« The Red Menace »: Locusts Control, Natural Disasters and International Cooperation in Late Colonial Africa

Throughout the 20th century the African continent was regularly confronted to the invasion of locust swarms, which caused huge damage on agriculture and food supply chains. By focusing on an inter-imperial institution officially established in 1949 – the International Red Locust Control Service (IRLCS) – this paper sheds light on the way locust control became a matter of technical and scientific cooperation between empires. Based in Abercorn, the IRLCS was led by two well-known entomologists, the British A. P. G. Michelmore and the Belgian Hans J. Brédo. Starting from 1941, they launched several inquiries to identify outbreak areas of red locusts in the area surrounding the Rukwa and Mweru Wa Ntipa lakes, at the crossroad of the Belgian Congo, Tanganyika, and Northern Rhodesia. Drawing on missionary and indigenous knowledge as well as on the support of hundreds of African scouts, locust control and eradication programs against this new kind of “red menace” were carried out throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and later after the wave of independence.

This project explores this wide range of activities, stressing the way cross-border cooperation was thought and implemented on the field. It also explores how locust control was connected to a broader reflection on the management of colonial environments, in a context where economic and social development became one of the key features of late colonial policies. More broadly, this case study offers new insights into the role of science in the relegitimation of colonial rule after WWII and reveals how dynamics of competition, collaboration and connectivity between and beyond empires were reframed by the decolonization process.

The first results of this project will be presented at the conference « Articuler histoire sociale et environnementale. Proche-Orient, Maghreb, Afrique, XIXe-XXe siècles », 20 May 2022, Aix-en-Provence. Take a look at the programme.

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