La Découverte, 2014, 250 pages.
Guillaume Lachenal’s Le médicament qui devait sauver l’Afrique – the English-language title provided by the publishing house is The hidden history of the medicine meant to save Africa – is devoted to a pharmaceutical scandal in colonial Africa that remains absent from the official history. The drug in question is Lomidine, which promised to eradicate sleeping sickness, a disease that threatened both the health of local populations and the colonial project. Yet the medication became problematic because of its toxicity when used carelessly (treatment campaigns caused dozens of deaths in Central Africa in the 1950s). It is through the lens of Lomidine use and misuse in Central Africa that Lachenal reimagines the relationships between medicine and colonialism. His fascinating book explores not only the limits of rationality and beliefs surrounding the design and use of this drug, but also the production of knowledge, memory, and oblivion by colonial doctors and administration.
Lachenal’s 238-page book is based on ten years of research in Africa (Cameroon, DRC, Senegal) and Europe (France, Belgium, Great Britain). In it, he addresses the ambivalent relationship between medicine and colonialism by showing how this apparent wonder drug – experimented with during the Second World War, injected intramuscularly and quite painfully – was a vector of colonial power. Indeed, the term “lomidinisation,” coined during this period, represented the frenzied campaigns (at times more than 80 people injected per hour) of the colonial hygienist project and its links to modernization.
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