Health and hierarchy: mobility and desire in East African capacity building

Training and capacity building represents an important axis of connection across distant spaces and unlike times. This paper explores circuits of exchange of capacity between Denmark and East Africa reflecting on the recent past of global health and on its future.

Global health programmes rely on a reserve pool of local auxiliary labour: technicians, laboratory assistants, and public health workers to accomplish their goals. Northern institutions which attempt to foster and build scientific capacity in Southern states try to anticipate the coming scientific economy as well as to produce partnerships which are equitable and sustainable. Training and capacity building therefore represents an important axis of connection across distant spaces and unlike times.

This paper tracks across time, between colonial and postcolonial institutions and European and African contexts in order to understand how flows of ‘capacity’ shape the skills and desires of African scientists and technicians and how capacities in science are gained, lived, and lost, over time. Biographical research with European scientists in Denmark and African scientists and technicians in Kenya and Tanzania reveals how global health is shaped in context by its recent pasts. This research also draws attention to the ways in which skill and capacity come together and cohere over the line of a life, showing how abstractions like global and local scientific economies shape the possibilities for a just global health movement.

Branwyn Poleykett

Presented at MAGic2015: Anthropology and Global Health: interrogating theory, policy and practice, European Association of Social Anthropologists & Royal Anthropological Institute, University of Sussex. 10 September 2015.

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