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Matthew Pflaum is a MsC student in Africa & International Development.  He has been an active force on campus, founding the Africa Society.  Here he writes about a student initiative to generate greater dialogue around elections on the continent.

On the evening of 7th December, around thirty University of Edinburgh students met to explore and follow the Ghanaian election being held that day.

The idea emerged when groups of students and faculty stayed up late to closely follow the US elections across the campus and city – in bars, offices, and classrooms. We wanted to create similar opportunities to collectively follow African elections, starting with the Ghanaian elections, which were scheduled for just a month later . Having successfully received funding from the Global Justice Academy and the Global Development Academy, we put together a Facebook Group for the event and interest spread. 

The idea did not arise in a vacuum, but rather was part of a broader move to decolonize the study of politics. At the University of Edinburgh, we are fortunate to have regular Africa-focused events and activities. Alongside lectures, seminars, roundtable discussions, we have events like G-connect, in which a country is celebrated through food, dancing, music, and events, serves to educate and inform people about different countries and cultures. Our event was a valuable addition to this mix.

The event began around five in the evening in the first-floor practice suite in the Chrystal MacMillan Building of the University. The evening began with an introduction by Joseph Yaw Kissi, a Ghanaian student studying international development. Joseph provided an insightful overview of current politics in the country, including summaries of the major parties, candidates, and platforms. This gave a good foundation and context for the subsequent discussions and lectures.

Following Joseph’s introduction, we had lectures and question/answer sessions with two Ghanaian Professors, Dr. John Osae-Kwapong of the University of Findlay and Dr. Isaac Owusu-Mensah of the University of Ghana. They provided very important and interesting information and data from their own research and expertise, explaining regional and geographic voting trends. Throughout each lecture, students asked questions and received excellent responses from the Professors. We learned, for example, that the issue of gender has not emerged as a pivotal and critical topic during the election. We also learned that regional and global geopolitics remain lower priorities than issues like jobs, unemployment, and economics in Ghanaian elections.

Throughout the event, we feasted on the delicious food prepared by fellow students (special thanks and gratitude to Joseph Yaw Kissi, Nina Amoah-Buabeng, Micaela Opoku-Mensah, Dorcas Amoh-Mensah, and everybody else) who generously volunteered to cook despite the burden of final papers. The food they spent all day preparing – Jollof, rice, fried chicken, eggs, salad, and more – was delicious.

Thanks to this event we learned much about Ghana’s politics, culture, and history. More importantly, we were left with questions that will provoke greater interest in the country. The event served to stimulate discussion and engagement. The following day we were greeted with news that the opposition NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo won the election. Some people rejoiced at these results, while others lamented them. The new President has promised to serve and represent all Ghanaians in achieving political and economic progress, and Ghanaians and the rest of the world will surely follow ensuing developments closely.


Juliette Wairimu Kariuki is about to enter her second year of PhD studies at CAS.  Her thesis examines informal food provisioning systems in Nairobi, Kenya.  In this post she reflects on her preliminary fieldwork in Nairobi and the unexpected ‘learning moments’ it presented.


Juliette conducting research

Conducting preliminary field research was an exploratory research journey. I arrived in Kenya with no strict agenda or preconceived ideas. I went to learn and observe what is happening – what people are saying and doing about my topic of interest, urban food provisioning.  By doing this I stumbled upon realities that I hadn’t previously considered.

Informed by my Research in Africa module here at Edinburgh as well as the experience I gained as a research practitioner during my MSc degree at UCL (pictured above in MeK’ele Tigray Ethiopia), going to the field was different this time. I felt more prepared and aware of the advantages of doing fieldwork as well as the complications that one may expect to face in the field.

With this little bit of experience, I tried to be aware of my position and the dangers of having a ‘researcher as knower’ perspective. To aid me in this process, I made sure to pack a field journal to use as part of my journey, taking the time to record observations whilst on the matatu (public bus) or in the evenings after Chai (tea).

In my journal, I recorded notes based on any interactions and observations I had in the day (no-matter how small or seemingly unimportant). On the basis of these daily notes I could reflect and ask myself why did the conversations or observations go the way they did?

These accumulated moments of reflection enabled me to change what or who I was observing the following day, or even the location of my observations. Since returning from my preliminary research in Kenya, I have been asked by fellow researchers and acquaintances, “how was your preliminary fieldwork?” Each time, I find myself answering the question slightly differently, drawing on a different experience/note from my journal. Each answer I give highlights the many experiences one encounters in the field, from the creation of new research relationships, to the opportunity to explore new research narratives and questions.

At this moment, as I attempt to recollect the many experiences of my research, I find myself drawn two particular words, ‘learning moments’.  Learning moments, are instances where you can make connections between the existing complex contexts. For me, these moments helped connect the theory to the local context.

These new connections were not necessarily in line with what I had read.  In my case, these connections revealed my lack of knowledge regarding the constraints of my location, scope, and my research design. These moments of awareness, or reflection also pointed towards the lack of available data, underscoring the necessity of preliminary fieldwork to uncover these gaps in data. My reflections and learned knowledge were only possible through my improved understanding of the context of my research. In short, these learning moments involve the connections between what you think you know and the reality of what you don’t know.

To give a concrete example of a learning moments – when I first began my preliminary fieldwork, I made sure to keep my mind open to every interaction.  I paid particular attention to the natural moments of exchange that happened surrounding food. These exchanges occurred regularly throughout the day; they ranged from the conversations we had between the owners and clients of the corner juice stall, visitors to an open-air-carwash, vendors at the night markets, to the conversations with the lady making lunch for contractors building a four story apartment block.

What became clear in these learning moments is that the culture of food was much more than what I had read. I discovered different types of food served different purposes in different areas. It was only through reflection (going back to my diary notes) that my fieldwork began to take shape. I hadn’t realised the variation of available foods sold along specific streets, that both raw and cooked foods are sold by these vendors, some specialising in meat and others in both vegetables and fresh meat. I saw the extent to which each vendor used their unique relationships with their clients. I also began to take note of the role of the informal food system, the dynamics of rural assemblers and purchasing agents, and rural-urban wholesalers and brokers.

These learning moments were important because they added a deeper narrative to my research, a narrative I couldn’t have found in the literature. Instead, paying attention to the learning moments assisted me in reaching a more localised understanding of the lived experiences of inhabitants of Nairobi.

These learning moments prevented me from looking at the research field as a site of a problem that need fixing. Rather, the field became a learning experience, allowing me the space to discover new connections between certain themes I had once dismissed as well as to question my own positionality and assumptions. Although frustrating at times, being open to change, allowing your ideas and topic to be challenged and evolve is essential.

Preliminary fieldwork is definitely a step in the right direction if you would like to engage in research that will truly contribute to poverty reduction development agendas that are reflective of the community and are practical and sustainable.


Githurai Estate, Nairobi, Kenya.  A popular street market for food and other goods.

Ismaila Ceesay, who has just finished his PhD at CAS and is currently a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of the Gambia has written a piece on the recent unexpected political changes in that country.  Continue reading below or enjoy in the original format over at Africa at LSE.

Nestled inside Senegal like a ‘hotdog in a roll’, the Gambia is surrounded on all sides by its larger neighbour, except for its short Atlantic coastline. A micro-state, the Gambia is considered to be one of mainland Africa’s smallest and ‘least important countries’ with no strategic resources. However, since gaining independence from Britain in February 1965, the country has make up for its ‘insignificant status’ by demonstrating time and again its propensity to defy existing conventional political norms in the African continent.

In the immediate aftermath of its creation as an independent sovereign state, the Gambia’s largely poor colonial legacy, combined with being poorly endowed with strategic natural and human capital resources, triggered a wave of pessimism among observers of the post-colonial African theatre. Amid the independence euphoria, some sceptics were apprehensive about the country’s survivability and long-term viability as an independent state, a sentiment aptly expressed by Berkeley Rice’s proclamation of ‘the birth of an improbable nation’, suggesting that the ex-British colony could not exist as an independent reality, and that the Gambia might sooner or later be co-opted by Senegal.

Despite all the gloomy forecasts, the Gambia survived as an independent nation. Except for a brief period in July 1981 when a group of leftist rebels made a failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Dawda Jawara and replace it with what they proclaimed to be a “dictatorship of the proletariat” under the leadership of the Libya-trained Marxist-Leninist Kukoi Samba Sanyang, the Gambia became a symbol of peace and stability in an unstable African sub-region. In addition, the country was distinguished as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s longest standing multi-party democracies. This was perceived to be an exception on a continent where military dictators held sway and one-party rule and authoritarianism the norm, making the country a deviant case.

The Gambia was once again perceived as a deviant case when a military coup in July 1994, led by a 29-year-old lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, toppled the Jawara government thereby defying the post-1989 sub-Saharan African trend away from authoritarianism towards pluralism and multi-party politics. This sweep of democratic impulses through Africa, also referred to as ‘Africa’s springtime’, the ‘second independence’ or ‘third-wave democratization’, saw mass movements against authoritarian rule by a resurgent civil society demanding the end of one-party dictatorships and the liberalisation of political spaces.

The recently-concluded elections in the Gambia and its political ramifications, to some extent, is reminiscent of political earthquakes of the same magnitude as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991 and the end of Apartheid rule in South Africa in 1994. The December 1 2016 polls saw the defeat of incumbent strong man Yahya Jammeh by a united coalition in an election whose outcome defied logic that incumbents in Africa hardly lose elections and took many by surprise. What was more unfathomable was Jammeh’s decision to concede defeat to Adama Barrow, the coalition candidate, even before all the results were published. It has always been the belief that dictators of Jammeh’s ilk will never preside over elections that they know they will lose or easily concede defeat without first attempting to subvert the will of the people.

In a continent where the few standing brutal ‘dictators-cum-big men’ of the likes of Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Omar Al Bashir, Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, José Eduardo dos Santos, Idriss Deby, Joseph Kabila and Pierre Nkurunziza are using a combination of tactics to consolidate their grip on power and extend their already lengthy rule, the Gambia, once again, became a deviant case by democratically voting out an eccentric dictator who had promised to rule for a ‘billion years’ and who has consolidated his 22-year rule through a potent mix of fear, intimidation and mysticism. In its show of deviance, what is happening in the Gambia is the first time in post-colonial Africa’s political history that a ‘military-turned-civilian’ dictator, whose rule has been so entrenched, has conceded defeat in a generally free and fair elections and is ready to peacefully hand over power.

Jammeh’s defeat in the polls is not only due to a unified and emboldened opposition, a massive social media campaign by Gambian dissidents in the Diaspora as well as a disgruntled and youthful population. It is also the result of Jammeh’s attempts, partly because of complacency, to minimally reform the electoral system by introducing ‘on the spot counting’. The transparent and efficient nature of this system inhibited any attempts of electoral malpractice that would have led to a different outcome. I could not agree more with the French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville’s assertion that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.

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.


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




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.

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.