Dateline Port Harcourt – On Friday 22nd February, the Secretary-General Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, delivered the Claude Ake Memorial Lecture for 2013 in the city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

The event took place in the House of Assembly of Port Harcourt and was graced by the crème-de-la-creme of Rivers State. An initiative of Rivers State Government, the Ake Memorial Lecture Series aim to commemorate the life and work of the late Professor Claude Ake (1939—1996), an eminent political economist and philosopher who died in a plane crash in 1996 while travelling from Port Harcourt to the Nigerian commercial city of Lagos.

The late Claude Ake was one of the most pre-eminent scholars to have come out of Africa. A native of Rivers State, he completed a PhD in Political Theory at the young age of 27, becoming a full professor of political science at Carleton University in Canada, at the age of 30. Professor Ake held also professorships at the universities of Dar es Salaam, Port Harcourt, Oxford, Cambridge and Yale. A human and environmental activist, he served as the moral conscience of the peoples of the Niger Delta at the time when they were fighting for justice against a military dictatorship and the collusive behaviour of multinational oil companies.

In his address during the occasion, Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, described the late professor as one of the intellectual giants of Africa and a worthy son of Rivers State. He announced a plan to endow a Claude Ake Chair in Political Science and to resuscitate the Centre for Advanced Social Studies that had been founded by the late Professor.

The Claude Ake Memorial Lectures were started in 2011 and the first Lecturer in the series was former Botswana President Dr. Festus Mogae. Dr. Chambas was the second lecturer in the series and he spoke on the theme, “Combating the Resource Curse: Strategies for Transformation in a Resource-Rich Economy”. The Secretary-General described the late Ake as “a deeply humane and profound thinker…hs being was always enveloped by an aura of compassion…a man whose heart that burned with an unquenchable fire of love for all people and compassion for those who suffer”.

Dr. Chambas took his audience into a long and detailed tour of the vast literature on ‘resource curse’. He gave several examples across Africa, where the discovery of natural resources became the trigger for war and conflict. He also explained how governments that merely subsist by collecting rents from extractive multinational corporations feel no sense of accountability to their own people, often resorting to violence to suppress revolts.

Dr. Chambas called on African countries to diversify their economies so as to reduce dependence on extractive mineral resources. He also urged them to adapt internationally accepted transparency norms for their extractive industries while building a solid foundation for good governance, accountability and the rule of law. (Click here for the speech in full)