Clarissa Hjalmarsson talks about her inspiration and recent publication in African Studies Review

by Jenny Ridge on 4 September 2019


Clarissa is a graduate medic (CGCM) with a previous degree in Arabic & History from SOAS University of London. She joined the Lucy Cavendish family in 2017. Other than as a committed medical student, she describes herself as a feminist and a runner. We caught up with her on her recently published paper about healthcare in Eritrea.

As a remarkable accomplishment, her paper “Healthcare of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and its Politicization, 1970–1991: Treating the Body Politic” featured in the African Studies Review.

African Studies Review (ASR) is the principal academic and scholarly journal of the African Studies Association (USA). Peer reviewed, it quarterly publishes the highest quality African studies scholarship in all academic disciplines. The ASR encourages scholarly debates across disciplines and among its diverse audience. One of its main objective is also contributing to the growth of African studies in North America, on the African continent, and in a global comparative context. The ASR dates back to 1958 when it was established as the African Studies Bulletin, obtaining its current name in 1970.

Clarissa’s publication explores the health service provided by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) during the Eritrean Liberation War, and its political dimensions and implications.

In greater detail, from her abstract, this work analyses how the EPLF used healthcare to define itself politically against its rivals and to penetrate communities. It aimed to incorporate population groups into the struggle, to inculcate EPLF ideology, and to transform the national community. EPLF practitioners were most successful when they cooperated with existing structures of power. The progressive, dynamic, and transformative nature of the healthcare system is inextricable from the coercion sometimes used to achieve the ideals of the EPLF, and the way in which healthcare became an instrument of biopolitical control.

The inspiration for the topic came to her when attending SOAS:

“At SOAS I was fascinated by a module I was studying at the time - Violence, Identity and Politics in Modern East and Northeast Africa. My dissertation supervisor there, Prof Richard Reid, originally suggested me to look into this topic as it linked with my interest in Medicine. I hugely enjoyed my time at SOAS and its incredible academic community, and I am really happy to see this paper in print” 

Her current tutor Dr Isabel Clare is a Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist, NIHR CLAHRC East of England and Department of Psychiatry University of Cambridge, and a tutor and Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College.

Commenting on her accomplishment, Dr Clare said:

“I’m delighted to say that one of my Tutees, Clarissa Hjalmarsson, has a publication out in African Studies Review, about healthcare in Eritrea. This is a terrific outcome for a student on the CGCM course, with all the demands that that has”.

Definitely, congratulations to Clarissa are in order!

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