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Warren Weinstein (1941-2015)

Dr. Warren Weinstein, political scientist and African Studies scholar, aid worker, humanitarian, and modern Renaissance man, was killed by a drone strike on a suspected Al-Qaida compound in northern Pakistan in January 2015. He had been a hostage since August 2011. Italian aid worker and hostage Giovanni Lo Porto died with him, along with several alleged AQ members.

The writers, all friends and colleagues in political science, grieve for Warren Weinstein’s death. But here we celebrate his life. Warren earned his bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College, and his master’s and PhD at Columbia University (1970), focusing on International Economics and Law. His dissertation research was done in the then-recently decolonized Belgian colony of Burundi, beginning a long involvement with African issues. With doctorate in hand, Warren moved to SUNY-Oswego for a decade-long teaching and research career. Oswego colleagues remember him as a passionate, caring man, with a heart as big as the borough of Brooklyn where he was born and raised. Bill Scheuerman, seconded by Bruce Altschuler, recounts those years:

“Kindness and caring were Warren’s hallmarks, but there was more to the man than this. Much more. Warren was an extraordinarily talented individual. He often spoke of his adventures in Africa and his commitment to helping the poor while in the Peace Corps, and it became crystal clear that he was an individual committed to making the world a better place without fear of the consequences. He was actively involved in promoting human rights, a cause that was fundamental to his existence.” 

Warren was a prolific scholar, focused on African issues. He frequently collaborated with another Oswego colleague, Bob Schrire, for example on Political Conflict and Ethnic Strategies, a case study of Burundi. He published a book on Chinese and Soviet Aid to Africa, updated several years later with Thion Henrikson, and a study of “The pattern of African decolonization: a new interpretation,” co-authored with John J. Grotpeter. All of these books, and his articles in scholarly journals, were well received.

Warren left academic life in 1979, but that did not mean that he abandoned his interest in political science and Africa. He continued to research and write for many years, publishing the Historical Dictionary of Burundi with Ellen Eggers in 1997. Bob Schrire, who had moved to Cape Town, was hoping to resume some African Studies work with him: 

We had many plans to work together on projects after his career in Pakistan had come to an end. Alas, this was not to be. Warren was one of a kind. Despite being a born and bred New Yorker, he had an innocence about people. He expected the best from them despite the number of times they disappointed him. Lacking the self-protection of cynicism, he literally gave his life in his efforts to make the world a better place for the poor and disadvantaged.

Post academia, Warren remained focused on the issues that had animated his research and teaching – African politics, human rights, and economic development. As Schrire recalls, “Warren was one of the very few Westerners who genuinely understood and loved Africa: its people, art, languages and culture.” With his young family in tow, he served as director of the Peace Corps operations in Togo and Ivory Coast. Here his language skills came into play, as he was able to interact with locals in French. He was intensely interested in languages, becoming fluent in at least seven, and willing to try his luck in many more. 

Following the Peace Corps, Warren joined USAID to give some expression to his great interest in helping bring about economic development in ways that would benefit a nation’s entire population, not just the economic elites. After a decade in USAID he joined the International Finance Corporation, the development arm of the World Bank. He then moved more directly into development projects, working for a firm hired by USAID to assist its program in Pakistan. After seven years, he was just preparing to conclude this assignment when he was kidnapped. 

Warren was full of life, sometimes so exuberantly so that it was almost overwhelming. He had a boundless love for his wife Elaine and his daughters Jennifer and Alisa, and was saddened that living so far away he could barely know his two young grandchildren. Elaine, and her daughters spent the years of his captivity working to free him, never giving up hope despite the sad changes in Warren that were visible in the videos released by his captors. 

The world has lost a wonderful man, who acted on his beliefs, even though it meant putting his life and liberty at risk. 

Bruce Altschuler, Professor Emeritus, SUNY-Oswego

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (retired)

William Scheuerman, Professor Emeritus, SUNY-Oswego 

Robert Schrire, Professor Emeritus, University of Cape Town

Stephen L. Wasby, Eastham, Massachusetts