CELEBRATION OF A LIFE WELL SPENT:                             CLAUDE AKE - 1939 - 1996                                    ...
last respect - Richard Sklar and Edmund Keller from UCLA, Larry Diamond fromHoover Institution, Jane Guyer of Northwestern...
slippery slope, he chose to remain an academic activist outside the walls of university,setting up the Centre for Advanced...
science, his scholarship bore no malice as he always engaged the same westernscholars and institutions on their own turf. ...
been shortchanged by this consistent advocate of empowerment for the ordinrypeople. All who gathered in San Francisco this...
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Celebration of a life well spent claude ake (1939-1996)

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Celebration of a life well spent claude ake (1939-1996)

  1. 1. CELEBRATION OF A LIFE WELL SPENT: CLAUDE AKE - 1939 - 1996 by Kayode FayemiAs I sat in the parked Hyatt Regency Hotel hall in San Francisco late Novemberlistening to old associates, former students, friends and well wishers pay tribute to thispublic intellectual par excellence, I still found it hard to believe Professor Claude Akewas indeed gone! Although I received the news barely hours after the ADC Flight 086mishap occurred in the Lagos lagoon, I dismissed it then, even telling those whocalled to corroborate the “rumour” that nothing was confirmed. I suppose, at thetime, I had a premonition that the news can’t be false, but was in deliberate denial.Thus, I refused to call friends both in Nigeria and abroad who were in a position toshed more light on the “rumour”. I did not want to confront the news in case it wastrue, barely months after losing Abdulrahman Babu, another public intellectual andsage with whom Ake shared a lot in common. Why, I ruminated, do bad thingshappen to good people? Why must we always lose our brightest and best to thepervasive evil machinations stalking Africa. Why, why, why? As the eulogies poured in at this memorial service organised by the AfricanStudies Association at its annual meeting where Ake was billed to Chair a panel onEconomic Policy and Its Political Consequences in Africa, the palpable sense ofdespair and sadness turned into a celebration of life. The tributes came from far andnear, remarking Ake’s internationalism, his obsession with clarity of thought inpolitical theory, his quest for institution building and his refusal to be a cloisteredacademic and suffer fools gladly. From the old school of modernisation theory cametribute from David Apter whom Ake once described as a “peddlar of Aristotelianliberalism” in his Social Science as Imperialism. He gracefully remarked his brilliancein a eulogy also published in The New York Times, the Dares Salaam School was ablyrepresented by Joel Barkan now in Iowa University, the Pan Africanist scholars left itto Ake’s old colleague in CODESRIA, Thandika Mkandawire to attempt anestimation of this huge loss to African scholarship. Others were there too to pay their 1
  2. 2. last respect - Richard Sklar and Edmund Keller from UCLA, Larry Diamond fromHoover Institution, Jane Guyer of Northwestern who had the now historical role ofbeing the last person to present Ake to a US audience, Judith Byfield from Dartmouth,Richard Joseph of Emory University, Bernard Magubane of South Africa and MoraMaclean of the African-American Institute. Also present were several colleagues from Nigeria’s troubled and depletedcitadels of academic knowledge. History exemplar, JFA Ade Ajayi from IbadanUniversity, Toyin Falola now at the University of Texas (who organised thememorial), Julius Ihonvbere also of Texas University (who directed the evening),Pade Badru from Louisville University, Femi Taiwo from Loyola University inChicago, Ibrahim Abdalla from Illinois University, Pat Williams from YorkUniversity in Canada, Folabo Ajayi-Soyinka from Kansas University, Biodun Jeyifoof Cornell and Bayo Olukoshi from the Nordiska African Institute in Sweden amongseveral others. Even those who could not make it down to San Francisco sent words -Ifi Amadiume sent a poem from Dartmouth College, Mahmoud Mamdani sent wordsfrom his new base in South Africa, his old colleagues at the Brookings Institution,Washington who published his 1996 book, Democracy and Development, fellowteachers at Carleton University in Canada and his former editor at Zed Press, RobertMolteino, all sent their heartfelt condolences. Claude Ake deserved no less. An accomplished scholar, exceptional teacher,pan-africanist ideologue, democracy activist and military scourge, Professor Ake wassupremely unstuffy and approachable, irreverent and impatient of protocol, selfeffacing and almost shy to a fault. He was infectiously witty, and at the same timedeeply caring about his environment. Not for him the lazy intellectualism of cloisteredacademics. He was very much at home writing in Tell Magazine, The LagosGuardian and TheNews as he was espousing political theory in the Journal ofDemocracy, World Politics, Africa Journal of Political Economy and AmericanPolitical Science Review. His intellect remained public property to the very last,exemplified by his refusal to suffer Nigeria’s military fools and their multi-nationalcollaborators gladly in the wake of the Ogoni crisis. Even when prestigiousuniversities abroad repeatedly dangled huge offers to get him out of Nigeria since hereturned to the country in 1977, Professor Ake remained totally committed to Nigeria,except for occasional forays into intellectual gatherings abroad or short termfellowships. Rather than leave when the Nigerian university system started on a 2
  3. 3. slippery slope, he chose to remain an academic activist outside the walls of university,setting up the Centre for Advanced Social Sciences [CASS] in Port Harcourt. Born in Omoku, Rivers State on February 18, 1939, Claude Ake attendedKings College, Lagos and then Columbia University, New York where hedistinguished himself with his dissertation on A Theory of Political Integration, laterpublished in 1967 by Dorset Press. Even at that young stage of his academic career,he broke new grounds and refused to be boxed into the cage of empiricism expectedof developing world scholars. He became an Assistant Professor at Columbia aftergraduation and went on to Carleton University in Canada as a Professor of PoliticalEconomy from 1969 to 1977 when he returned home as Professor of Political Scienceand Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Port Harcourt. In between his timeat Carleton and his arrival in Port Harcourt, Claude Ake was a visiting professor at theUniversities of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. At Dar, he was verymuch involved in the Dar-es-Salaam debates on State, Class and Imperialism ever socritical of the tyranny of borrowed paradigms in social science research. As an institution builder, Professor Ake was instrumental to the establishmentof several research bodies and associations in Africa. He was Research Director,African Association of Political Science, President of the Nigerian Political ScienceAssociation [NPSA] 1980-82; President of the Council for Development and SocialScience Research in Africa [CODESRIA], 1985-1988, member, International SocialCouncil, UNESCO, member, Board of Directors, Institute of Labour Studies, Geneva,Advisory Board of the World Bank among others. He was the recipient of Nigeria’shighest academic accolade, the National Merit Award in 1992 Even as his ideas evolved with maturity, he never abandoned the goals ofsocialist Africa even when coventional wisdom swung heavily against it. His enduringlegacy remained his courage of conviction and the clarity of his scholarship, throughwhich he brilliantly and lucidly laid out the scientific necessity of Socialist Africa. Inseveral of his writings, particularly Revolutionary Pressures in Africa (Zed Press,1978) and Social Science as Imperialism: The Theory of Political Development(Ibadaan University Press, 1979), arguably his magnum opus, Professor Ake exposedand attacked the imperialism of western social science as a pernicious and yet subtleform of domination masquerading as scientific knowledge. He denounced so calledscientific objectivity of the social sciences as a screen for the assiduous pursuit ofparticularistic interests. But even as he remained cosistently critical of western social 3
  4. 4. science, his scholarship bore no malice as he always engaged the same westernscholars and institutions on their own turf. Professor Ake never revelled in the we nogo gree politics of exhibitionism. He repeatedly insisted on the need for democracy tobe relevant to the masses of African workers and peasants in order to liberatethemselves from the scourges of capitalist exploitation, orchestrated by neo-liberalparadigms and neo-colonial institutions. Despite his fierce opposition to the WorldBank and IMF inspired Structural Adjustment Policies on the continent, he went on toserve on the World Bank Advisory Board as a way of engaging those who had foistedthese policies on the continent. It is perhaps a tribute to the work he and others did inthis respect that the Bank finally admitted to the failures of SAP. Ake exhibited total commitment to democratic ideals. As much as herecognised the inability of the average African politician especially in his troubledhomeland, he never used their inability to ensure an organised peoples’ action aimedat ensuring socialist democracy and transformation as an excuse for justifying militaryintervention as several other colleagues of his did unashamedly. Indeed, at a timemany other political science professors dragged the profession to the mud by acting assubservient think-tanks for perpetuating military domination, Ake stood respectablyclear of such machinations and was a huge source of hope and inspiration to youngeracademics. Of course, Professor Ake was not without his own foibles. He washuman, after all. Many who knew him remarked his less than organised lifestylecharacterised by a penchant for missing his flights or taking the worng plane. Manyin the hall wished he had done once again exhibited this defect and miss the flightfrom Port Harcourt to Lagos. Some have also criticised him for allowing the militaryregime headed by Babangida to support his Centre with government funds in 1991,but not even those who raised these concerns never described Ake a flagwaver for theregime, or any regime at all. In short, his foibles were infinitesimal in comparison tohis many attributes. The greatest tribute we can pay this African exemplar is to continue in hisways by building institutions and structures that will serve the purpose of our time andbeyond. It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who once said, “Not to participate in themajor events of one’s time is not to have lived”. Ake not only participated in themajor events of his time, he charted and shaped the course of many events through hisscholarship and activism. Africa has lost a gem, African studies and Political theoryhave lost one of the brightest in firmament. The democratic struggle in Nigeria has 4
  5. 5. been shortchanged by this consistent advocate of empowerment for the ordinrypeople. All who gathered in San Francisco this Saturday evening knew we will be thepoorer for it. 5

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