"Yellow fever in Dakar – There is no epidemic"
This is an excerpt from an interview with Blaise Diagne, the Senegalese deputy to the National Assembly, published in Le Matin, one of the major national dailies in metropolitan France. The yellow fever outbreak of 1927-28 was quickly politicized by French and African commentators alike. Unlike in the rest of West Africa, African inhabitants of Dakar, one of the four “old colonies,” had voting rights and were, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to French citizens. Some French commentators suggested that it was precisely this “African emancipation” that prevented French health authorities, fearing a backlash in the polls, from imposing tough public health rules, and therefore allowing the epidemic to spread. In this interview, Diagne rejects this claim, noting that the disease is, in fact, spreading in the European quarter, and that Africans have been following public health regulations to the letter. This controversy over health measures, which became a scandal in France proper, prompted the Ministry of the Colonies to sponsor a Pastorian mission to West Africa, leading to the development of the yellow fever vaccine. As this newspaper excerpt illustrates, Africans were just a good as the French at leveraging their pan-imperial connections to achieve political advantages.
The article is titled “Yellow fever in Dakar – There is no epidemic, the Senegalese deputy Mr Diagne tells us, but a scourge spreading endemically for well over a year – Europeans in particular are affected”. In the article, Diagne states the following: “There is no epidemic [...] but, since 1926, endemic spread of yellow fever. The indigenous districts, which are properly surveilled and where the inhabitants have had to follow the measures set by the public health service, have escaped the disease. Europeans, by contrast, who often live in defective but inviolable housing, have been hit much harder. And I can say, without fear of contradiction, that all the cases of yellow fever have documented in European areas of Dakar. There is then no need to turn this problem into a question about the political emancipation of the indigènes. If this explained the spread of yellow fever in Senegal, how would one then explain the spread of the disease in British territories, for example on the Gold Coast or in Nigeria, where the indigènes do not have voting rights?”
This source is part of the teaching module on transnational effort to control yellow fever.
National Archives of Senegal in Dakar