The Global Initiative is very sad to report that Prof. Stephen Ellis died on July 29, 2015, having lost his three-year battle with leukaemia.

Stephen has blazed the trail in the study of organized crime, and reinterpreting its understanding within the context of society, the economy, security and governance in Africa.  His research is unparalleled, both for its depth and breadth, numbering more than 80 publications of African history and current affairs.  He wrote most extensively about South Africa, Madagascar, Liberia and Nigeria, but also about Togo, Zambia, and Sierra Leone.  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 is still considered a seminal text on the nature of African state formation and the growth of criminal networks.

He was one of the rare and gifted individuals who effectively bridged the gap between research and policy, contributing significantly to important processes that have advanced international responses to emerging criminal phenomena in the African context.  His 2011 report for the UNODC on the smuggling of migrants from Africa to Europe has barely dated, offering strong resonances and insights in the current migration crisis.  Just last year, his gentle hand steered the deliberations of the West Africa Commission on Drugs to their landmark conclusions about drug policy in Africa.  Even as he leaves us, it is with the same dynamic and groundbreaking contribution: his most recent research, a history of Nigerian organized crime, is virtually ready and offers timely insights into the growth of a virulent criminal network.  These are legacies that will continue to add value, and that will ensure he is long remembered and respected.

The Global Initiative has been very proud to count him as a member our Network of Experts, and to have had his support and engagement since our inception.  We hope our small efforts can continue to build upon the foundation he has laid, and to long honour his memory.

For those who wish to share their memories of Stephen, or to pass their condolences to his family, that can be done through the African Studies Centre of the University of Leiden, where Stephen was the Director from 1991 ( and/or directly to Stephen’s partner Gerrie ter Haar (

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