Placing Pandemics: History of the 1918-19 Influenza Epidemics in Kenya and Uganda
10 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2013
Date Written: November 10, 2013
In 1918 and 1919, a virulent strain of influenza spread rapidly through East Africa, killing hundreds of thousands of people in a few months. Authorities struggled to control it as returning soldiers, migrant laborers, and Africans seeking famine relief travelled throughout Kenya and Uganda. Although influenza devastated African populations in both colonies, a closer examination shows that the administrations in these two places responded to influenza quite differently. In Kenya, administrators tried to deal with the crisis by responding to various groups’ calls for medical aid during and after the epidemic while in Uganda, administrators turned their attention to different disease problems. In turn, the two colonial administrations developed public health services along different lines after the epidemic that, while focused on extending health care to Africans in more areas, emphasized different diseases and health issues. Using archival sources, this paper investigates how and why influenza provoked such different administrative responses in these two places, showing that Kenya and Uganda’s differing political economies, social structures, and histories with disease shaped these responses. It examines competing and overlapping interests in both colonies during this crisis to argue that history, place, and local circumstances largely shape experiences and outcomes of pandemic disease.
Keywords: colonial epidemics, Kenya, Uganda, influenza, public health
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