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Press Release, 06/11/2018

Prof. Achille Mbembe receives the Gerda Henkel Prize 2018

Photo: (c) Dr. Nguemning

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The Gerda Henkel Prize 2018 goes to historian and political scientist Prof. Achille Mbembe. Born in Cameroon, Achille Mbembe teaches at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The prize is worth 100,000 euros and the awards ceremony will take place on 8 October 2018 in Düsseldorf. "This year, a total of 134 nominations were submitted from 36 countries", commented Dr. Michael Hanssler, Chair of the Executive Board of the Gerda Henkel Foundation. "The fact that Achille Mbembe won, shows just what outstanding scholarly work is being done on the African continent. I do hope that this award for Prof. Mbembe will inspire and motivate many young researchers - not just in Africa."

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees' decision was unanimous and based on a recommendation from the jury, which consists of members of the Foundation's Academic Advisory Council and independent persons. The jury explained its decision as follows:

"Achille Mbembe (born in 1957) is one of the leading representatives of post-colonial theory world-wide and one of the few scholars from and still active in Africa to have made a name for himself in this highly topical field of research. He first took the international limelight with his book “De la postcolonie. Essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporaine” (2000) (Engl.: “On the postcolony”). With his scholarly œuvre, in which he combines historiography, political analysis and philosophy in a very unique manner, Mbembe has since emerged as one of Africa’s most exciting thinkers and he enjoys a strong international reputation. His books “Critique of Black Reason”and “Sortir de la grande nuit”, which have also been translated into German 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. 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 post-colonialism. 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."

Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was born in Cameroon and obtained his Ph.D. in History at the Université de Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne. He has taught at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University. From 1996 to 2000, he was the Executive Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). He has won many awards, including the Ernst-Bloch Prize (2018) and the Geschwister-Scholl Prize (2015). His books have been translated into various languages, including Arabic, Dutch, English, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish. Achille Mbembe is a member of the American Academy of Science.  

The Gerda Henkel Prize was set up in 2006 and is awarded every two years to excellent and internationally acclaimed researchers who have demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement in the disciplines and funding areas supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and can be expected to continue to do so. The Gerda Henkel Prize is worth 100,000 euros. Former winners include art historian Prof. Martin Warnke (2006), sociologist and cultural historian Prof. Richard Sennett (2008), Islamic studies expert Prof. Gudrun Krämer (2010), historian Prof. Jürgen Osterhammel (2012), archaeological scholar Prof. Stephan Seidlmayer (2014) and historian Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Lyndal Roper (2016) (

The Gerda Henkel Foundation was established in June 1976 by Lisa Maskell in memory of her mother Gerda Henkel as an incorporated foundation under civil law, headquartered in Düsseldorf. The Gerda Henkel Foundation concentrates its support on the historical humanities. In several programmes the Foundation furthermore addresses issues of great relevance to contemporary life and the future, above all as part of its special programmes "Islam, the Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements" and "Security, Society and the State". As part of the Lisa Maskell Fellowship programme, the Foundation supports young scholars in the humanities in both Africa and Southeast Asia. With its "Patrimonies" funding initiative it promotes the preservation of cultural heritage, specifically in regions experiencing crisis. In connection with funded projects, the Foundation also supports social and humanitarian measures as part of complementary projects. The Gerda Henkel Foundation is able to fulfill its purposes in and outside Germany.

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