Event Report: "Africa in Front of Us" Seminar Series No. 11 "Colonial Madness: A Prologue for Considering Psychiatry in Modern Africa"

published: 2015-10-20

On June 18, 2015 (Thu.) the eleventh seminar of the “Africa in Front of Us” series organized by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi at Ritsumeikan University was held at the 3rd Study Group Room of the Gakujikan Hall, Kinugasa Campus. The seminar was cohosted by the Kansai Branch of Japan Association for African Studies and enjoyed participation of about 30 people from both within and outside the university.

The lecturer of the seminar was Prof. Takehiko Ochiai of Ryukoku University who gave a lecture entitled “Colonial Madness: A Prologue for Considering Psychiatry in Modern Africa”.

Illustrating his lecture with many examples, Prof. Ochiai spoke about the social, cultural, and historical aspects of the foundations, upon which community psychiatry of the African people has been erected. First of all, he introduced three people who were deeply involved with African psychiatry at the time. The first is John Colin D. Carothers, who advanced racially discriminatory “ethnopsychiatry”. The second is Frantz Fanon, who criticized psychiatry stating that it has turned into one of the tools of the colonial rule and made a point that instead of psychiatry dominating mental illnesses, what we need is to liberate peoples of the colonies from the colonial violence. The third is Thomas Lambo, who strove to create an original system of treatment through integration of modern psychiatry and traditional medical care. The lecturer then showed that the practices and endeavors of these three figures, who each left a mark in the field of psychiatry in Africa, embodied concepts characteristic of the colonial age. Prof. Ochiai then showed that the actual diagnostics and treatments offered by psychiatry at the time actually contained a mixture of differing points of view regarding colonialism and that records clearly show a difference in diagnostic results and treatment methods offered to the white population as compared to what was provided to the black. Next, the lecturer described the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the so-called “asylums”, facilities for people with mental illnesses, which were built in African colonies of the United Kingdom modeled after such institutions in the suzerain state, Great Britain, and made a point that the asylums of the colonial age were not replicas of such facilities in the suzerain state, but something of a different nature, reflecting a kind of imperialistic situation. Prof. Ochiai pointed out that the asylums established during the colonial age are still functioning as main mental health institutions in many African countries today, which means that the system of psychiatric medicine of today's Africa is, in fact, bequeathed from the colonial past. Lastly, as a final note of the lecture and as a clue for understanding the problems of the present day Africa's psychiatric medicine, Prof. Ochiai noted the problem of drug dependence and touched on its close relationship with psychiatry.

During the questions and answers session, a lively discussion ensued regarding such issues as stigma that can be interpreted as a system bequeathed from the colonial past and differences between thoughts of psychiatrists and views toward psychiatry by the general public at the time. The seminar became an invaluable opportunity for solving the puzzles of African psychiatry as it was in the colonial times, which in turn gives us important clues to understand the present African psychiatry, and also to redefine psychological disorders, which with psychiatry are two sides of the same coin. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Prof. Takehiko Ochiai who gave the lecture and all those who attended the seminar.

(The original report in Japanese is prepared by Ms. Eri Koda, student of the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University. It is translated into English by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University.)