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Time, Space and Security in Global Health Law:
A Critical Perspective from Kenya
Professor of Global Health Law
School of Law and Politics
Global health law has emerged as an area of study and practice over the last fifteen years. Studies of the field to date have largely proceeded on the basis of a diffusionist and functionalist model sees legal initiatives emerging from global ‘centres’, such as Washington or Geneva, in response to new disease threats and a lack of capacity at the ‘periphery’, say in Sierra Leone or southern China. This approach tends to neglect national institutions and contexts as decisive influences on the scope and nature of globalized health governance. Its universalist orientation also obscures the enduring influences of colonial and imperial forms on the relationship between the global north and other regions of the World. This paper proposes an alternative approach capable of accounting for these neglected dimensions. It argues that global health interventions are structured by a range of spatio-temporal figures (or ‘chronotopes’) which have persuasive force owing to their resonance with wider cultural and political forms. The potential of this approach is explored through a review of the 2010 US initiative to support biosecurity at health research laboratories in Kenya and elsewhere in Eastern Africa. Led by (then) Senator Richard Lugar, this initiative responded to the perceived threat that unsecured pathogens could be seized and ‘weaponized’ by international terrorist groups. The Senator and his high-ranking team aimed to secure both laboratory improvements and the required bilateral funding from US authorities. Their arguments were crucially shaped by a combination of spatio-temporal figures including the idea of Africa as a ‘swamp’ of disease, the ‘regression’ of states in the region to failed status, and the ineffectiveness of national borders given the rapid spread of pathogens.