Intended for healthcare professionals


Seven lessons from Africa

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 11 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1193
  1. Robin Stott, vice chairman (
  1. Medact, London

    Use of language—I was born in Kenya but left, aged 12, for an English public school. When I returned 30 years later my colleagues gave me an eloquent personal lesson in the assumptions held by colonialists. My Swahili, though rusty, was passable, but my conversations provoked incredulity. Do you realise, my colleagues said, that you still speak the “come here,” “do this” instructive Swahili of the colonial era? Whereas I believe I learnt my lesson, the language widely used by powerful nations when speaking of Africa is equally patronising and dismissive.

    The truth about primary care—Several colleagues formed an association to offer practical health related help to anticolonial revolutionaries. We worked particularly closely with Frelimo (the Mozambique Liberation Front), who graciously accepted the basic health kits we sent. However, we all realised that what was important to health was mobilising people to till fields, dig wells, teach children, emancipate women, and help distribute vaccines. Seeds and agricultural equipment are better for health than bandages. The fruits of this …

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