University of Minnesota
African Studies Initiative

African Studies Initiative

African Studies Initiative

The African Studies Initiative (ASI) begins from the premise that the interactions among the various regions of Africa, as well as with the rest of the world, are critical to the scholarly enterprise. ASI engages methodological and theoretical issues common to scholars of literature, culture, and the social sciences globally, to explore themes such as race and ethnicity, urbanization and migration, modernity and modernism, transnationalism and globalization, representation and language.

It is with these complex processes and notions in mind—processes and notions that transcend traditional categories of area, region, and nation-state, but also traditional demarcations of academic fields and disciplines—that ASI approaches African Studies.


African Studies Initiative (ASI) Public Symposium

Global Health and Geographies of Disparity in Africa:
Knowledge, Creativity, Accountability

Hanson Hall 1-120 | University of Minnesota

May 5-6, 2017


The African Studies Initiative (ASI), a University of Minnesota Title VI African Studies National Resource Center funded
by the U.S. Department of Education, is pleased to convene this public symposium on Global Health and Geographies
of Disparity in Africa: Knowledge, Creativity, Accountability at the University’s Twin Cities campus. The symposium
builds on and expands to a national and international purview prior discussions at the May 2015 ASI Campus Conversation
“African Lives between the Local and the Global: How Can Communities and Allies Promote Equality and Sustain Health?”
Globally circulating narratives of Africa have long been dominated by discourses and images of disease, pathology, and
ethnic conflict. Racialized ideologies regarding the biological and moral inferiority of Africans undergirded the “civilizing”
missions of Christianity and colonial expansion throughout the continent. At the same time, African bodies constituted a
living laboratory for the burgeoning discipline of Western biomedicine. Structural violence in the practice and politics of
medicine and public health in Africa has persisted into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Africa continues
to have the highest total burden of disease in the world. While much of this disease burden is related to infectious diseases
like HIV/AIDS and malaria and maternal and newborn illness, chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease
account for an increasing proportion of death and disability. Lingering tropes about African bodies as pernicious vectors
of disease, and indeed images of the “dark continent” itself as a biological threat to global security have simultaneously
motivated the mobilization of significant resources to eradicate polio in Northern Nigeria, for example, and hampered
efforts to address the emerging double burden of infectious and chronic disease across Africa. Most recently, the global
community’s shamefully lethargic response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa (followed by an after-the-fact rush, in the
interest of global health security, to test and bring to market an apparently effective Ebola vaccine available for the past
decade) illustrates how glib expectations of the inevitability of illness and death in this seemingly “pre-modern” part of the
world dovetail with neoliberal narratives regarding the moral failings of Africans in remaining healthy.
This symposium interrogates the legacies of colonialism and development in contemporary narratives, discourses, practices
and structures of global and public health in Africa. We investigate how structural inequalities in the practice of global
health reinforce pre-existing and produce new disparities in health experiences and outcomes between Africa and the rest
of the world. We explore ways to hold various stakeholders, including donors, NGOs, governments, and health systems
politically, fiscally, and ethically accountable to the people they serve. We also explore how forms of creative expression—
including orature and oral history, literature, theater, dance, music, film, and visual art—fight what Chimamanda Ngozi
Adichie has called the “danger of a single story,” pointing to alternate visions of health and disease, prevention/intervention
and healing, and social justice and redress in Africa today. While attending to continuing disparities, we reject dominant
narratives of pathology and despair through a focus on health innovation, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and
grassroots mobilization in Africa.
We are delighted to bring into conversation voices from the worlds of research and the academy, of activism and advocacy,
and of policy and practice in the United States and in Africa.

See the Symposium Program for more details on speakers, sessions topics and times.


Questions: Email









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