Resolution adopted by the Senate (24 October 2001) on the retirement of
Professor Lionel Cliffe
Lionel Cliffe graduated in Economics from the University of Nottingham in 1957, following which he held a variety of research posts overseas, many of them in African. He worked briefly at Durham and Sheffield before taking up a lectureship in Politics at the University of Leeds in 1978. He became a senior lecturer in Development Studies in 1988 and Professor of Politics in 1990. He was the first Director of the Centre for Development Studies in 1981–84 and its Head again in 1988–90. He was Head of the Fellowship in the Department of Government at the University of Manchester (1985 and 1987) and was Senior Land Tenure and Settlement Officer in the Agrarian Reform and Land Settlement Service of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome in 1986.
During an academic career spanning over 40 years, Lionel Cliffe achieved an international stature for his published research on African political economy and politics, for the quality and force of his critical scholarship, and for his deep commitment to the independence and the development of the continent. The stature is matched by a deep respect among policy-makers and academics in Africa itself. His work includes pioneering contributions on many of the most important issues of post-colonial African political economy. A founder-editor of The Review of African Political Economy, he was part of a group of Africanists who set the agenda for research on Africa for a generation (some three years before the world was forced to wrestle with the Ethiopian famine, for instance, he edited a special issue of ROAPE setting out the causes of impending crisis). The main focus of his work has been on problems of rural development (particularly in southern and eastern Africa and the Horn) and especially on questions of land tenure and land reform, and rural development policies and institutions. This inevitably led him to explore the wider questions of African politics and political economy to which land issues gave rise, particularly the politics of economic development. His prolific output also included important studies of ‘Good Governance’, the effectiveness of different institutions for development, state capacity and bureaucratic efficiency, the way in which the political process allocated resources and values, and the nature of democratic politics and social movements in Africa. In the process, he contributed, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, pioneering and watershed studies of Ujamaa Socialism in Tanzania, government and rural development in East Africa, policy options for agrarian reform in Zimbabwe, the dynamics of land tenure and agrarian systems in Africa, food and agriculture production in Eritrea, and land resettlement policy issues in Swaziland and South Africa. In addition, there have been major studies of elections and democratisation in Tanzania (the first book on elections in a one-party state), Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Namibia.
Questions of rural development also led Lionel Cliffe to study political conflict and issues of relief and recovery, at first in Zimbabwe and Namibia, more recently in the Horn of Africa and central Africa. His work has attracted a substantial body of funding through a range of research projects and consultancies, most recently the 1997 ODA (DfID) award to a consortium he initiated for a research programme on Complex Political Emergencies – From Relief to Development.
A feature of Lionel Cliffe’s work has been his eagerness to encourage the research of others. Academics who started by joining him in field research are found in a number of British, American and African Universities. In his time at Leeds he has supervised more than 20 successful doctoral dissertations, the majority by students from developing countries.
His retirement is from formal University work only. Born in Sheffield, the Yorkshire countryside and south Yorkshire have always been his base and Africa’s development has been the concern of his life’s work. They will remain so.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 64 (December 2001), pp. 45-46]