In The Colonial Politics of Global Health, Jessica Lynne Pearson explores the collision between imperial and international visions of health and development in French Africa as decolonization movements gained strength.
After World War II, French officials viewed health improvements as a way to forge a more equitable union between France and its overseas territories. Through new hospitals, better medicines, and improved public health, French subjects could reimagine themselves as French citizens. The politics of health also proved vital to the United Nations, however, and conflicts arose when French officials perceived international development programs sponsored by the UN as a threat to their colonial authority. French diplomats also feared that anticolonial delegations to the United Nations would use shortcomings in health, education, and social development to expose the broader structures of colonial inequality. In the face of mounting criticism, they did what they could to keep UN agencies and international health personnel out of Africa, limiting the access Africans had to global health programs. French personnel marginalized their African colleagues as they mapped out the continent’s sanitary future and negotiated the new rights and responsibilities of French citizenship. The health disparities that resulted offered compelling evidence that the imperial system of governance should come to an end.
Pearson’s work links health and medicine to postwar debates over sovereignty, empire, and human rights in the developing world. The consequences of putting politics above public health continue to play out in constraints placed on international health organizations half a century later.
Pearson’s deeply researched and elegantly written book demonstrates that international organizations played a defining role in reshaping empire in the postwar period. Her work compellingly argues that the United Nations and the World Health Organization provided templates for universal rights and health for all, even colonial subjects. The Colonial Politics of Global Health will be an invaluable addition to our understanding of the French Empire, decolonization, and global health initiatives.
A smart, persuasive study of one of the most influential chapters in the history of twentieth-century Africa. This impressive work poses an intriguing question: how did imperial powers in sub-Saharan Africa interact with new international humanitarian organizations providing oversight of colonial governance after World War II? Pearson is to be commended for taking on such a challenging topic and for telling a fascinating, human story in such an accessible way.
An important, thought-provoking book that uses global health as a prism through which to understand tensions between colonial powers and international organizations like the World Health Organization in late colonial Africa. Pearson skillfully shows how decolonization converged with a wide array of attempts to stem disease made by French doctors, colonial officials, and world health representatives in Africa.
[A] probing account…Focusing on the area of public health, Pearson shows that France sought to reap the benefits of the World Health Organization’s operations in Africa, even as it pursued its own health-care policies in its colonies. France’s efforts, Pearson argues, succeeded in maintaining French influence over UN policies in West Africa even after the country’s former colonies had won their independence.
Shows how the World Health Organization’s origins and development in Africa and the politics of the postwar period of decolonization were intimately intertwined.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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