Joel Barkan was an important figure in Africanist political science and one of the world’s leading experts on East Africa. He died suddenly in January 2014 while on holiday in Mexico, aged seventy-two. At the time, he was still [End Page 107] involved in myriad projects, both academic and policy oriented, his energies undimmed. In addition to contributing to the literature on African politics, Barkan was a passionate friend of Africa, inspiring students on all sides of the Atlantic to study the continent. Following his death, a headline in the best-selling Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation, read, “In Memory of Joel Barkan: A Scholar Who Believed in Kenya’s Greatness.”
This ASR Forum explores the lasting legacy of his wide-ranging work on a number of countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, and a broad range of political institutions and phenomena. The articles contained in this forum demonstrate the continued significance of Barkan’s work and its important implications for how we study elections, legislatures, and development around the world, not just in Africa.
Life and Career
In 1947, at the age of six, Joel Barkan moved from Toledo to Columbus, Ohio, when his father became a professor of art at Ohio State University. His enthusiasms were many and various. He played hockey in high school and squash from college onward. Hanging out at clubs on the outskirts of the university campus, he soon became a lifelong jazz fan. Music remained an important part of Barkan’s life and his tastes were eclectic: jazz, folk, the Rolling Stones, and classical music, particularly Bach. He played the violin, passing that skill on to his children. From his early twenties he skied frequently near his house in the Rockies in Colorado.
While still in high school, Barkan began to develop an interest in Africa, especially Kenya, when he audited a summer course taught by David Apter (see Throup, this issue, 115–27). After graduating from Cornell, he spent a brief time in the soon-to-be independent Kenya as part of the Crossroads Africa Program, and then embarked on graduate studies with James Coleman at UCLA. His thesis and first book examined the training and career expectations of university students in Tanzania, Uganda, and Ghana.
Even before securing his Ph.D., Barkan became an assistant professor of political science at the recently established University of California, Irvine. While there, he established a political consulting firm in 1970, becoming the founding president of J.B. Burro, which, according to its brochure, [End Page 108] “served the Democratic Party through Behavioral Science.” In collaboration with James E. Bruno, a UCLA mathematician and friend, the firm claimed to provide “a unique computer analysis to help you and your campaign staff locate and increase the turnout of loyal Democrats and capture the independent vote.” The firm was endorsed by the then chairman of the California Democratic Party and the chairman of the National Campaign for an Effective Congress, and its first major success was the election of President Kennedy’s Harvard roommate, John V. Tunney, to the U.S. Senate. In 1974 Barkan and Bruno published an academic article about the election in Western Political Quarterly.
In 1972 Barkan moved to the University of Iowa, where he was to spend the next thirty-three years until his retirement, serving from 1981 to 1983 as both the chair of its Global Studies Program and founding director of its Center for International and Comparative Studies. He also chaired Iowa’s Department of Political Science from 1985 to 1987. Throughout his academic career he energetically engaged in work on policy issues and served from January 1992 to January 1994 as the Regional Democracy and Governance Advisor for East and Southern Africa in the Nairobi office of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Barkan soon developed a case of “Potomac Fever” and expanded his consulting activities (see Harbeson, this issue, 129–37), in part because he firmly believed that good policies should be informed by directly related scholarship.
Five years before his final retirement from Iowa, Barkan...