In Memoriam Stephen Ellis, 1953-2015

Stephen EllisWe are very sad to report that Prof. Stephen Ellis died on 29 July 2015. Stephen had leukemia, a disease that first manifested itself three years ago, and was treated effectively until four weeks ago. With great admiration we have seen how Stephen coped with his illness, and until very recently worked on a book manuscript about his most recent research, a history of Nigerian organized crime, which is virtually ready. Many obituaries have been published by colleagues all over the world. Read them here. If you wish to share your feelings, please post a message on the online book of condolence or send a mail to the ASC ( and/or to Stephen's wife Gerrie ter Haar (

Stephen Ellis was born in Nottingham, Great Britain on June 13, 1953. He studied modern history at the University of Oxford and did his doctoral exam there in 1981. He studied a revolt in Madagascar in the late 1890s, that was published by Cambridge University Press (the ‘Rising of the Red Shawls’, in 1985). Later he published a book about Madagascar in French (‘Un Complot à Madagascar’, 1990, Karthala). In 1979-1980 he had worked as a lecturer at the University of Madagascar, but that was not his first time in Africa: when he was eighteen years old he worked as a teacher in Douala, Cameroon.  Between 1982 and 1986 he was head of the African sub-region at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, followed by a position as Editor for the Africa Confidential newsletter. In 1991-1994 Stephen became the General Secretary and later Director of the African Studies Centre in Leiden, followed by an assignment for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for the Global Coalition for Africa; it resulted in his book ‘Africa Now’, published in 1996) and a position as senior researcher at the ASC until now. He was also appointed Desmond Tutu Professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam from 2008 onwards for two days per week.

Stephen Ellis is the ASC’s most prominent scholar, and one of the key researchers in African Studies in the world. The library of the ASC has 82 of his publications. Many of those publications deal with recent or historical political developments in Africa or, often together with Gerrie, about religion in Africa. He wrote most extensively about South Africa, Madagascar, Liberia and Nigeria, but also about Togo, Zambia, and Sierra Leone. Stephen Ellis’ personal page at Google Scholar shows that 4,700 colleagues cited his many publications so far. His most popular book is ‘The Criminalization of the State in Africa’, which he wrote together with Jean-François Bayart and Béatrice Hibou and which was published in 1999 (after a French version that was published two years earlier). Other books that became famous were ‘The Mask of Anarchy: the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war’ (2001), ‘Worlds of power: Religious thought and political practice in Africa’ (together with Gerrie ter Haar, 2004) and ‘Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile’ (together with Tsepo Sechaba, 1992). Among his recent publications are: ‘External Mission: the ANC in exile, 1960-1990’ (2013), ‘Season of rains: Africa in the world’ (2012; there is also a version in Dutch, ‘Het Regenseizoen’) and ‘West Africa's international drug trade’ (2009).

The cremation took place on Wednesday 5 August.

With sadness in our heart,

Ton Dietz, on behalf of the African Studies Centre and the ASC Community

Stephen’s wife Gerrie ter Haar, Honorary Fellow of the ASC, has asked us to publish the speech she gave at the cremation.

You may also want to read Ton Dietz' speech and the speech delivered by Ton Salman of VU University Amsterdam.

Obituaries published elsewhere: