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medicine and eugenics in colonial africa

medicine and eugenics in colonial africa

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Published by Dominique Hoffman
watched a programme this evening on medicine and eugenics in colonial africa. This is an important aspect of international history and I hope History books will include it and mention the names of some brave people and some tragic victims of terrible inhumanity.
watched a programme this evening on medicine and eugenics in colonial africa. This is an important aspect of international history and I hope History books will include it and mention the names of some brave people and some tragic victims of terrible inhumanity.

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Published by: Dominique Hoffman on Mar 27, 2011
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Notes on: Civilization - is the West History?presented by Prof. Niall Ferguson - Channel4 - March 2010Introduction: when I watched this programme for the first time, I was amazed by the wealth of information in it. I am very interested in medicine but I don't think I can recall my History lessonsin France telling me about Blaise Diagne and the Hereros. After hearing about them, I don't think Ican allow myself to forget their stories. Last year, the zebras54 website reported on Darwin andpseudo-science perverting the evolution of the species - I vaguely remember Eugen Fischer and hispseudo-theories but I never knew the link him and Francis Galton had with Namibia. I also wish,that my history courses in France would have told me about the Tirailleurs and the French Healthservice because nowadays, many of us support the concept of Medecins Sans Frontieres andDevelopment Aid.I have been critical of Professor Niall Ferguson in the past for trying to cram in too much in an hour and joining the dot, even though this programme is not perfect, I would recommend anyoneinterested in medicine to look up this programme and watch it again and again.So when the programme finished, I picked up my notebook, a blue pen and switched to Channel4+1 and took note as I saw the programme again. What I am presenting here is not a literal transcriptof the programme but a summary of it and I focussed on taking down all the names mentioned inthe programme.Gandhi, once said that Western Civilization was a contradiction in terms. At the beginning of the20th C, Western powers were criticized by nationalists and socialists alike because of their colonialpolicies. It was in Africa that Western medicine found its breakthrough, and there also where apseudo-science developed, the latter led to concentration camps, genocide and Western sciencebeing discredited.In 1848, France had a revolutionary government. In its African outpost, along the Senegalese coast,Slavery had been abolished but citizens had not been equal in freedom. The 1848 decree declaredthat every French citizen was free. This mean that 2,000 former African slaves were granted Frenchcitizenship and able to vote. The regional assembly in French Africa meat in Saint-Louis. This waspart of a policy of assimilating Africans into French culture. Louis Faidherbe, French governor of Senegal married a local girl and also set up an army of Africans called Tirailleurs. In 1914, BlaiseDiagnel from the town of Goree, which had been a prominent slave market town, became the firstblack African to be elected MP at the French National Assembly - the grandson of a slave hadbecome a lawmaker for France.Niall Ferguson points out that these democratic achievements in the French African colonies meantnothing if they were not accompanied by the right to live. Disease meant that Africans had brief andunproductive lives and that many places in the inland were inhabitable. For example, 80% of theBritish people sent to Africa died - 'Mosquito or Man'.Nowadays, many of us hold Western Aid as a good force at work: vast sums of money are spent toimprove the healthcare of Africans. Since 1968, the child-mortality rate in Senegal fell by two-thirds while life-expectancy grew from 40 to 55. Medicine has the power to improve life. Theprocess of Western Aid began during the colonial era. Ruling lands meant to also conquer diseasesuch as yellow fever, cholera, dysentery, tetanus... In 1896, researchers founded the firstbacteriological laboratory in Saint-Louis and it is there that the first vaccine against yellow fever was discovered.This and the use of the railway meant that colonization could spread inlands. The Tirailleurs wereused as an army and the new conquered people were not offered French citizenship. The medical
 
infrastructure followed. Professor Niall Ferguson sees this as the origin of Medecins SansFrontieres, or 'doctors without borders' who work in conflict zones. Overthrowing power stucturesof the conquered people also meant abolishing traditional medicine. It was argued that herbs andprophesy were not effective against disease and therefore witch doctors were banned in 1897 inFrench Africa. In 1904, the French African Health Service was created.The French African Health Service was not immune from criticism. It prioritized the treatment of Malaria amongst the white population along the coast, rather than the more urgent cases of cholera,sleeping sickness in rural areas. The situation worsened when there was a plague outbreak in Dakar,and the solution offered was to burn the homes of the locals and move the people away. This andthe notion of racial segregation caused a rebellion. It looked like scientists were blaming Africansfor making white people ill and also that the Africans were genetically predisposed to illness. Whathad happened?This was the time when the pseudo-science of Eugenics was corrupting medicine in particular andscience in general. It was founded by Francis Galton, a nephew of Charles Darwin. Galton hadtraveled around the coast of what now known as Namibia, and was the land of the Herero and theNama people. On his return, Galton said that he had seen enough savage races to think aboutgenetics. Eugenics means a selective way of breeding to produce a stronger species. What resultedwas a racialist theory derived from Darwin's Evolution of the Species which argues that some racesare closer to monkeys - and therefore inferior to the white race - thus enabling biologicaldeterminism or racism. Nowadays, racism is not an acceptable view amongst most people, hundredyears ago it was part of the mainstream. Therefore Galton and his views may not have seemedshocking to Europeans, and eugenics began to spread amongst the scientific community and justifypolicies of racial segregation in the colonies. Some people went further than Galton and the resultswere catastrophic for the Hereros, the Namas and even the Tirailleurs were not spared.At the beginning of the 20th C, Germany was leading the world of science but eugenics found itsway there. Africa became a testing ground for racialist science. In the German colony of South-West Africa (now Namibia), black-Africans were seen as biologically inferior and segregationistpolicies were applied. The colonial towns look like carbon copies of German towns with the similar architecture and infrastructures but black people were not allowed to ride horse, nor ride bicycles,nor walk on the footpath, nor visit the library and had to salute the white settlers. Therepresentatives of the Imperial German government in South-West Africa argued that the nomadicHerero and Nama were inferior and had to vacate the land for settlers. Samuel Maharero and hispeople decided to rise against the settlers and killed the men but spared women and children.General Adrian Dietrich von Trotha was dispatched to South-West Africa and his message to theHerero and Nama was that they would be shot on sight. At Hamakari, there was a massacre as vonTrotha deployed shells against the Herero and Nama who had gathered; Maxim guns were usedagainst civilians including women and children. Trotha vowed to eradicate the Herero people. Thesurvivors fled into the desert and this was their doom. Herero prisoners were scattered in fiveconcentration camps on Shark Island, deprived of food, clothing and shelter, they had to work waistdeep in the cold water. Out of 80,000 Hereros, only 15,000 survived. There were 30,000 Namas,only 11, 000 survived. Professor Niall Ferguson argues that this is the first genocide in history. Or the systematic destruction of a group of people on grounds of race.The concentration camps on Shark Island were used to advance the cause of a corrupt medicalscience. Corpses when they were not buried in shallow graves, were used for experimentation.Women prisoners had to clean skulls for those to be shipped in pristine condition to Germany. 778autopsies were performed under the supervision of Eugen Fischer. Fischer conducted research onmixed race people (they had mostly a black mother and a white father) and concluded that Africanblood was inferior and should not corrupt white blood. One of his later students was the Joseph
 
Mengele who decades later would conduct experimentations at the concentration camp of Auschwitz.The effects of eugenics could also be felt in French-Africa and the Tirailleurs became its victims. In1910, Charles Mangin had toured Africa to recruit people for the army and in his view, Africanbodies designed for battle. His bogus tests implied that because of their under-developed nervoussystem, Africans were less susceptible to pain. Seven years later, and France had lost 1,3 millionsoldiers in the First World War against Germany. Recruiters turned to Africa to make up thenumbers, but the Africans refused to join the Tirailleurs. Blaise Diagne was asked to negotiate andhe saw a chance to strike a deal with the French government, every person joining the army wouldbe granted French citizenship, this deal was accepted and African people joined the army. One of them was called Demta Mloup and he served under the command of Charles Mangin. TheTirailleurs realised that they were put at the frontline to spare white French's lives. At the Chemindes Dames battle, there were 40,000 casualties as the German mowed down the frontline withmachine guns.There were medical breakthrough during the first World War. Skin grafts and wound irrigationwere invented. British soldiers were able to get vaccinated against typhoid. When many Africansoldiers died of pneumonia, once again, eugenics raised its ugly head and it was claimed that theywere predisposed to it. Eugen Fischer wanted to see a validation of his theories and published hiswork in 1921. It was influential in shaping Hitler's policies and is namechecked in Mein Kampf.Under Hitler's regime in Germany, doctors practised euthanasia on the mentally-ill, the disabled, theinferior races and this practise culminated with Dr Mengele at Auschwitz.By 1945, the belief in Western values and medicine was severely shaken and the effect of eugenicthinking are still felt today.Conclusion:this is an important programme for anyone who has become complacent. We are in danger nowadays to feel desensetised when we see pictures of famine and illness in Africa, or we think thatcomments about mixed-marriages only reflect individual opinions. Sometimes, when we are askedto donate to alliviate famine and disease, we may become blase and think this is a drop in the oceanand why can't these people help themselves.For me, who has a knowledge of the devastating effects of eugenics, this programme was a mine of information and I realise that I know far too little about African History and about people likeBlaise Diagne, the Tirailleurs, Samuel Maharero and about the tragic fate of the Herero and Namapeople. I would like the mainstream history books to tell classrooms in Europe about them and theplaces they lived.Normally, I would hold back historical essays until I can verify the facts mentioned in it to findmore about context but on this one, I shall risk hasty publication and research the facts afterwards.If these pages have stirred your emotions as the programme stirred mine, please pass it on to theinternet community so that the information does not get lost.WE MUST ERRADICATE EUGENIC IDEASMarch 2011.www.zebras54.co.uk 

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