Claude Ake (18 February 1939 in Omoku – 7 November 1996) was a Nigerian political scientist. Ake gained a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1966 and during his life he held various academic positions at institutions around the world, including Yale University (United States), University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and University of Port Harcourt (Nigeria). He was active in Nigerian politics and is well known for his work in studies of development and democracy, his overriding concern being Africa. He died in an airplane crash on a flight between Port Harcourt and Lagos in Nigeria.
Claude Ake, a prominent Nigerian political scientist who was a visiting professor at Yale, died November 7 when the Boeing 727 on which he was a passenger crashed into a lagoon in a mangrove jungle 25 miles northeast of Lagos, Nigeria. He was 57, and his permanent home was in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Ake (pronounced AH-kay) was one of 142 people killed when the plane, operated by a local airline, Aviation Development Company, crashed, leaving no survivors. His death was widely believed to have been orchestrated by the then military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha of whom Ake was an uncompromising critic. This is in addition to the fact that Ake was a mentor to slain author, Ken Saro-Wiwa and a brain behind the Ogoni agitations against exploitation.
He was teaching at Yale during the current semester and living in temporary quarters on the Yale campus.
Last year he resigned from a commission appointed by the oil company Royal Dutch/Shell to study the ecology of the oil-producing Niger Delta. He did so to protest the execution of a minority rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Ake was a critic of Shell and the oil industry. He said last year, "In Nigeria, companies like Shell are struggling between greed and fear."
At his death, Ake was also the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Social Science, headquartered in Port Harcourt, which is the capital of Rivers State in southern Nigeria. Ake was born at Omoku, in that state. He had gone to Port Harcourt to hold a meeting at the center and was on his way back to the United States when he died.
The center is a think-tank for social and environmental research. It also played a practical role, functioning in the early 1990s as an honest broker concerning oil revenues and environmental issues between local officials and representatives of several minority groups in the oil-producing area in southeastern Nigeria.
Ake was also a critic of corruption and authoritarian rule in Africa. He wrote in 1985, in an essay on the African state: "Power is everything, and those who control the coercive resources use it freely to promote their interests."
George Bond, the director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University's School of International Public Affairs, said: "He was one of the pre-eminent scholars on African politics and a scholar-activist concerned with the development of Africa. His concern was primarily with the average African and how to improve the nature of his conditions."
Ake founded the center in 1991, with the mission of fostering development from within of social sciences on the African continent. Other tasks set for it were to apply scientific knowledge to actual developmental problems in Africa and to enable Africa to become more of a producer of knowledge.
When the center was founded, its sole supporter was the Ford Foundation. It is now supported by the Ford Foundation and other donors in the United States and elsewhere. Mora McLean, a former Ford Foundation staff member who is now the president of the Manhattan-based African-American Institute, said that Ake was "not just an intellectual, he was a visionary."
At Yale this semester, he taught two political science courses—one, called State in Africa, which was for undergraduates and graduate students, and another one for undergraduates, about aspects of development and the state in Africa.
The chairman of the Council on African Studies at Yale, David E. Apter, who is also the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Comparative Political and Social Development at Yale, said of Ake: "In the very short time he was here, he developed a following among the students, both graduate and undergraduate, which was truly extraordinary. There were graduate students who wept at his death. Everyone was really shocked. It was an amazing testimonial to the man."
Apter said that Ake had "crackling intelligence and an outspokenly severe view of African politics and nevertheless, underneath that, a quality of understanding which was remarkably subtle and complex. But he was able to communicate the complexity in a straightforward manner."
He added that Ake "was not only, in my view, the top African political scientist, but an extraordinarily courageous person. The Nigerian Government was often at odds with him, and nevertheless they recognized his stature."
Ake specialized in political economy, political theory and development studies. He was professor of political economy and dean of the University of Port Harcourt's Faculty of Social Sciences for some years in the 1970s and 1980s after having taught at Columbia University, where he earned his doctorate in 1966. His earlier education was in Nigeria and London.
Before becoming a dean at Port Harcourt, he taught at universities in Canada, Kenya and Tanzania. Afterward, he held a variety of posts, at the African Journal of Political Economy, and on the Social Sciences Council of Nigeria end elsewhere.
His many writings included the book Democracy and Development in Africa (Brookings, 1996).
His survivors included his wife, Anita, and three sons: Mela, Ibra & Brieri all of Rivers State.
Claude Ake Visiting Chair at Uppsala University
In 2003 the Claude Ake Visiting Chair was set up at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, in collaboration with the Nordic Africa Institute, to honour the Ake's memory. The Chair is open to social scientists researching at African universities on issues related to war, peace, conflict resolution, human rights, democracy and development on the African continent.
- Yale University obituary
- PDF (145 KiB)
- In Canada, he taught at Carleton University, in Ottawa.
- Claude Ake Visiting Chair in Uppsala, Sweden