Ellis, Stephen 1953-
ELLIS, Stephen 1953-
PERSONAL: Born June 13, 1953, in Nottingham, England; son of Derek Hugh John and Hilda Mary (Kingscote). Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1981.
ADDRESSES: Office—Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, Netherlands.
CAREER: Amnesty International, London, England, researcher 1982-86; Africa Confidential, London, editor, 1986-91; Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden, Netherlands, director, 1991-94, senior researcher, 1994—.
The Rising of the Red Shawls: A Revolt in Madagascar, 1895-1899, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1985.
(Editor) Africa Now: People, Policies, and Institutions, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1996.
(With Jean-François Bayart and Beatrice Hibou) The Criminalization of the State in Africa, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Ellis is a researcher and historian who has made the political struggles of African nations the center of his studies since the early 1980s. In books examining political uprisings in Madagascar, South Africa, Liberia, and other African countries, Ellis has made his career as an expert on modern African history and contemporary African politics.
Ellis's first study of African resistance movements is The Rising of the Red Shawls: A Revolt in Madagascar, 1895-1899, from 1985. Drawing from research in Madagascar as well as France and Britain, Ellis examines the late nineteenth-century insurrection against French colonizers in Madagascar, focusing on the unusual and disorganized character of the revolt itself. Ellis's first book was considered by many reviewers to be a valuable contribution to the study of this complicated event. In Choice, reviewer N. R. Bennett called The Rising of the Red Shawls "the most sophisticated English-language account yet published" on the subject. In the American Historical Review, Edward I. Steinhart said that Ellis's deft handling of the controversial relationship between the Merina kingdom and the French government "stands out as a high point of the book."
In his next work Ellis moved to a different time and place, studying the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the 1992 book Comrades against Apartheid: The ANC and the South African Communist Party in Exile. Outlawed in the 1950s, the SACP was forced into hiding, working through other organizations. Ellis portrays the SACP acting in secrecy to gain total control of the ANC, and challenged in this aim by competing ethnic factions within the ANC as well as policies against non-African participation. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Gail M. Gerhart called the book "the most original contribution in a decade" on the subject of South African politics. Discussing Ellis's interpretation of the SACP's influence in the struggle against apartheid, Choice reviewer S. Mozaffar wrote that Ellis's account is "indispensable," providing a more complex and nuanced picture of the internal strife within the organizations than earlier histories had accomplished. By contrast, in the New Statesman and Society, reviewer Victoria Brittain maintained that Ellis's book is seriously marred by his "relentlessly hostile" portrait of the SACP.
Ellis also contributed to two publications in the growing body of African studies. In 1996 Ellis edited Africa Now: People, Policies, Institutions, a collection of essays by African scholars, many of which had never appeared before in English. Reviewing the book for the Journal of Modern African Studies, Richard J. Payne characterized Africa Now as a useful and informative text for students and for "politicians and decision-makers in both the public and private sectors, as well as people in business and workers in nongovernmental organizations." Ellis provided a conclusion to the collection. Ellis also contributed to Jean-François Bayard's Criminalization of the State in Africa of 1999, collaborating in parts and providing a chapter on South Africa. The authors argue that African governments have become by their nature criminal, a controversial and difficult-to-establish thesis. Reviewer Eghosa E. Osaghae, writing in the International Journal of African Historical Studies suggested that like others of Bayart's works, Criminalization of the State in Africa betrays a paternalistic and racist approach to African studies. Osaghae criticized "the falsehood and veiled racism" of Bayart's analysis, but also said that Ellis's work on South Africa is distinct from Bayart's in its emphasis on "economic decline, forces of liberalization, and globalization" as important factors in the failure of certain African governments.
In his 1999 book The Mask of Anarchy Ellis narrows his focus to the state of Liberia and the civil war of 1989-97, providing both a history of the complicated event and an analysis of the role religion and beliefs about the supernatural played in the war. Western observers were generally horrified at the news of war and of video releases detailing gruesome human sacrifice and cannibalism at the center of the political conflict; stereotypes about primitive rural tribes and devil worship confounded most efforts at understanding. Ellis's study attempts to clarify the connection between religion and politics. Christopher Clapham, in the Times Literary Supplement, concluded that, in the context Ellis described, the cannibalistic practices of Liberian warriors "become readily comprehensible as means by which young soldiers, escaping from the constraints placed on the exercise of spiritual power in pre-war society, sought to garner this power in their own right." By contrast, Adewale Maja-Pearce, in the London Review of Books, criticized Ellis for portraying cannibalism and other practices as "illustrious and time-honoured indigenous traditions." On the whole, however, several reviewers called Ellis's history of the conflict a valuable contribution to a vexing problem. Charles Piot, writing for the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, called the book "fascinating and provocative," Maja-Pearce described The Mask of Anarchy as "meticulously detailed," and Paul Richards, in the Journal of African History, said Ellis's history was "reliable." Clapham wrote that Ellis's analysis in The Mask of Anarchy "has profound implications not just for Liberia but for a much broader understanding of African politics."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Africa, summer, 2000, Donal B. Cruise O'Brien, review of The Mask of Anarchy, p. 520.
American Historical Review, 1986, Edward I. Steinhart, review of The Rising of the Red Shawls, pp. 972-973.
British Book News, June, 1985, Richard Brown, review of The Rising of the Red Shawls, p. 378.
Choice, February, 1986, N. R. Bennett, review of The Rising of the Red Shawls, p. 910; June, 1992, S. Mozaffar, review of Comrades against Apartheid, pp. 1606-1607.
Economist, August 7, 1999, "First Bad, Now Worse," p. 72; March 18, 2000, "The Spirits of War," p. 6.
Foreign Affairs, 1992, Gail M. Gerhart, review of Comrades against Apartheid, pp. 218-219.
International Affairs, April, 1996, Alex de Waal, review of Africa Now, p. 415; April, 1999, Patrick Chabal, review of The Criminalization of the State in Africa, pp. 441-443.
International Journal of African Historical Studies, spring/summer, 1999, Eghosa E. Osaghae, review of The Criminalization of the State in Africa, pp. 465-466.
Journal of African History, May, 1994, Maynard Swanson, review of Comrades against Apartheid, pp. 331-332; January, 2001, Paul Richards, "'Witches,' 'Cannibals,' and War in Liberia," p. 167.
Journal of Economic Literature, September, 1996, review of Africa Now, pp. 1487-1488.
Journal of Modern African Studies, September, 1997, Richard J. Payne, review of Africa Now, pp. 519-20; September, 1999, John A. Wiseman, review of The Criminalization of the State in Africa, pp. 560-562.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, December, 2000, Charles Piot, review of The Mask of Anarchy, p. 745.
London Review of Books, July 25, 2002, Adewale Maja-Pearce, "Feed the Charm," pp. 23-26.
New Statesman and Society, March 6, 1992, Victoria Brittain, "Secret History," pp. 45-56.
Times Literary Supplement, June 7, 1985, review of The Rising of the Red Shawls, p. 632; March 17, 2000, Christopher Clapham, "Modern War and Ancient Powers," p. 30f.*