“His deliberations on Africa's place in the global order are both controversial and unsettling and have made an enduring mark even far beyond fundamental debates on postcolonialism. They focus attention on 'Africa the Lab,' beyond all the customary stereotypes and highlight links between colonialism, racism and capitalism that still require a more thorough discussion here in Germany as well.”
Those were the words with which the jury for the Gerda Henkel Foundation explained their decision to award the 2018 Gerda Henkel Prize to Achille Mbembe, an award he will receive on Monday in Düsseldorf.
A criticism of racist thought structures
Achille Mbembe has been one of the most important thinkers on the African continent since the early 2000s. In his books, including Critique of Black Reason and Out of the Dark Night, he criticises existing thought structures that are racist, a critique which has brought him worldwide attention.
These books, the jury wrote, are “impressive testimonies to a highly independent way of thinking that shapes Mbembe's research throughout and is as critical as it is self-critical.”
The historian and professor of political science was one of 134 scholars to be nominated for the bi-annual award. Endowed with 100,000 Euro (115,000 US dollars), the Gerda Henkel Prize is one of the most important awards in the field of historical humanities.
An award to inspire other researchers
The decision to honor Achille Mbembe this year, says Michael Hanssler, chairman of the board of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, “Shows that outstanding scholarly work is being done on the African continent.” He hopes “that this award for Professor Mbembe will inspire and motivate many young researchers – not just in Africa.”
Born in Cameroon in 1957, Mbembe earned his doctorate in history from the Paris Sorbonne and has also taught in the USA. His books have been translated into several languages, including Arabic, German, English, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish.