Colonial tropes and HIV/AIDS in Africa: sex, disease and race

Adrian G Flint, Vernon M Hewitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
1403 Downloads (Pure)


One of the features of the African HIV/AIDS pandemic has been the re-emphasis of Africa's place in the global imagination as the ‘sick continent’, the ‘diseased continent’ and the ‘dark continent’. Much of the early discourse on HIV/AIDS in Africa – intentionally or not – helped to cement a longstanding outsider idea of Africa as a place where health and general well-being are determined by culturally (and to a degree racially) dictated modes of sexual behaviour that fall well outside of the ‘ordinary’. Early HIV/AIDS discourse have much in common with colonial-era narratives on African ‘venereal disease’ pandemics like syphilis in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century – noteworthy, in both instances, was the view that African people needed saving from themselves. By analysing historical responses to these two pandemics, we demonstrate an arguably unbroken outsider perception of African sexuality, based largely on colonial-era tropes, that portrays African people as over-sexed, uncontrolled in their appetites, promiscuous, impervious to risk and thus agents of their own misfortune.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 294-314
Number of pages21
JournalCommonwealth and Comparative Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2015


  • syphilis
  • colonialism
  • race
  • disease
  • sexuality


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