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Medical colonialism in Africa is not new

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08.04.2020

Last Wednesday, a French doctor caused controversy when he proposed that vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic be tried on Africans because they lack masks and other personal protective equipment.

By Friday, after widespread accusations of racism, he was forced to apologise for what he then called his "clumsily expressed" remarks.

But the type of thinking exposed by his words is nothing new. Neither is it exceptional to this doctor. It is part of a trend that for generations has seen the dehumanising of some people because of the superiority complex of others.

In early March 2020, as coronavirus cases began an exponential growth curve, some people asked why African countries were not recording higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The tone of these queries had the impact of questioning if Africans were somehow genetically immune to the new virus. But why would this question even be raised if we know the biological set-up of all humans is similar?

The dehumanisation of people from the Global South was one of the driving forces behind the slave trade and colonialism. It is inconceivable that anyone could fathom the thought of trading in human beings unless they regarded that person as inferior.

Joseph Conrad, in his book Heart of Darkness writing in 1899, grappled with the question of whether the people he had met in Africa were really human. He opines: "No they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it - this suspicion of their not being inhuman."

It is the naturalness of someone even posing such questions that cements these ideas; the acceptance of a "second-class humanity" that allows the dispossession and trade in human lives to be so easily explained away.

Saartjie Baartman, or Sarah Baartman as she is commonly called, was a Khoikhoi woman born in what is........

© Al Jazeera