From Patrick Smith, Editor of
From Robert Molteno, Editor of Steve's last book: 'Stealing from the Poor: Corruption, Development and Poverty in the South', at Zed Books, London
A tribute given by Sam Hickey at Steve's memorial service
Like others, I am deeply saddened and shocked by the loss of Stephen. At these times, there is a convention to remember publicly only the bright and good elements in a person's character and to discreetly cover the remainder. In Stephen's case there is no need. In the decade and a half that I came to know him, he came to epitomise the "decent man." There was no posturing or affectation, Stephen's manner was always direct and usually tinged with a twinkle of humour.
Like the best writers, he had a well-developed sense of the absurdity as well as the tragedy of the human predicament; characteristics well to the fore in his beloved Sierra Leone.
I got to know Stephen through a North American, Brooke Hyde, who was then editing Modern Africa and sang his praises as one of her star correspondents.
As I found out, Stephen was one of the few academics who could convincingly cross into the world of journalism. His capacity to knock out a 1000 word piece of thoughtful analysis in just over an hour set him apart from his fellow men of academe. More important was Stephen's overwhelming commitment to the people and the issues he wrote about.
One of the last times we met was one of the happiest. I had corralled Joe Demby, nephew of Sierra Leone's Vice-President, to come and meet Stephen for a drink in Farringdon Road. An evening of argument, debate, gossip and much laughter ensued with Joe and Stephen promising to remain in close contact.
It is unnerving to see that Stephen's own tragedy has been followed by another terrible chapter in the Sierra Leone war this week. That he is not here to help us journalists understand what is happening in Freetown seems to me to be part of the wider tragedy.
I had the privilege of being Stephen's editor at Zed Books. And because he was working hard and very productively on this book at the time of his death, I had the good fortune to be in rather frequent communication with him during the latter half of 1998.
Stephen and Zed Books had a relationship which in fact pre-dated the actual book he was writing for us by several years. He was a friend of my former co-editor and close friend, John Daniel who, as the extraordinary democratic transition in the Republic of South Africa approached, was able for the first time in decades to return to his own country. Once established as a university scholar again, first at
Rhodes University and later at the University of Durban-Westville, John lost little time in inviting Stephen out to South Africa to participate, amongst other things, in a special course training a new generation of young Black South African diplomats. This is just one of his, I suspect, unsung contributions to teaching for which he needs to be remembered.
'Stealing from the Poor' was well on the way to being an important contribution to our understanding of the nature and consequences of corruption in developing countries. Not only was Stephen putting into it many years of reflection, investigation and wide reading on the subject, but he had chosen to focus on an unusual but immensely important dimension of the phenomenon, namely the impact of corruption on those least able to influence officials financially on the one hand, and most vulnerable to the diversion of resources and other iniquities flowing from corruption on the other. The poor may not grab the headlines so far as corruption is concerned, but they certainly are the unsung bearers of many of the burdens it imposes on society. It is typical of Stephen that he felt a deep moral obligation to draw the attention of scholars and policy makers to this dimension.
The terribly sad thing about Stephen’s unexpected and premature death is that his preparation of the book was going so well. The draft chapters I saw were without exception lucidly written, carefully documented, interesting to read, and insightful analytically. The book was being pitched by him at just the right level -- useful to serious students of the subject, but accessible and fascinating also for a
much wider band of people as well. What is more, I am very clear that he was enjoying the process of pulling all his material together and putting pen to paper. And he was very much on schedule -- we were planning to bring out the book in time for the next big World Anti-Corruption Conference which was scheduled for October 1999 in Durban, South Africa. We had even lined up a potential South African
co-publisher to join us in bringing out the book so that it would be available in that part of the world at a locally affordable price. It is indeed a grave loss that he was unable to finish the work.
Throughout my time of working with Stephen, I always found him an immensely conscientious, efficient, hardworking, thoughtful and kind man. I am sure that the loss to his friends and relations caused by his death is enormous. So, too, is the loss to his students and those with a special interest in Sierra Leone (which was the country in Africa closest to his heart). But his untimely death is, it must not be forgotten, also a loss to scholarship.
It is, therefore, with a heavy heart that my colleagues and I at Zed mourn Stephen’s death as the loss not just of an author, but of a warm human being who was well on the way to becoming something more important, a friend.
Editor, Zed Books
My relationship with Steve was as a postgraduate student, firstly on the Masters in Development Studies that Steven ran at Staffs, and then when I began a PhD under his supervision the following year. I was only one of a great number of students of Steve's, and I hope that this reflects the feelings of some of those students not here today, and especially those with whom I took the MA.
As postgraduate students, Steve wasn't simply a teacher to us - we also regarded him as a mentor and as a friend. Over half of the students on the Masters course had studied under Steve as undergraduates, and all cited him as a major influence on their decision to study further.
It didn't take long for me to understand and feel for myself the respect, admiration and great affection that Steve inspired amongst his students. It seemed amazing to us all that this guy, whose depth and breadth of knowledge, publishing record and work rate were all so phenomenal, should actually take us so seriously. During seminars he would bombard us with the latest articles and then sit listening and writing avidly throughout our presentations, later discussing our work as if we were all on the edge of making groundbreaking contributions: this attention gave us great confidence.
Outside seminars Steve was always ready to share his insights, often with great humour, whether on his latest trip to Sierra Leone or the latest news that we had heard from West Africa and wanted Steve's opinion on. It was the same for colleagues such as Max Sesay, who could often be spotted crossing the corridor to discuss the latest with Steve. The commitment that Steve showed to his students - along with the occasions such when he and Katherine invited us all to their home for a Christmas party - made us feel that he returned the affection that we had for him.
Towards the end of the Masters degree, Steve began to encourage a few of us to think about continuing on to doctoral level studies. If it took both Steve and his close colleague and friend Peter Beaney to convince me that this was an academic possibility, it was Steve's love of and commitment to Africa that convinced me that it was worth doing anything to find out more about the place. From then on it has been Steve's knowledge of African studies and of the rules of the academic game, which have been invaluable to driving me through the process. Most importantly, Steve helped to make it possible for me to go to Africa for the first time - to do fieldwork research in Cameroon last year. His fascination and commitment have been passed on once again.
My life and the lives of Steve's other students that I've spoken to, have already changed without Steve. The same work on Africa is now read through different eyes, and I realise how much I relied on his insight and advice. Steve gave so much to his students, and whatever we all end up doing within African politics and development, it will be his project and his work also. What will perhaps stay with us most of all is the question that Steve always asked when people began to talk about politics or 'global' issues -and his question was always: "What about Africa?"