Claude Ake (18 February 1939– 7 November 1996) was a Nigerian political scientist. Ake (pronounced AH-kay) died on flight 86 between Port Harcourt and Lagos in Nigeria. He 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 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. His permanent home was in Port Harcourt. His survivors included his wife, Anita, and three sons: Mela, Ibra & Brieri, all of whom live in Rivers State.
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."
David E. Apter of 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 specialised 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.
At Yale, he taught two political science courses—one, called State in Africa, which was for undergraduates and graduate students, and another for undergraduates, about aspects of development and the state in Africa. While teaching at Yale he lived in temporary quarters on the Yale campus.
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, on the Social Sciences Council of Nigeria, and elsewhere.
Later Life and Death
Ake 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 is quoted as saying, "In Nigeria, companies like Shell are struggling between greed and fear."]
In 1991 Ake founded and became the director of the Center for Advanced Social Science, headquartered in Port Harcourt. 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. 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."
Ake was one of 142 people killed when the plane, operated by a local airline, Aviation Development Company (ADC Airlines), 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.
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 honor 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.