BIEA Annual Lecture: Africa and the global outbreak narrative

Wed 18 Nov 2020, 17:00 - 19:00

BIEA on Zoom Webinar

Event ended

For the historian of medicine Charles Rosenberg, epidemics have a ‘dramaturgical character’. What he meant is that epidemics are rendered intelligible as social phenomena through stories or narratives that follow a familiar pattern. The COVID-19 ‘outbreak narrative’ begins in the wet markets of Wuhan. From here, the drama intensifies as the virus spreads through the circuits of global modernity – economy, trade, finance and tourism – becoming an international security threat as well as a parable about the dangers of our interconnected world. The narrative, of course, is never fully coherent. It elicits contradictory reactions about the obsolescence and tenacity of borders, the threat and benevolence of strangers, the failures and redemptive potential of medical science. But this is part of the outbreak narrative’s potency in setting the terms of social dialogue and political debate.

Africa, in the COVID-19 outbreak narrative, has been placed as the virus’s final frontier where, we have been repeatedly assured, it will yield untold damage. Numerous headlines by journalists, policymakers, and scientists alike have warned that the virus is a ‘ticking time bomb’ on a continent ‘woefully ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19’. Legitimate concerns about weak health systems, densely populated urban centres, and a history of devastating epidemics mingle with racist ideas about the primordial nature of African poverty and about the inability of African peoples and governments to respond with ingenuity to a crisis. In this lecture, Simukai Chigudu takes the contrasting horror of COVID-19 in the Global North with its presumed trajectory in Africa as an entry point to consider the political ramifications of the global outbreak narrative.

Speaker: Professor Simukai Chigudu, Associate Professor of African Politics, University of Oxford; Author The Political Life of an Epidemic: Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Zimbabwe

Discussant: Professor Ambreena Manji, Professor of Land Law and Development, Cardiff University; Co-Founder, Law and Global Justice Centre University of Cardiff; Former Director, British Institute in Eastern Africa

Chair: Professor Dame Henrietta Moore FBA, Director, Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London; President, British Institute in Eastern Africa

Free, booking required

This event will take place on Zoom Webinar. The link to join the event will be sent to you in a confirmation email. If you have any questions about this event please email [email protected].

Image: 2019n-CoV by NIAID. Automatically cropped. CC by 2.0.

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