period’s destructiveness and show the bitterness of the people. Among such sources are the poetic combat between Ali Dhuux, Qamaan Bulhan and Salaan Carabey (Andrzejewski and Galaal, 1963). There is no space to discuss these sources. It suffices to say that they paint a bleak picture. It was indeed, to recall the Sayyid’s own words, a period of “death and woe”. The public health staff strove hard during the post-Sayyid period, despite the lack of funds, to control epidemics and improve public health. Various campaigns were waged against malaria, smallpox, venereal diseases, and relapsing fever. In addition, the department gave attention, despite its limited resources, to public health in the urban centers where the regular inspection was undertaken, wells treated and relief camps organized for the rural poor. All of these activities were utilitarian. They were undertaken to benefit the people and stabilize the protectorate. However, they also reinforced the dependence of the public on western medicine and other western cultural institutions and increased the control and surveillance of the population. Colonial medicine was always a `potentially important weapon in the consolidation of imperial rule’ and in `establishing wider imperial hegemony’ (Arnold, 1988, p. 16). However as Roy Mcleod reminds us ‘while the medical practice may reinforce dependence and sustain political hegemonies, it does not create them’ (Macleod and Milton, 1988, p. 12), i.e. it does not create the social conditions which make such a program successful. What created the conditions in which medicine in the early colonial period could play important political and cultural roles, were the dramatic increase in the incidence of epidemic diseases and the decline of public health.



Jama Mohamed

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


Social Science & Medicine

Volume 48, Issue 4, February 1999, Pages 507-521

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.