Historian Stephen Ellis’s work celebrated

This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime, the last book of the late historian, Stephen Ellis, has recently been launched in Bloemfontein.

The University of the Free State Library, with the Department of Political Studies and Governance, recently launched a book titled This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime by Stephen Ellis.
The launch was also a commemorative meeting to honour Ellis, who died in July 2015.
Professor Theo Neethling, head of the Department of Political Science at the University of the Free State, opened the conversation by saying Dr Ellis was a great historian and a great researcher. He thought it much needed to celebrate not only the author’s life, but also his latest book.present-darkness-cover.
“In 1988 I was a young Master’s student and I moved from the Honours class to the Master’s class. My supervisor called me and said to me: ‘You need to elevate yourself in terms of your studies? You need to read more serious journals. Go for Cambridge journals like The Journal of Modern African Studies. If you want to fill some gaps in your work on African politics, go and read the African Contemporary Records and the Africa Confidential (Journal)’.
“I was 22 years old. I went to the library and saw the Africa Confidential. It was not as confidential as I thought. Stephen Ellis was the editor of the journal. I put that name at the back of my mind. Many years later, I was working in my office at the university one afternoon. There was a knock on the door and the person said: ‘May I disturb you? I am Stephen Ellis. I would like to have a few minutes with you if possible’.
“The name at the back of my mind jumped to the fore. A couple of years later I went to a university in Sweden where they are doing great work in the field of African politics and I again met Stephen Ellis.”
Professor Gerrie ter Haar, emeritus professor of Religion and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University, Rotterdam, talked about Ellis’s work. A lot of things have been said after Stephen Ellis’s death. He has been described as one of the most authoritative Africanists of our time, said Ter Haar.
“Stephen was a historian first and foremost. He believed it was the task of an historian to pursue the truth, if necessary to uncover what other might prefer to remain hidden. He did so without any fear or favour. This has brought him respect in many circles. I think of the controversy in South Africa around his book about the ANC in exile is only one example. His book about Nigeria is bound to make him popular in certain circles, notably in Nigeria. His new book is actually a vivid example of the way he understood his task as a historian. It shows how the past and the present are inseparably connected and should not be studied separately… ”
Professor Jonathan Jansen, outgoing vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, said what struck him about the author was his incredible humility. “He did not think of himself as this wonderful outstanding scholar, and yet he was, in many ways. This book is particularly interesting because it shares light on the problem that all of us are facing in South Africa, namely the corruption of the Nigerians.”
About the author
Stephen Ellis (1953-2015) was the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) most prominent scholar and one of the key researchers in African Studies in the world. He was also a Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the VU University, Amsterdam. He wrote groundbreaking books on the ANC, the Liberian Civil War, religion and politics in Africa and the history of Madagascar. – Flaxman Qoopane