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Broken houses: Science and development in the African Savannahs


In many developing countries people and livestock suffer from preventable or curable diseases, and their agriculture is vulnerable to natural disasters. A considerable amount of technical aid is directed at alleviating these problems using modern science and technology, and yet most of these efforts either fail or even leave peasants and pastoralists worse off than before. In this paper we consider some of the problems that arise in relation to development projects, focusing our attention on the savannah regions of Africa and, in particular, on the control of tsetse flies, which are the vectors of the African trypanosomiases, called nagana in cattle and sleeping sickness in people. We present a detailed case study of a project designed to enable a Maasai community in Kenya to carry out their own tsetse fly control. We examine the complex set of relationships and power structures that mediate the actions of the players in development: scientists, local communities, governmental and nongovernmental institutions, and development agencies. The purpose of this paper is not to present solutions to complex and difficult problems but rather to raise questions that should provide a framework for a debate concerning the role of science and technology in the development process.

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Additional information

Brian Williams in the director of an epidemiology unit that carries out research into the health and safety of South African mine workers. He has previously worked on the control of tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis in Kenya and on modelling vector borne diseases at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine.

Catherine Campbell has worked in South Africa, as a clinical and social psychologist, in areas such as community health and social identity. She currently lectures in the Department of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is collaborating with Brian Williams in a study of South African mineworkers' perceptions of health and illness

Roy Williams is head of the South African Council for Higher Education, one of the oldest educational development non-government organizations in South Africa. His research interest is in the application of discourse theory to development issues.

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Williams, B., Campbell, C. & Williams, R. Broken houses: Science and development in the African Savannahs. Agric Hum Values 12, 29–38 (1995).

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  • Natural Disaster
  • Development Project
  • Agricultural Economic
  • Modern Science
  • Development Agency