Several years later, researching in northwest Tanzania, villages were populated predominantly by children and the elderly.
Informants often showed me around their gardens so that I could witness their loss, made material by the crosses in the family graveyard, where adult child after adult child had been buried with depressing regularity.
That Ankole’s cultivators were the most pro-natalist of all groups examined, while Ankole pastoralists imposed the strictest controls on reproduction, reinforced the sense that assumptions of African homogeneity are profoundly misplaced.
By the early 1980s, attitudes and practices across the region had grown more similar, but the route that each society took to this end point over the preceding eight decades varied radically, shaped by local patterns of economic development, gender relations, sex-working, and socializing.
Driving into Kampala I passed dozens of open-air carpenter’s shops whose primary product was coffins, stacked high.
A number of pre-arranged meetings failed to materialise, as individuals absented themselves to attend funerals.
I decided to focus on the borderland between Tanzania and Uganda partly because this was where Africa’s first mass AIDS epidemic had emerged and subsequently where dramatic falls in infection rates first occurred.
This region is also home to three neighbouring societies, Ankole, Buganda and, Buhaya, which are culturally very alike.
The implication that the sexual patterns which shaped HIV were locally distinct, not recently established, and related to reproductive change structured my research.
And how is the history of HIV understood within African communities?
To answer these questions, I conducted a wide range of interviews and focus groups with community and faith leaders, commercial sex workers, elders, and healers.
Meanwhile, however, the virus had spread rapidly through southern African societies, infecting 37% of adults in Botswana at the height of the epidemic in that country.
In 2014, around 25.5 million people in Africa were living with HIV, and approximately 790,000 had died of HIV-related causes.
My initial reading of the scholarship around the emergence of HIV in East Africa indicated that there were two dominant narratives, profoundly different in detail, but both largely ahistorical in nature.