In a panel on “Drugs in Africa” at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Washington, DC in November, Donna Patterson, a historian in the Department of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, presented a paper on “Drug Trafficking in Africa: Historical Cases from West Africa,” which in contrast to other papers on the panel looked at the commerce in legal pharmaceuticals. The discussion that followed made clear the value of exploring the histories “legal” and “illegal” drugs in conjunction one with the other—something that has rarely been done for Africa, where the focus has been much more on understanding the linkages between “traditional” and Western medicine. At the same time, the discussion led us to consider how those very linkages might inform our understanding of the trade and consumption of various kinds of drugs—however categorized—in African societies.
Patterson specializes on Francophone Africa, African-Atlantic exchange, health, and gender and is working on a larger project, “Expanding Professional Horizons: Pharmacy, Gender, and Entrepreneurship in Twentieth Century Senegal,” that examines the emergence and expansion of African medical professionalization between 1918 and 2000. That work explores the growth of the African biomedical industry, African access to French systems, and the training of doctors, pharmacists, and midwives.