Colonial Expertise, Local Knowledge and Livestock Diseases in Colonial Nigeria

Livestock diseases constituted a grave threat to the British imperial enterprise in Nigeria through and through, as is true elsewhere across Africa and the wider colonial world. As has been extensively discussed in the modest literature on the subject, livestock diseases such as rinderpest, contagious pleuro-pneumonia, and trypanosomiasis, caused immense mortality to different animals that Nigerian peoples reared for food as meat, especially cattle, sheep and goats. On top of that, these diseases - often zoonotic - also caused grave casualty to humans, including colonial personnel. Beyond these enormous inter-species debilitating somatic effects however, the livestock diseases also seriously threatened the British Empire’s economic interests. They imperilled the Empire’s drive to launch and sustain what may be rightly termed «cattle capitalism» in the region. Unravelling and eradicating or, at least, controlling these diseases were therefore a critical imperial imperative. To this end, significant resources, and expertise from different colonial metropolises were deployed. Despite the preponderance and arrogance of colonial epistemologies however, the authorities often had to reckon with and adopt certain aspects of the native conceptions of and strategies for dealing/living with the diseases, their vectors and the «pathogenic» ecology. This paper adopts the multispecies lens in exploring the nature and dynamics of the pathogen–animal–human interactions in the light of imperial-versus-native epistemologies.

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