Archive for November, 2016

A gtoup of CAS students with support from the Global Justice Academy and Global Development Academy are hosting an evening of coverage of the Ghanaian presidential elections on 7 December from 5 – 10 pm in the 6th floor seminar room of the CMB.  For further info read their brief message below and find the event flyer here.

On December 7, Ghana takes to the polls for its presidential election. There are seven parties contesting the election. It is important to give attention to this election (and indeed all elections) for issues of parity and awareness. The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and the Global Development Academy (GDA) have generously agreed to support this event.

The election in Ghana is important not only for citizens of Ghana, but throughout the world through trade, migration, and international relations. Our event will have general comments by two Ghanaian professors with expertise in Ghanaian politics: Dr. John Osae-Kwapong and Dr. Isaac Owusu-Mensah. The election will be introduced by Ghanaian students from the University of Edinburgh with special attention to the political parties and their candidates and policies. This will be followed by live coverage from streaming Ghanaian TV stations and live feeds from Twitter and Facebook and finally discussion and round-table.

The event will begin at 5 pm on the 6th floor seminar room of the CMB. There will be African food provided by local restaurants and students. We very much hope people can attend – both those with interest in Ghana and Africa and those wanting to learn more about it. The event is open to the public and all are welcome. Please join us on December 7th in the CMB from 5-10pm for this important event.

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Jamie Livingstone holding papers as audience listens

The Centre of African Studies (CAS) is home to a vibrant community of intellectual activities, with weekly seminars serving as the centerpiece of an exciting calendar of Africa-centric events across the University.  With all that is going on in CAS and the School of Social and Political Science (SPS), it can be easy to disregard the wide range of Africanist events taking place elsewhere on campus or in the wider Edinburgh community.

In this spirit, even though the topic was completely unrelated to my research, I resolved to attend the November 18 meeting of the Scottish branch of the Tropical Agriculture Association (TAA) on “The Impact of Climate Change on Farmers in Africa and Scotland” with Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland (covering the Africa component), and Jim Densham of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, Scotland (on the Scottish).

Although Livingstone had to leave early and I didn’t get to speak to him one-on-one as I had hoped, it was a fantastic opportunity to have such intimate access to the local head of a major international organization like Oxfam.  And if my schedule had allowed, I would have been able to speak with Livingstone during a mixer in advance of the meeting at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, just a few hundred meters from the majestic New School campus.

While the meeting was billed as covering climate change in Africa more broadly, the bulk of Livingstone’s remarks were specific to Malawi, a pleasant surprise as my research focuses on southern Africa.  A further lesson that showing up at events can pay unexpected dividends came when John Ferguson, the convenor of TAA Scotland noted in his introductory remarks that one of their main aims is to help students identify careers in agriculture, promote networking opportunities, and help MSc candidates identify funding opportunities for fieldwork for their dissertations (all for a £15/year student membership fee).

Livingstone initiated his remarks with a broad overview that situated the emergence of Oxfam during World War II in historical context while also drawing on the key thematic areas of Oxfam’s contemporary work.  Livingstone sees inequality, conflict, and climate change as the biggest barriers to achieving the sustainable development goals globally, but especially in Africa.

The drought and food insecurity situation in southern Africa has been percolating on the edge of global headlines for the better part of 2016 but has failed to catalyze the massive international response necessary to address the crisis.  Livingstone, who had toured the Malawian capital Lilongwe and the southern towns of Balaka and Mulanje the previous month, put this into context by noting that the number of people facing severe food shortages in Malawi alone slightly exceeds the population of all of Scotland.

Livingstone screened several mini-clips that Oxfam has produced to highlight the urgent need for donations for food relief in Malawi.  A key figure in these clips was Jenipher, a 24-year-old raising several orphans and struggling to get by following the failure of the maize harvest.  Also highlighted was Stella, who with Oxfam’s support has shifted from growing maize to more drought resistant cassava.

Livingstone noted, perhaps somewhat controversially, that Oxfam is a major proponent of cash transfers as they “get money into the hands of the people who need it much quicker than food distribution.”  He added that neighboring Mozambique was receiving greater support from donors than Malawi, a situation which his sources informed him was a result of the confluence of two factors, both of which I found quite intriguing:

  1. That donors had greater confidence in Mozambique, following a corruption scandal in Malawi (despite similar imbroglios in Maputo) and;
  2. Mozambique holds greater natural resources and Western governments were more eager to curry favor with its leaders as a result.

Perhaps most fascinating of all was the passionate Q and A that followed.  The crowd, consisting mostly of retired (or almost so) agriculture professionals with a smattering of graduate students, pushed Livingsone quite vigorously on a number of his claims, noting that cash transfers could be inflationary and that there was a risk Oxfam was prioritizing short-term patches over a long-term solution, particularly in its approach to procuring fertilizer for farmers.

Livingstone did acknowledge the obvious, that the surname he shares with the famous missionary and central African explorer was commented upon quite frequently during his time in Malawi and generally, he added, quite favorably.

Densham’s presentation on Scotland was quite enriching for me as an international student as well.  Overall, the Fall meeting of the Tropical Agriculture Association was a brilliant reminder that like the Africa in Motion Film Festival, there’s a significant amount of Africanist activity taking place across the campus and the city, contributing to an eclectic and stimulating academic experience.

Brooks Marmon is Editor of Postgrads from the Edge




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CAS Senior Lecturer Tom Molony and PhD candidate Tom Cunningham recently participated in a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia on “Endangered and Post-Colonial Archives in Eastern and Southern Africa.”  The workshop was co-organized by the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research (SAIPAR) in Zambia and the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA) in Kenya which is currently directed by Joost Fontein who is on secondment from the University of Edinburgh.

Tom Cunningham has co-authored a report of the workshop for the Review of African Political Economy, it can be read here.

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On November 21, CAS PhD Students, Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, will present their ongoing research on ‘Global and Imperial Histories of the University of Edinburgh’ as part of the Global and Transnational Research Group Seminars within the School of History, Classics, & Archaeology.  The talk will be held on at 5pm in Room 2.36 of the William Robertson Building in the Old Medical School.

In the run-up to the seminar, Postgrads from the Edge is showcasing several alumni biographies they have prepared as part of their research.  This is the fourth and final instalment in the series.

Below (and in original format here with additional photos) is Henry Mitchell’s biographical profile of the early years and intellectual formation of Dr. Agnes Yewande Savage, the first west African woman to qualify in medicine.

Part I of this series featured Julius Nyerere, part II featured Dr. Kesaveloo Goonaruthnum Naidoo (known as Dr. Goonam), and part III Dr. Asrat Woldeyes.

Dr Agnes Yewande Savage – West Africa’s First Woman Doctor (1906-1964)

Henry Mitchell (henry.mitchell@ed.ac.uk)




Dr Agnes Yewande Savage was the first West African woman to qualify in medicine. An outstanding student at Edinburgh, Agnes obtained first class honours in all her subjects and won the prestigious Dorothy Gilfillan Memorial Prize for the best woman graduate in 1929. Born in Edinburgh to a Nigerian father and Scottish mother, once she qualified Agnes faced huge institutional barriers – dictated both by race and sex. These barriers, in turn, have meant it has only been possible to reconstruct Agnes’ remarkable life history through correspondence with her niece and nephew, Margaret and Mike Savage – despite the key roles she played in the early histories of numerous important Ghanaian institutions. Though better qualified than most of her white male counterparts when appointed as a junior medical officer in colonial Ghana, Agnes was paid discriminatory wages and lived in servants’ quarters. In 1931, Andrew Fraser, headmaster of Achimota College – a new school established to educate a new generation of African leaders – heard of her struggles and recruited Agnes as both a teacher and medical officer. Agnes went on to establish a nurses’ training school and worked in Korle Bu Hospital’s maternity department – considerable achievements – but it was not until 1945 after extensive and exacting correspondence with the Colonial Office that Agnes, as a black European, was given equal terms of employment, salary and retirement. She retired in 1947, exhausted after a life fighting institutional racism. Her remarkable life has only been sparingly referenced elsewhere.

Part of the Savage medical dynasty, which had numerous connections to Edinburgh’s medical school, Agnes followed in the footsteps of her father and brother, as well as her working-class Scottish mother, in coming to Edinburgh University. Agnes’ Nigerian father, Richard Akiwande Savage Snr married Maggie S Bowie, a Scottish iron turner’s daughter in 1899. A Nigerian medical student, Richard Savage Snr was also sub-editor of The Student during his time in Edinburgh and graduated with a MB ChB in 1900. As a student, he was vice president of the Afro-West Indian Society – a student association whose object was “the promotion of social life and intellectual improvement among African and West Indian students in Edinburgh” – and attended the trail-blazing 1900 Pan-African Conference organized by Henry Sylvester Williams in London, along with Trinidadians William Meyer (who attacked pseudo-scientific racism for “trying to prove that negroes were worthless and depraved persons who had no right to live”) and John Alcindor (who went on to become president of the Africa Progress Union).[1] Richard Savage Snr left Edinburgh in 1903 to work as a government doctor in Lagos, Nigeria, where he also established a newspaper. In 1906, colonial officials decided that Richard Savage would be better employed in colonial Ghana, and he was given a medical job in Cape Coast – becoming the last African medical officer in the West African Medical Service after the introduction of a colour bar blocking the employment of black doctors. Richard Savage Snr continued his newspaper work in Ghana – publishing the Gold Coast Leader. The Savage family returned to Lagos in 1915 – where Richard founded the Nigerian Spectator. An important early African nationalist figure, who believed: “When we think of a united Nigeria we must also think of a united British West Africa”, Richard Savage Snr was an enigmatic figure. Walking along the Lagos beachfront, with Maggie, one Sunday afternoon “when they passed a cigarette stall the salesman said, ‘See that Doctor, he be proud oh.’…[Richard] spun round and responded in pigeon, “This doctor no be proud. Dis Doctor he swank.”[2] The future Nigerian president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, admired Richard Snr as a ‘cosmopolitan’, and for the ‘superb English of his editorials’.[3]

Agnes’ older brother Richard Gabriel Akiwande Savage, who was also born in 15 Buccluech Place in 1903, similarly went on to graduate from Edinburgh’s medical school in 1926 and qualified in 1927, becoming a “forgotten pioneer of African medical history”, and the first West African to receive a British Army officer’s commission. He was demoted once it was discovered he was black. Subsequently he distinguished himself as a captain in Burma and was awarded an OBE. An “immensely caring man…of mixed Scottish and Gold Coast ancestry”, Mike Savage retells how Richard Jnr went on to work for many years in Nigeria where he became a much loved figure and, eventually, the chief medical officer of one of the country’s largest hospitals in Enugu. His first wife Phyllis, a strikingly beautiful woman of mixed Ghanaian and European descent tragically died of yellow fever in 1940. His second Dora, an English woman was a superb surgeon. Married in 1954, they worked together in Nigeria and Ghana. After their retirement they did locums all over the world in countries such as Sierra Leone, Zambia, Nazareth and a leper colony off Hong Kong. A thoughtful and spirited man, Dr. Ritchie Savage eventually died in 1993 after a long illness.[4]

Agnes Yewande Smith Bowie Savage, herself, was born in 15 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh at 5:15 am on 21st February 1906.[5] She “was clearly exceptional from childhood. A studious, serious-minded child, she excelled at school and is on record as having passed the exams of the Royal Academy of Music in 1919 at the tender age of thirteen.” As the child “of a distinguished father who was not just a renowned doctor but also a newspaper publisher and nationalist politician, she found that a lot was expected of her – and she delivered beyond all expectations.”[6] In 1923 she won a scholarship to free tuition at George Watson’s Ladies College, obtained Standard Certificates in all her subjects, won a prize for General Proficiency in Class Work and passed the Scottish Higher Education Leaving Certificate allowing her to matriculate into Edinburgh University.[7]

At Edinburgh, Agnes clearly excelled, with Professor WT Ritchie later writing that Agnes worked “with much diligence, zeal and skill.” In her 4th year at Edinburgh she obtained first class honours in all her subjects, won a prize in ‘Diseases of the Skin’ and a medal in Forensic Medicine – becoming the first woman to do so. On leaving Edinburgh, lecturer Edwin Matthew reflected, “She will I feel sure make a successful doctor.”[8]

Mike Savage, Agnes’ nephew, has retold that after graduating from Edinburgh, in 1930 Agnes was appointed as a junior medical officer in the Gold Coast. Her early years were particularly hard. The Colonial Office was her employer and she was employed under local terms. Though rich by local standards, Agnes could not afford to hire a cook; meat was a luxury; she had to travel by bus; and had three weeks holiday every year. Her white British colleagues, frequently not as skillful, educated or dedicated, had salaries that enabled them to eat whatever they pleased; food that had been cooked, served and cleaned by an army of servants; rode in their own cars driven by uniform-clad chauffeurs; sent their children to the best British fee-paying schools and universities; and had three months paid leave in the UK every three years (transport home paid). So, though better educated, qualified, and skillful than most of her white British colleagues, being black, Agnes lived as a local employee in hospital servants’ quarters without any chance of ever again seeing her mother, home or friends.

Agnes Savage’s plight came to the attention of Andrew Fraser, headmaster of Achimota College a newly established institution close to Accra the capital, that aspired to educate the future leaders of the Gold Coast. Apart from her broad range of educational skills, he saw Agnes as a remarkable model for his pupils. In 1931 he recruited her as both a teacher and medical officer. Fraser pleaded her case with the Colonial Office, and Agnes was given a European contract. For four year Agnes worked at Achimota where she really enjoyed her time before rejoining the Colonial Office medical service. When she did so, a concession was made and Agnes was given, “…leave and passage terms of a European.” Her joint appointment was being given charge of the infant welfare clinics associated with the Korle Bu Hospital, Kumasi; assistant medical officer to the maternity department; and warden of the nurses’ hostel. In addition, Agnes supervised the establishment of the Nurses Training School at Korle Bu where a nurses’ ward is named after her. However, it was not until 1945 after extensive correspondence with the Colonial Office that Agnes as a black European was offered the same terms of service, salary and retirement as a white one. Fighting this racism took a toll. She became physically and psychologically exhausted, was invalided from the service, and officially retired in 1947. However, with her friend Esther Appleyard [who had been Chief Education Officer in Ghana] she lived a comfortable life in Hertfordshire, England, caring for her brother’s son and daughter during their school holidays though ghosts from the past did haunt her. She died of a stroke in 1964.[9]

Further research into Agnes’ clearly remarkable, but still ambiguous, life is much needed. Her contributions to the history of Ghanaian development, medicine and education, alongside fellow Edinburgh graduates Dr Matilda Clerk and Dr Susan Gyankoramae de Graft-Johnson, would make a fantastic thesis. Stephen Addae, for example, has argued that both white women and black male doctors both struggled to find employment within the West African Medical Service, between 1902 and the late 1940s, and that those outside the WAMS were banned from running private clinics in Ghana. Yet both the lives of Agnes and her father circumvent this analysis of the broader medical labour market in colonial Ghana. [10]

Nonetheless, as set out by Keazor, it can still be confidently asserted that: “Agnes Yewande Savage left one of the greatest legacies for Nigerian women by becoming the first Nigerian female graduate and medical doctor. Thousands have followed in her footsteps, but her outstanding academic achievements, her pedigree, and the quality of her work stand out.” Whilst the details, and the fraught politics of Agnes’ life are still shrouded by institutional silences, she clearly “set a sterling example for several generations of Nigerian women to follow in years to come. Her life shows that hard work and self-belief can allow one to break barriers.” [11]


[1] I’m heavily indebted to Mike Savage for his correspondence and photos of Agnes, Ed Keazor for access to his research and the photo of the Savage family, and Marika Sherwood, Ian Duffield, and LaRay Denzer for access to their research notes and feedback.  P. Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, p.283.

[2] Correspondence with Mike Savage, 25/09/1991.

[3] M. Sherwood, ‘Two Pan-African political activists emanating from Edinburgh University: Drs John Randle and Richard Akiwande Savage’ on Afe Adogame and Andrew Lawrence (eds), Africa in Scotland, Scotland in Africa (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

[4] E. Keazor, ‘Tracking Captain Savage: The Forgotten Pioneer of African Military History’, accessed http://nsibidiinstitute.org/tracking-captain-savage-the-forgotten-pioneer-of-african-military-history/

17/08/2016; correspondence with Mike Savage, 08/10/2016. The British Medical Journal, 345 (2012) contains the obituary for Dora Janet Burman Savage: “Former Surgeon (b. 1911; q. Royal Free Hospital Medical School 1935; FRCS (Edin)), d. 18 December 2010. During the Second World War Dora Janet Burman Savage (nee Falconer) worked in Hounslow, treating victims of the Blitz and carrying out a great deal of major trauma surgery. She joined the Royal Army Medical Corps during the war and was posted to East Africa, where she treated wounded soldiers from the Far East. She was then transferred to Nigeria, ending up with the rank of lieutenant colonel. She met and married Richard Gabriel Akiwande Savage in 1954. ‘Ritchie’ was a fellow surgeon, and they worked together in the government medical service at the Enugu General Hospital. When Ritchie reached 60 and Nigeria became independent in 1960, they retired from those positions and worked together in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Malawi, and finally in a leper colony in Hong Kong. Dora continued to do locum posts in accident and emergency medicine until the 1990s. She worked with the first aid nursing yeomanry, teaching first aid after her retirement, and she remained active at home despite failing eyesight and hearing until two years before she died. She was widowed in 1994; she predeceased her only brother and had no children of her own, although she leaves two stepchildren, Miguel and Margaret Savage.”

[5] Birth certificate of Agnes Yewande Savage, available at the Scottish National Archives.

[6] E. Keazor, 120 Great Nigerians, p.409.

[7] Nigerian Spectator, 18/08/1923. Many thanks to LaRay Denzer for supplying these references.

[8] Nigerian Spectator, 05/05/1928; Nigerian Spectator, 21/07/1928; corresponence with Mike Savage 07/10/2016.

[9] Correspondence with Mike Savage, 24/09/2016.

[10] S. Addae, The Evolution of Modern Medicine in a Developing Country: Ghana 1880-1960, (Durham, 1996).

[11] E. Keazor, 120 Great Nigerians, p.410.

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On November 21, CAS PhD Students, Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, will present their ongoing research on ‘Global and Imperial Histories of the University of Edinburgh’ as part of the Global and Transnational Research Group Seminars within the School of History, Classics, & Archaeology.  The talk will be held on at 5pm in Room 2.36 of the William Robertson Building in the Old Medical School.

In the run-up to the seminar, Postgrads from the Edge is showcasing several alumni biographies they have prepared as part of their research.

Below (and in original format here) is Tom Cunningham’s biographical profile of the early years and intellectual formation of Dr. Asrat Woldeyes, who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1951 to 1956.

Part I of this series featured Julius Nyerere, part II featured Dr. Kesaveloo Goonaruthnum Naidoo (known as Dr. Goonam).


Tom Cunningham (Tom.Cunningham@ed.ac.uk)

On the 30th April 1998 Amnesty International issued an appeal “expressing serious concern” about the health and medical treatment of one of “Ethiopia’s most prominent medical doctors.”[1] Dr Asrat Woldeyes who had been in prison since 1994 was receiving medical treatment under the surveillance of the security services at the Tikur Anbessa (Black Lion) hospital, Amnesty reported. He was suffering from “severe headaches, difficulties in speech and body movement, swollen limbs, and deteriorating left-eye vision” and there had been reports he had been diagnosed with a “possibly life-threatening” brain hemorrhage. The doctor was 69 years old and had had a triple bypass heart operation in 1980. Amnesty attributed his condition, though, to “harsh prison conditions and the stress of over 170 court appearances in four years.” Amnesty knew he was the leader of the opposition party, the All-Amhara People’s Organization (AAPO), but demanded an explanation as to why this man whose friends and colleagues argued was committed to non-violence had ever been jailed. They supported the doctor’s claim that he “did not receive a fair trial.” They feared he and 32 others “charged with armed conspiracy and rebellion” might face the death penalty. In a later release Amnesty defined Asrat as “a prisoner of conscience” and called for his immediate release.[2]

On Christmas Day 1998 Dr Asrat was released from prison on medical grounds for treatment in London, he was transferred to a hospital in Houston in the USA for further treatment and though it was successful he died shortly after, in Philadelphia, on 14 May 1999.

Asrat Woldeyes (born 20 June 1928) was the first Ethiopian to graduate in medicine from the University of Edinburgh, and possibly the first Ethiopian graduate of the university. He undertook a medical degree at Edinburgh between 1951 and 1956 and returned in 1961 to qualify as surgeon. Asrat Woldeyes had a distinguished professional career. He was private physician to Emperor Haile Selassie and Professor of Medicine at Addis Ababa University (where he was the first Ethiopian hold the position of Dean of the Medical Faculty). Professor Asrat was also chief surgeon at the Tikur Anbessa – how strange it must have been for him to receive treatment as a political prisoner at the hospital where he had been so influential. In 1985 he “saved the life” of Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele who was reporting on the Great Famine when he was struck with appendicitis; Steele later became a key figure in campaigns for Asrat’s release from prison.[3] Asrat’s entry in the Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia informs us that he was founder of the Ethiopian Medical Association (EMA), Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Scotland (FRCS Edinburgh) and FRCS (England), and member of the British Medical Association (BMA), the East African Surgical Association (EASA) and International College of Surgeons (USA).[4]

If Asrat’s proximity to the old regime, together with his high level of education, made him a threat to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) when it seized power in 1992, this was compounded by his founding of the AAPO (which later, in 2002, became the All-Ethiopia People’s Organization). Though it was an Amharic ethnic (or “nationalist”) organisation, founded partly to protect Amhara people from potential retaliatory attacks, “one of the primary political goals of the AAPO [was] the unity of Ethiopia, including Eritrea.”[5] This was a challenge to the EPRDF’s view that Ethiopian “nations” should have the right to self-determination and secession.[6] In 1998, David Steinman wrote in the Washington Post that “Asrat has emerged as Ethiopia’s most popular public figure and its symbol of democracy. He would probably be president of Ethiopia today had not Meles imprisoned him before the election.”[7]

Asrat’s biography shines a light into the modern history of Ethiopia.[8] His father, Ato Woldyeyes Altaye, was one of thousands of Ethiopians killed on 19th February 1937 by the Italian army. In the same year his grandfather, Kegnazmatch Tsige Werede, was deported to Italy. With the end of the Italian occupation in 1941, Asrat was able to move (from Dire Dawa) to Addis Ababa for education. He lived with his grandfather who returned from exile. After finishing top of his class at Taffari Maknonnen School he went to Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt where he studied for 5 years (he was one of only a few Ethiopians able to go abroad for higher education).

Sources on Asrat Woldeyes’ time in Edinburgh are scant. A Scotsman article from 1999 presents him as affable and hardworking.[9] Remembering Asrat at Edinburgh, one of his friends, Dr George McCulloch said “he was very sociable and easy to get along with. He liked a drink but was not in the group that went out every night to get tanked.” He remembered that Asrat got excellent grades and played for the university football team. Apparently Asrat Woldeyes “felt at home in Scotland because it reminded him of the Ethiopian Highlands.”


[1] For the appeal Amnesty International, “Health Concern, Ethiopia: Asrat Woldeyes, aged around 69, medical doctor,”


[accessed 20 September 2016]. For a more detailed account of Amnesty’s work in Ethiopia during this time see Amnesty International, Ethiopia: Accountability past and present: Human rights in transition, 1 April 1995, AFR 25/006/1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9e3a.html [accessed 20 September 2016]

[2] Amnesty International, Further information and follow-up, “Health Concern, Ethiopia: Dr Asrat Woldeyes,” http://www2.amnesty.se/uaonnet.nsf/dfab8d7f58eec102c1257011006466e1/f11bd27b2522746ac12566f300556d21?OpenDocument

[3] Jonathan Steele, “Doctor Defiant”, The Guardian, 28 November 1998.

[4] David H. Shinn and Thomas P. Ofcansky, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia (Scarecrow Press, 2013), 57-58.

[5] Joireman, Sandra Fullerton, ‘Opposition Politics and Ethnicity in Ethiopia: We Will All Go down Together’, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 35 (1997), 387–407, 395.

[6] Ibid.

[7] David E. Steinman, “Ethiopia’s Voice of Democracy,” Washington Post, 3 September 1996. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1996/09/03/ethiopias-voice-of-democracy/f5615981-4dfe-4113-95cd-d944baa34cef/?utm_term=.d50de2e3b3c9[accessed 20 September 2016].

[8] For a brief and unofficial study on Asrat’s life see, Ashu Wasie, “Brief Life History of Professor/Dr. Asrat Woldeyes” at:

https://ethiopianvoices.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/brief-life-history-of-professordr-asrat-woldeyes-by-ashu-wasie/[accessed 20 September 2016].

[9] Thea Jourdan, “Stitching Up Dr Asrat,” The Scotsman, 9 July 1998, 11.

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On November 21, CAS PhD Students, Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, will present their ongoing research on ‘Global and Imperial Histories of the University of Edinburgh’ as part of the Global and Transnational Research Group Seminars within the School of History, Classics, & Archaeology.  The talk will be held on at 5pm in Room 2.36 of the William Robertson Building in the Old Medical School.

In the run-up to the seminar, Postgrads from the Edge is showcasing several alumni biographies they have prepared as part of their research.

Below (and in original format here with additional images) is Henry Mitchell’s biographical profile of the early years and intellectual formation of Dr. Kesaveloo Goonaruthnum Naidoo (better known as Dr. Goonam), a South African activist and 1936 University of Edinburgh graduate.

Part I of this series featured Julius Nyerere.

Dr Goonam – South African Medic, Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Freedom Fighter (1906-1999)

Henry Mitchell (henry.mitchell@ed.ac.uk)


A cigarette-smoking single mother of three, who graduated from Edinburgh in 1936, ran numerous successful medical practices and dressed in the cutting-edge cosmopolitan fashions of the day, Dr Kesaveloo Goonaruthnum Naidoo cut through the male-dominated black politics of 1940s South Africa.[1] A feminist, intellectual and communist – more commonly known simply as Dr Goonam – she led a dynamic, outward-looking Indian nationalism in South Africa alongside fellow Edinburgh graduates Dr Monty Naicker and Dr Yusuf Dadoo. Together, they argued for an Indian nationalism that critically argued for the role of women in the broader black liberation struggle, assured Goonam become the first woman to attain the vice-presidency of the Natal Indian Congress, and galvanised South Africa’s 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign.

Whilst there was initially “great objection to Dr Goonam’s western style of dressing and her outrageous habit of smoking in public”, on her death in 1999, Goonam was commemorated as “the first black woman doctor and freedom fighter”[2]. But Goonam should also be remembered for asserting the central role of women in South African liberation politics, telling a meeting in 1946: “Britain is an example where women sacrifice their hearth and home giving their services for the war. Women in India are in the vanguard of the freedom struggle and their achievements have been remarkable. Nearer home our African women took a militant stand in the Industrial [and Commercial Workers’ Union] under the leadership of Clements Kadalie. The time has now come for our women to throw in our lot with our men to save our homes and our families.”[3]

Born in Durban, 1906, Goonam first engaged with Indian nationalist politics, in Edinburgh, and during the 1930s clearly understood herself as part of a broader, increasingly agitative, Indian Ocean world. Studying alongside a “great melee of young people from all parts of the world – every tinge of black, yellow and white; Indians from India, Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Africans from the vast number of African States as well as Egyptians, Arabs, Chinese and Japanese”, Goonam felt “world came to Scotland!” – but “the most compelling influence was that of the Indian students who were intensely patriotic, highly critical of the British and passionately supportive of Gandhi. It was very easy to feel kinship with them for I, too, was Indian. I was attracted to the firebrands in the college and came to feel a strong affiliation with India”.[4] Having led a ‘closeted’ early life in Durban,

where I had rarely come face to face with the indignities of racism, I understood what it was and responded wholeheartedly to their arguments against the British empire, and their commitment to freedom. Winds from the world blew around me and ideas of justice and injustice, freedom and exploitation began to excite my imagination and awaken my political consciousness. I was attracted to the firebrands in the college and came to feel a strong affiliation with India. I attended political protest meetings and applauded the rhetoric against tyranny and the British empire.[5]

On her return to South Africa in 1936, Goonam increasingly focused on the role of women within the Indian nationalist movement. Challenging the established hierarchy of the Natal Indian Congress alongside Naicker, Goonam engaged in a “battle royale”, in print and in hustings, against more conservative, business-orientated Indian leaders.[7] Her activism ignited by the calls of Indian nationalist women, Cissie Gool and Sarojini Naidu, for gender equality and non-racial unity, Goonam established the Natal branch of the Non-European United Front (NEUF) along with Cassim Amra, DA Seedat, HA Naidoo, P Tsele, S Rubin and Stephen Dhlamini in 1939, but this programme of cooperative action was crippled by the “opposition of the Old Congress”, who held up “its hands in horror” at the programme of the NEUF.[8]

Marginalised by the existing Indian nationalist leadership, Goonam relied heavily on such alternative organisations to rethink Indian politics and challenge the established leadership. In an attempt to “fill the social and intellectual void I experienced since leaving Edinburgh” Goonam engaged in the CPSA, the Anti-Segregation Council, the Left Book Club and the Liberal Studies Group which all “had overlapping memberships.” And these overlapping intellectual groups became key to the Anti-Segregation Council’s take-over of the Natal Indian Congress. Elections in 1945 saw Naicker voted as the new leader, but whilst Goonam “was prominent on the platform and there was a large turnout of women at the rally, we, did not vote on that day as the NIC’s constitution denied that right to women.” At the very first meeting after the election of Naicker, however, “an urgent amendment was made to the archaic constitution, whereby women were given full membership on an equal basis with men.”[9]

Having captured the Natal Indian Congress, in 1946, Edinburgh graduates Goonam, Naicker and Dadoo launched the Passive Resistance Campaign – in which Indian women became a leading political force. In Coolie Doctor: An Autobiography, Goonam reflected: “While the victory bells rang in Europe declaring peace, the South African Parliament declared war on Indians and introduced the Asiatic Land Tenure and Representation Bill, which proposed the segregation of Indians into ghettos…We called it the Ghetto Act and in a leaflet informed our people of its diabolical intent.”[10] Indian women were central to these new struggles. On first day of the campaign, Goonam recalled “Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker, supported by a group of women from the Transvaal, including Zainab Asvat, a young medical student, were our first volunteers. A huge crowd walked with them to the resistance plot. The procession was headed by a large banner which read, ‘We Shall Resist’.”[11] Goonam herself led the march on the third day with Rev Michael Scott of Johannesburg – which resulted in her arrest. When addressing a meeting in Pietermaritzburg after her release, “as we entered the hall, a deafening applause broke out followed by a catchy ditty with the names of Dr Dadoo, Naicker and Goonam….We later learnt that we had unwittingly set the pace for a woman’s liberation movement…wives had defied their husbands and joined us.”[12]

South African politics rapidly shifted in the years 1946-1948 that Goonam spent in and out of prison during the Passive Resistance Campaign, and when she was finally “released from prison to a South Africa that faced the atrocities of apartheid” she felt politically “we had to reorganise and reorient ourselves…the Durban Riots that followed, made it clear to us that never again would we take up the government as Indians alone. Our survival lay in a Non-European United Front.”[13] Whilst Goonam had questioned the ‘Three Doctors Pact’ – signed by Edinburgh alumni Albert Xuma, President of the African National Congress, Monty Naicker, President of the Natal Indian Congress, and Yusuf Dadoo, President of the Transvaal Indian Congress – as ‘premature’ in 1947, by 1949 she saw non-racial solidarity as the only way forward.

Yet Goonam, herself, was also a crucial pioneer woman in South African politics, a ‘fourth’ Edinburgh doctor, leading the forward march of women who were increasingly integral to the broader non-racial Congress Movement – most notably coming to the fore during the protest of 20,000 women through Pretoria in August 1956 – even if the movement remained dominated by male leaders. And, at the same time, she was also a pioneer woman in medicine, working full time and raising a family, through fraught circumstances. Connecting the overlapping politics of Indian Ocean, Southern African and British worlds, in particular the voices of important Indian and British feminists, Goonam demanded democracy and equality of opportunity not only from British imperialists and South African white governments, but also from Indian nationalists and the medical profession.


[1] A. Burton, ‘The Pain of Racism in the making of a ‘Coolie Doctor’, Interventions, 13:2, (2011), p.228.


[2] J. Kindra, ‘Coolie Doctor Succumbs at 92’, The Leader, 25 September 1999, cited p.230 of Burton; Goonam in her autobiography claims that Waradea Abdurahman, the daughter of Dr Abdullah Abdurahman leader of the Cape Town-based African Political Organisation, also studied at Edinburgh, although Glasgow also claims her as an alumni. Lovejoy notes, in the early 20th century whilst there “were universities with good medical schools in South Africa – for white students…black ones had to go foreign countries to qualify. No mention is made in the [1930s] Balfour Report of any native women with a medical degree.” Only in “1940, during World War II, the University of Witwatersrand, up at Johannesburg, was induced to admit qualified African students students to its medical school. Dr Mary Susan Malahlele graduated in August, 1947 – the first woman doctor of native blood to qualify in South Africa…” E.P. Lovejoy, Women Doctors of the World, (New York, 1957), pp.254-258.


[3] Goonam, Coolie Doctor: An Autobiography, (Hyperbad, 1991).


[4] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[5] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[6] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[7] “For some indication of her ferocity on the question of Indian women and Congress membership, see ‘Dr Goonam and the Congress’, Indian Views, 27 May 1938: 8. Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre, file B/G. “p.228


[8] U. Mesthrie, ‘Indian responses in Natal to European non-unity moves, 1927 to 1945’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History 12: 73 (1989), pp. 76; 78 n.52.


[9] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[10] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[11] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[12] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.


[13] Goonam, Coolie Doctor.

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MSc in Africa & International Development student Vanessa Cameron writes about the recent CAS retreat to the Burn.

Group Photo at the Retreat

Group Photo at the Retreat

After a number of essay deadlines, a retreat in the beautiful Angus Highlands was in order for the MSc students of the African Studies and Africa and International Development Programmes. We arrived at The Burn on a decidedly Autumnal Friday evening and explored the ornate Georgian house that is used by universities from across the world as a place to think, discuss and write in one of the most peaceful locations one can find.

We started the evening watching Dear Mandela, a stark portrayal of government policy in South Africa towards slum dwellers and the destruction of people’s homes with little compensation to those affected. It showed clearly the troubling situations many people find themselves in, in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, as their governments grapple with creating the conditions for economic growth and development while ensuring that a person’s rights and livelihoods are not overlooked.

The film, while sombre in its content, was uplifting in demonstrating the abilities of communities to organise and act against the increasing marginalisation that is a too familiar tale in development. It acted as a source of inspiration to what we as students, able to dedicate so much of our time to learning about and understanding these issues, can do ourselves to ensure that we see economic growth and development empower communities rather than marginalise or belittle them.

The next day we awoke to the cold light of day, which in the highlands in October is a vivid mix of orange, red and gold colours.  We set off on a hike around the countryside, all wearing a few too many layers; we certainly lucked out on the weather.

The Burn

The Burn

In the afternoon, CAS lecturers Sarah-Jane and Zoe organised a debate where we split up into small groups arguing several propositions:

  • the importance of the African Union for the African continent;
  • whether celebrities had done more harm than good with regard to poverty reduction;
  • whether John Magufuli’s leadership was positive for democracy and development in Tanzania.

A broad set of topics certainly, but approached and discussed in thought provoking ways by all.

That evening, students Dan & Timo oversaw a fantastic braai – yep, a barbecue outside in the highlands in late October – whisky and wine jackets were at the ready. What song was playing on Spotify became possibly the most contentious issue.

This was followed by a discussion of African artists that had inspired us, showing pictures, video clips and physical pieces of art in a fantastic display of the varied and beautiful art that has come from the continent.  We explained why we had chosen a particular artist and what their art meant to us on a more personal level. Afterwards, we had the chance to show our own artistic skills (or perhaps lack of them) through a zealous game of Pictionary. The Magufuli proposition team from earlier that afternoon translated their debating skills into effective drawing ones (although it was perhaps not a very difficult win…)

Sunday came around in a flash. In our last activity, we had a discussion on the theme of ‘decolonising the academy.’ We looked at two interesting articles that set out some of the issues. This opened up to some very poignant analysis about the power of education at all levels to suppress or empower identities and what this can do to confront existing power structures that in some places have become so ingrained they can almost be invisible.

This led to an interesting dialogue on the moral justifications for taking violent or destructive paths to challenge inequalities that are tangible economically, but also the more abstract inequalities that play out through the unequal or biased representation of different cultures, races and religions; representations that continue to perpetuate marginalisation and feed ignorance in much of the world.

I think this discussion, and the weekend as a whole, gave everyone a lot to think about in terms of the importance of ensuring that within the university and indeed more widely, we are learning from and engaging with a wide array of voices and perspectives that will challenge and inform us in the work and research we do.

We all felt extremely lucky to be able to have this opportunity and would like to thank Sarah-Jane Cooper Knock, Zoe Marks and Anne Azak for organising such an interesting and insightful weekend!


Photos by Simone Hirinchsen

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In two weeks, CAS PhD Students, Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, will present their ongoing research on ‘Global and Imperial Histories of the University of Edinburgh’ as part of the Global and Transnational Research Group Seminars within the School of History, Classics, & Archaeology.  The talk will be held on November 21 at 5pm in Room 2.36 of the William Robertson Building in the Old Medical School.

As part of the project, Henry and Tom have examined prominent African graduates of the University of Edinburgh.

In the run-up to the seminar, Postgrads from the Edge will showcase several alumni bio sketches they have prepared as part of their research.

Below (and in original format here) is Tom Cunningham’s profile of the Edinburgh years of arguably its most famous African alumnus, Julius Nyerere.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere and the University of Edinburgh’s African History

Tom Cunningham (Tom.Cunningham@ed.ac.uk)


Julius Nyerere on the cover of Time Magazine, 13 March 1964


Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922-1999) is perhaps the best known of Edinburgh’s African alumni. As President of Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) he led Tanganyika to Independence in 1961 and served as President of the Republic of Tanzania (the name given to the territory after the 1964 union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar) until his retirement in 1985. He is remembered for his elaboration of “African Socialism,” in particular his concept of ujamaa (loosely, “family” or “socialism”) which informed his plans for the social and economic development of Tanzania. Although the success of his attempt to introduce African Socialism in Tanzania might be questioned, and his methods of implementing his plans are certainly not without controversy, many consider Julius Nyerere one of Edinburgh’s most remarkable alumni. It is often said that he is one of the few African leaders to have voluntarily relinquished power. It is an important claim though it is relative and, depending on context, might insidiously work to embed the assumption that “all African leaders are corrupt.” It does, however, allude to qualities that make Nyerere an admirable historical figure, such as his “modesty” and “humility” – traits that were regularly ascribed to him in contemporary descriptions – as well as his political skill. In addition to this, descriptions of him recall his great intellect, immense work ethic, and stirring charisma.

We get a strong sense of this in the University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Tom Molony’s careful and thorough work on “Mwailimu” (literally “teacher,” Nyerere’s nickname) in Nyerere: The Early Years (James Currey, 2014).[1] In Nyerere Molony provides an extensive description of Nyerere’s time as a student at Edinburgh between 1949 and 1952. Because Nyerere’s political biography is well-known and widely available online and elsewhere, I want to use this “blog” as an opportunity to draw upon a number of significant points that arise in Molony’s book in relation to the University of Edinburgh’s African history. In Nyerere we catch more than a glimpse of the historic engagement between the University of Edinburgh and Africa. This is not to say, though, that this engagement was straightforward nor that it was one that was always wholly “positive.” The ideas and practice of British imperialism loomed large.

Nyerere, the son of a chief and educated at the prestigious Tabora Boys School, came to Britain in 1949 on a (colonial) government scholarship. He was destined for Durham (or according to some accounts, Bristol) to study Biology. He decided on Edinburgh during a meeting at the Colonial Office headquarters in London, when, as Nyerere was explaining he wanted to study an Arts rather than a Science degree, Edinburgh university’s Welfare Officer happened to enter the room and subsequently encouraged Nyerere to choose Scotland’s capital.[2] Had the Welfare Officer gone to the Colonial Office to recruit students? Nyerere’s first place of residence was “Colonial House”, at 2 Palmerston Road, which was at the time also the meeting point for the Afro-Scottish society as well as the Edinburgh African Association.[3]

Nyerere might have been the first person from the region now known as “Tanzania” to study at Edinburgh. He was not, however, the first Tanzanian to study in Britain.[4] Molony names three who studied at English secondary schools in the 1880s, and over half a dozen who were at English Universities in the 1940s. These included Matthew Ramadhani, the first African Tanganyikan to hold a British degree (from the University of Sheffield, in the 1940s). Nor was Nyerere the first African to study at the University of Edinburgh and make a substantial contribution to African politics. Here Nyerere followed in a long line of characters, with James “Africanus” Horton, who graduated in 1859, arguably the first. A cursory list might include early-twentieth-century West Africans such as Richard Akiwande Savage, Bandele Omoniyi, Moses da Rocha, and H.R. Bankole-Bright, as well as black South Africans who were at the forefront of anti-apartheid politics, such as the “three doctors” – Monty Naiker, Yusuf Dadoo, Alfred Xuma – who studied at Edinburgh in the 1920s.

Nyerere was however, part of the first wave of East Africans to study at British universities (West Africans had been coming to Edinburgh since the mid-late nineteenth century, and black Southern Africans from the 1920s). Furthermore, while all of the above-mentioned African Edinburgh alumni studied medicine, Nyerere chose to study for an Arts degree. In so doing, he had to overcome a not insignificant amount of resistance that was in part based on the dubious, racialized, conviction that Africans were better suited to vocational and practical education and did not have the intellectual capacity for subjects such as History, Philosophy, and Political Economy.[5]

Studying these subjects at Edinburgh under the tutelage of such esteemed scholars as Richard Pares C.B.E. (British History), John Macmurray (Moral Philosophy), and Sir Alexander Grey (Political Economy) had a deep influence on Nyerere’s own political thought, Molony shows. In Edinburgh Nyerere also came to know Professor George “Sam” Shepperson, who in 1958 would publish his landmark study Independent African (a sympathetic account of the 1915 Chilembwe Uprising in colonial Nyasaland) and with whom Nyerere remained in correspondence for decades to come. The Scottish philosopher Macmurray, who had held the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Witswatersrand (South Africa) in the early 1920s and continued to travel to Africa as Edinburgh University’s representative on the Inter-University Council for Higher Education in the Colonies, made a particular impression on Nyerere, especially in regard to Christian Socialist thought.[6] But Molony also shows the surprising influence of Anthropology on Nyerere’s intellectual formation, and the influence of the little-known Edinburgh Anthropologist, Ralph Piddington. Through Piddington’s teaching, Nyerere came to read Peasant Life in China – a work that informed Nyerere’s later ideas about socialist development in a “rural” economy.[7] Molony provides much evidence to support the claim of Nyerere’s associate, Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie (Scottish missionary in Nyasaland [Malawi] and anti-apartheid campaigner) that “Edinburgh had a very direct and powerful influence upon his development as a politician.”[8]

At the same time Nyerere, and other African students in Edinburgh, must surely have had an influence on the University and its personnel. Here we might suggest just one example: in addition to associating with Shepperson, Molony mentions that Nyerere was “good friends” with Sydney Collins, a black Jamaican assistant lecturer in Anthropology at the university.[9] Collins would at that time have been undertaking his research on “Moslem, Negro and Chinese” communities in Tyneside, Lancashire and Wales (a study that was later published as Coloured Minorities in Britain in 1957). Indeed it is perhaps worth mentioning as a post-script that as well as emerging as a Centre for African Studies, in the years around 1950 Edinburgh also emerged as a centre for the study of Africans in Britain.[10] Scholars in the University’s department of Social Anthropology, eventually under the direction of Kenneth Little, published a number of studies along these lines such as Little’s own Negroes in Britain (1948), Michael Banton’s The Coloured Quarter (1955) and White and Coloured (1959), Eyo Ndem’s “The Status of Coloured People in Britain” (1957), and Alex T. Carey’s Colonial Students (1965). The relationship between this and the historic status of the city of Edinburgh as “one of the main centres for Africans”[11] in the United Kingdom remains to be explored.

[1] Thomas Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, (Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, NY : James Currey) 2014.

[2] This story is recounted in Thomas Molony, “Nyerere, the Early Years: A Perspective from Professor G. A. Shepperson,” in Tom Molony and Kenneth King (eds.) Nyerere: Student, Teacher, Humanist, Statesman, University of Edinburgh, Centre of African Studies Occasional Papers, 2000, 8.

[3] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 104.

[4] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 101.

[5] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 107-9.

[6] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 149-162.

[7] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 163-179.

[8] Thomas Molony, “Nyerere, the Early Years: A Perspective from Professor G. A. Shepperson,” in Tom Molony and Kenneth King (eds.) Nyerere: Student, Teacher, Humanist, Statesman, University of Edinburgh, Centre of African Studies Occasional Papers, 2000, 14.

[9] Molony, Nyerere: The Early Years, 143.

[10] For some background see: Kenneth Little, ‘Research Report No. 2 Department of Social Anthropology, The University of Edinburgh’, The Sociological Review, 8 (1960), 255–66 http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1960.tb01039.x

[11] Molony Nyerere : The Early Years, 105, quoting JL Keith, “African Students in Great Britain,” African Affairs, 45 (179), 1946, 65-72, 68.

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