This paper examines the humanitarian politics of responding to Zimbabwe’s catastrophic cholera outbreak of 2008/09, the worst in African history. It demonstrates how humanitarian relief operations are riven by competing claims to leadership, authority and legitimacy but often converge on the ineluctable logic of saving lives – ‘the salvation agenda’. Nevertheless, the paper contends that the exigency of saving lives in this case did not, and could not, address the background political and socio-economic conditions that led to the epidemic. Thus, the paper explores the possibilities, pitfalls and paradoxes of the salvation agenda and mounts a novel critique of how the humanitarian industrial complex operates in Africa.
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