The author recounts his first meeting with Samir Amin more than three decades ago and shares his working experience with this distinguished African scholar who was a mentor and father figure to many young researchers.
He walked in the corridors of our brand-new National Research Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa—INEP) in Bissau, as if he knew the place for a long time. We were ecstatic to receive in our premises such a remarkable figure, certainly the most distinguished scholar in the assembly in that distant September of 1985 to discuss the nation state. You could excuse us for insisting in such a theme given the freshness of Guinea Bissau independence.
That colloquium had the presence of many Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) eminent activists and inaugurated my integration into a network that gave me a lot. Samir was to remain the same humble, gentle, father figure that the Angolan Mário de Andrade first mentioned to me. They knew each other from the Paris intellectual circles where many African nationalists congregated around Présence Africaine and other movements. Mário de Andrade took me under his wing and through him I first read, became familiar and then eventually met the figures that were influencing the debates of the time. I was later the founder in 1984 of INEP and it was to celebrate our first anniversary that we dared convene such an important conference.
It was logical for me to publish an article about the intellectual contribution of Samir in the first edition of our new journal, Soronda, and to ask him to preface my book on the sociological dimensions of Guinea-Bissau in the now distant 1987.
My connections with Samir never ceased and we had many opportunities to work together apart from the regular encounters at CODESRIA General Assemblies. The one in Kampala, Uganda in 2002 celebrated Samir’s contribution for radical thought in Africa. I had the distinct honour of hosting that session and to pay a tribute to him.
When I presided over the transformation of the [United Nations] Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), special attention was paid to the Institut Africain de Développement Economique et de Planification (IDEP), the UN institute that Samir used to promote development planning in the continent for over ten years and that served as the basis for him to conceive and then launch CODESRIA. As Chair of IDEP’s Board I requested Samir to participate in the rebirth of new platforms and share with him a session in Dakar, Senegal in 2014 to discuss the return to planning in Africa.
Samir has had great influence and impact all over the continent and was proud of his connections with Dakar here he lived most of his life. But he remained throughout a world figure, translated in dozens of languages, engaged in knowledge discussions on subjects of political economy across the globe. His books after a while were less known than his theories, including in particular “delinking”. This was due to his prolific writing and his astonishing speed. His theories travelled more slowly but certainly more densely as well.
For Samir himself his main call to fame was the personal interpretation of the theory of value. He insisted that capitalism economic laws were subordinate to the laws of historical materialism as summed up by the law of value.
His views on globalisation were marked by the unequal development that now has become fashionable to assess with new terminology. However, his contribution was at the source of the modern understanding of the importance of new forms of exploitation based on value distribution that became more complex and obscure.
Samir’s intellectual presence will be sorely missed. His empathy towards young researchers was a trademark that would be difficult to forget. Always available, finding the right tone to dispute and the right words to encourage and energise.
His body failed him, but his intellect was so powerful that all his friends and admirers will never forget him and his human example of dedication and commitment to just societies.
* Professor Carlos Lopes teaches at the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and is immediate former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.