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Cannabis and tobacco have longstanding roles in African societies. Despite botanical and pharmacological dissimilarities, it is worthwhile to consider tobacco and cannabis together because they have been for centuries the most commonly and widely smoked drug plants. Cannabis, the source of marijuana and hashish, was introduced to eastern Africa from southern Asia, and dispersed widely within Africa mostly after 1500. In sub-Saharan Africa, cannabis was taken into ethnobotanies that included pipe smoking, a practice invented in Africa; in Asia, it had been consumed orally. Smoking significantly changes the drug pharmacologically, and the African innovation of smoking cannabis initiated the now-global practice. Africans developed diverse cultures of cannabis use, including Central African practices that circulated widely in the Atlantic world via slave trading. Tobacco was introduced to Africa from the Americas in the late 1500s. It gained rapid, widespread popularity, and Africans developed distinctive modes of tobacco production and use. Primary sources on these plants are predominantly from European observers, which limits historical knowledge because Europeans strongly favored tobacco and were mostly ignorant or disdainful of African cannabis uses. Both plants have for centuries been important subsistence crops. Tobacco was traded across the continent beginning in the 1600s; cannabis was less valuable but widely exchanged by the same century, and probably earlier. Both plants became cash crops under colonial regimes. Tobacco helped sustain mercantilist and slave-trade economies, became a focus of colonial and postcolonial economic development efforts, and remains economically important. Cannabis was outlawed across most of the continent by 1920. Africans resisted its prohibition, and cannabis production remains economically significant despite its continued illegality.

Article

Krista Johnson

Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV, with an estimated 25.7 million HIV-positive people in Africa by the end of 2018. This figure represents over two-thirds of infected people globally. African women and girls represent a majority of those infected, and Africa is home to three-fourths of all HIV-infected women and girls. Across African countries, there are differences in the sizes and trajectories of HIV epidemics. Southern Africa has the worst epidemic, with the numbers infected still rising in some countries. Prompting a development and governance crisis in many southern African countries, HIV prevalence rates are as high as 20 percent of the adult population in some countries and nearing 50 percent of the adult population in certain communities. East Africa too has been hit hard by HIV, leading to high mortality and morbidity rates in that region as well. In most of West and North Africa, there has been limited spread of HIV, with most countries in these regions having HIV prevalence rates of less than 3 percent. Africa’s encounter with HIV and AIDS began before it was first identified as a medical condition early in the 1980s. However, it was not recognized as an epidemic in most parts of Africa until much later. Framed largely as a public health crisis rather than a developmental one, much of the world’s focus on the AIDS pandemic in Africa has centered on access to treatment, and developing effective prevention strategies that have principally focused on behavior change practices for targeted populations. However, the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa did not emerge in a vacuum. It is the consequence of longer historical processes such as massive demographic growth, urbanization, and social change, as well as global inequalities and historical legacies of colonialism and imperialism. In this regard, a historical account of HIV in Africa offers an important corrective to the dominant biomedical response to AIDS in Africa. It is important to take note of longer historical processes that have shaped both the virus and the human response to it.