Memories of Stephen Riley, from Sue James, a former masters student of Steve's
I first met Stephen at a North Staffs JPIC meeting at which he was describing his recent stay in South Africa, and giving a clear analysis of the current political situation. I soon learnt that this desire to help others understand the political development of Africa extended to supporting groups in the local community who had similar interests.
His commitment also meant he was in touch with the West Africa and Policy teams at Christian Aid, where his integrity and compassion were valued. As a student on the first course for the Master’s degree I came to appreciate his teaching particularly and his insight into humanity. Seminars could be a mixture of robust discussion and sheer fun, and I came to value his support and encouragement.
In the pain and sorrow of his death these memories are a light which will not be extinguished.
Rest in peace, Steve.
A tribute from Sahr J. Kpundeh,student, colleague and friend of Steve's, and now at the World Bank
From Michael Johnston, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York USA
Stephen P. Riley was a Reader in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom. He taught at the Universities of Manchester and Sierra Leone in West Africa and since 1994 at Rhodes University in Grahamstown and the University of Durban-Westville, both in South Africa. His research interests included political corruption, fraud and economic crime, particularly African case studies and aid donor policies on these issues; the political economy of internal war, especially in West Africa; and aid, debt and structural adjustment. Among his numerous publications, The African Debt Crisis and The Politics of Global Debt were inspirations for his work as founding co-editor of the journal, Corruption and Reform.
I knew Stephen Riley as my teacher, my colleague and my very good friend. I first met Stephen when I was an undergraduate student at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone in Freetown in 1983. He was then a visiting professor, teaching International Economic Relations in the Department of Political Science. The class was relatively small not because of the subject or the teacher but at 8 a.m. most students are anxiously waiting for the dining hall to open. But because it was small, Stephen got to know us very well. We met twice a week and I can still remember him coming into class with beads of perspiration lining his upper lip and brow after walking several flights of stairs. He was a very dedicated teacher who unselfishly supplied us with all our reading materials—something that was rare at our university. Stephen made such an impression on us that we would get together and discuss his powerful analytical skills, how impressed we were with his extensive knowledge and his untiring efforts to make sure we all had a good grasp of the new topics he introduced every week.
And oftentimes he was willing to arrange extra classes to review difficult topics and help guide us in our project papers. He was a committed teacher who helped to shape our ideas on international economic relations.
But I really got to know Stephen when I was a graduate student struggling to write my dissertation on corruption in Sierra Leone—a topic he had extensively researched and published.
As always, Stephen was willing to help me—reading my drafts, providing very useful comments and guiding me through a maze of publishing decisions. “Politics and Corruption in Africa: A Case Study of Sierra Leone” was eventually published, in part, because my mentor and my friend had found the time to be thoughtful and generous. Stephen’s interest in my work and his desire to help me become a serious scholar was evident when he asked me to co-author several articles. My first published article was written with Stephen Riley, titled “Political Choice and the New Democratic Politics in Africa” in The Round Table Journal of International Affairs.
Stephen and I attended several international conferences together. As program officer with the panel on issues in democracy and states in transition at the National Academy of Sciences, Stephen was one of my close advisers. During his business trips to Washington, we spent time together discussing our lives--our professional goals as well as the delicate act of balancing work and family. He always found time to take the train from Staffordshire to meet with me in London even though I may have only been there for a day or two. He always told me how much he liked Sierra Leonean food, especially after my wife prepared a Sierra Leonean dish for him during one of his trips to Washington.
Stephen was a warm and humorous person, whose soft-spoken nature made some of his jokes extremely funny. He was such a good friend and I considered myself his protégé, a real academic inspiration to me, many of my fellow students and colleagues.
I miss my friend, Stephen. I've often picked up the phone thinking I should call him to discuss troublesome areas of a new project or the current situation in Sierra Leone or how he would resolve a conflict between work and the need to attend my son's school function. And even though he's not there, I take comfort in the fact that his life of dedication and hard work, of academic excellence and genuine concern and kindness will guide me to make thoughtful decisions.
Stephen, thank you for your friendship.
Sahr J. Kpundeh
I first met Stephen at a conference in Oxford in the Spring of 1984, and ever since then thought myself privileged to be one of his friends. We worked together for over a decade on the journal Corruption and Reform, and maintained a constant exchange at several levels.
Quite apart from our shared professional interests, it became clear early on that here was someone with a rare combination of sharp intellect, good humor, and deep concern for - and an instinctive grasp of - the problems and situations of others. The good humor was evident right away: shortly after the Oxford conference, there appeared in my mailbox some photos of a place in Stoke called "Nixon's Used Cars", a real establishment but one of mythic significance for connoisseurs of American corruption ("Would you buy a used car from this man?"). They are still on my office wall today.
The concern and empathy were more subtle but even more significant. In 1989, Stephen came to Colgate, on his way to another conference, and gave a guest lecture to undergraduates in our African Politics class. It was a terrific performance, and one that left the students with the beginnings of an understanding of several societies - in addition to Sierra Leone, he talked at length about Ghana and Nigeria, as I recall - rather than the kind of ritualized political correctness so often substituted for analysis in such courses here. This understanding was not just of institutions and an economy, and not just of a developmental dilemma, but of how real people live in difficult times. Everyone who knew Stephen will know what I mean by this, and will know of other ways in which that kind of insight was apparent in his scholarship.
I also have to note here that Stephen came up with by far the best title for any article on corruption problems ever written - "The Land of Waving Palms". I wish I'd thought of that one.
My favorite Stephen Riley moment of all time came in Amsterdam, in 1987. He and I went there to meet with the journal's publishers, and my wife Betsy came along with us to see the city and be a tourist. After our meetings, Stephen suggested that the three of us go out for an Indonesian Reistaafel -- a new experience for us -- which we did, and thoroughly enjoyed. As is well known, Reistaafel involves something like thirty or forty different courses, none of which can be passed up because they're all so good. After about two hours of outrageous eating the three of us staggered over to Dam Square, contemplating the consequences of excess. Whenever we came near a shop window containing anything having to do with food, Stephen turned his back to it. After moaning at some length, Betsy said (completely in jest) something like, "Now let's all go find a disco" -- and you should have seen Stephen's expression: laughing and bemused and appalled in about twelve different ways, all at the same time, wondering what the hell was up with this American and his strange wife but determined to make the best of the situation. And, when he realized, after a half-second or so, that the idea was a joke, there was a look of such relief. It was just a brief moment, and like most such moments it loses much in the retelling. But at the time it was hilarious - and now, in retrospect, it also seems a reflection of the essential Stephen Riley.
He is going to be sorely missed, and none of us will forget what we all have lost...