“Kill Rats and Stop Plague”

Race, Space, and Public Health in Postconquest Kumasi

Benjamin Talton


The outbreak of bubonic plague in Kumasi from March 1924 until March 1925 killed 145 people and contributed to significant social and political changes in the city. In this article, I reconstruct the events that surrounded the epidemic, particularly British officials’ responses and efforts to end it, to argue that the epidemic grew out of Kumasi’s integration into the British Empire and capitalist system and therefore must be examined within the context of global histories of disease, empire, and capitalism. I show that while British officials saved lives and ended the epidemic with relatively few deaths, they also exploited the medical crisis to remake Kumasi politically, socially, and spatially as a colonial city governed largely around issues of trade, sanitation, and public health.

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