Botched Western Diplomacy Sabotaged ICC’s Case against President Uhuru Kenyatta
January 6, 2015 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
Until December 5, 2014, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was under indictment by the International Criminal Court for orchestrating Kenya’s post-elections violence of 2007-08. Curiously, The charges emerged almost simultaneously as the international stature of the Court itself was waning against allegations that it targeted African leaders unduly.
According to this logic, Western leaders are the worst abusers of human rights and they are never indicted. Why were US George W. Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair not accused of human rights violations in the Iraq War? How is it that American President Barack Obama walks free of ICC indictments for the drones that the US continues to drop on the Islamic world? Had the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West?
By a strange twist of fate, the hunter had suddenly become the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in the world opinion. Unfortunately for an international court, the campaign against it was driven mostly by none other than the continental African Union.
After his indictment in 2012, Uhuru ran for Kenya’s presidency. In the contaminated atmosphere where ICC’s legitimacy was being questioned, it seemed somewhat over-zealous that in Kenya’s election campaign, the same Western powers posed as crusaders for human rights by taking it upon themselves to remind the Kenyan electorate that the Uhuru ticket was composed of ICC inductees, unworthy of their presidency. Put another way the Uhuru ticket, also known as the Jubilee Alliance, was portrayed as a burdensome liability to the Kenyan voters.
For its part, Britain announced unequivocally that, in the unlikely event that Uhuru won Kenya’s presidency, it would distance itself and maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with that government. At that time the Jubilee Alliance objected angrily to a “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”
The Americans also issued a thinly-veiled threat that “choices have consequences.” These were code words of an American diplomatic envoy, Johnnie Carson. They were widely taken to mean that, if Kenyans voted the Uhuru ticket into power, there would be a price to be paid for it.
The Anglo-American West thus showed a clear pre-election resolve to deprive fellowship and goodwill to a possible democratically-elected Uhuru-led government. From a legal standpoint, this was a crude betrayal of a Western principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Meanwhile, in the same Kenya’s campaign the West was actively supporting Uhuru’s major political rival, Raila Odinga. With this conspicuous support behind him, Odinga was so assured of victory that he even ‘eased up’ on campaigning in the run-up to the 2013 voting. To him, winning was a foregone conclusion, “it wouldn’t even be close.” Odinga was wrong on both counts. The elections were close and he happened to be on the losing end. Could it be that the meddling of the West on
Raila Odinga’s behalf in Kenya’s 1913 elections cost him the presidential bid?
What is certain is that Kenyans were irritated by the Western excessive meddling in their domestic political affairs. In the end, Western condemnation of Uhuru backfired, boosted his popularity by triggering support in form of sympathy and protest votes against the ‘unwelcome’ push for Raila.
Until the 2013 elections, the Anglo-American West seemed to share a monolithic view regarding Uhuru’s ICC indictment. That ‘understanding’ was largely a legal perspective, driven by political ends of course. It held that, since Uhuru was charged, he must defend himself in person before the ICC. He had to be tried like any other suspected criminal.
There have been whispers this ‘attitude’ was part of an elaborate politico-legal scheme. If Kenyatta was personally at The Hague to defend himself in a protracted and expensive trial, there was no way that he could possibly discharge his responsibility as the President of Kenya. At the very least, he could not be at two places at the same time.
Presumably, Raila Odinga would then step in and take over power. Hence the Western initial insistence that Uhuru had to be tried at The Hague. But before the alleged Anglo-American strategy materialized, politics of national interests subtly but profoundly entered the picture and drove a wedge between Britain and the USA.
In May 2013, Kenya’s newly-elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to London at the invitation of the British Government of David Cameron. Officially, the purpose of the trip was to participate at a Somalia Summit, a subject that had become a critical security issue in the Eastern Africa region.
At first Uhuru was probably skeptical about making the trip, mindful that when his father visited the UK in 1962, he was pelted with rotten eggs by the British public, a show of utter contempt. After all, in the 1950s it was the colonial authorities of the same British who branded daddy Kenyatta a satanic pervert for allegedly masterminding the Mau Mau rebellion. Jomo Kenyatta was stigmatized as “a leader unto darkness and death.”
In the end Uhuru went to London. The Somalia ‘issue’ was important enough to Kenya’s security to demand a presidential presence. During this visit, no eggs were thrown but the British news media dubbed Uhuru with a hostile label of ‘Criminal President.’
The epithet of May 2013 referred to the fact that the ICC had recently indicted Uhuru for crimes against humanity. All the same the millions of Kenyans who had just voted him into office were insulted by the verbal slap. Indeed Kenya’s social media was abuzz with objections to the ‘crude diplomacy’ of the British public. After all, Uhuru was indicted; not yet found guilty.
The British Prime Minister was understandably cautious to avoid displaying exuberance at being in the company of the ‘discredited’ Kenyan leader. He delicately avoided photo sessions with Uhuru; there could be domestic political fallout if Cameron seemed to coddle an ICC inductee. But there comes a time when a leader must lead.
Cameron understood fully that British interests in Kenya and Eastern Africa were too important for him to dismiss Uhuru. After all, accused or not, he was the elected president of Kenya. This reality posed a serious problem for the policy of maintaining only ‘essential contact’ with the Uhuru government as pronounced by the British-American axis a few months earlier.
In the US, Uhuru’s official visit to Britain in all likelihood raised eye brows. Question must have been asked: Is Uhuru’s visit to the UK consistent with our mutual pledge to maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government? Was the British going it alone in conferring political legitimacy to Uhuru, an ICC inductee? Whatever the case, Britain had displayed a higher form of diplomatic realism than the US.
When Barack Obama made his first official visit to East Africa the following month, he bypassed Kenya altogether. Indeed at the University of Cape Town, he did state that he did so because he did not want to be associated with an ICC inductee in Kenya. Critical observers viewed this as pouting because Kenyans had rejected Obama’s candidate of choice for their president, Raila Odinga. Remember the code words, choices have consequences! Yet, in terms of US national interests, Kenya was by far amore critical force in Eastern Africa than Tanzania that Obama chose to visit.
The effect of internal Western soul searching and contradictions was that, by the time that Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington came around in August 2014, few noticed that Uhuru was there as a vibrant and active participant. In the US too, Uhuru ICC stigma of ‘criminal president’ had apparently receded into distant past. Self-interests of the Anglo-American worlds had prevailed and superseded the quest to ‘un-do’ Uhuru Kenyatta.
Once they became preoccupied with their conflicting national interests, the US and Britain ceased to be a potent ‘invisible force’ pushing for Uhuru Kenyatta to be tried at The Hague. And yet the ICC had compromised itself by indicting the same Uhuru before it had developed a watertight case against him, enough not only to indict but to convict him. The Anglo-American breakdown of a united front for Uhuru’s trial sapped the ICC the single-mindedness and enthusiasm to continue the pursuit of the Kenyan President.
Ultimately, it is the Kenyan victims of 2007-08 violence who have been betrayed by the ICC_Uhuru fiasco. If anybody has to bear that responsibility, it is the West and the ICC. But it would be fitting if Uhuru could find a way to assist the innocent victims of the 2008 violence. After all, they have stood by him to the bitter end. Additionally, he has the means, personally and officially, and the heart to extend a hand of kindness. This would be a political act, not legal. He would be doing it because he chooses to, not because he is instructed to do so
Ali Mazrui, Julius Nyerere and Apartheid South Africa: A Tribute
January 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
Professor Ali Mazrui died two months ago at his home in Binghamton, New York. He was a Kenyan in the Diaspora and a scholar of monumental standing. Julius Nyerere was President of Tanzania from independence in 1961 to 1985 when he voluntarily stepped down. He died in 1999. In a historical sense then, the two global icons were contemporaries. Ali Mazrui and Julius Nyerere were my leading East African public heroes. Mazrui, a fellow Kenyan, was an outstanding scholar. He joined the teaching staff of Makerere University in Uganda in 1963 and, after only two years, he jumped to full professorship, bypassing the ranks of Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. That happened before Mazrui had defended his dissertation for a doctorate degree at Oxford University. He indeed was a bona fide scholar in the Western tradition of objective inquiry. On the other hand, Nyerere was a politician from Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania.) But he was much more than a political ideologue. He was an astute, seasoned man of letters, a giant intellectual in his own right and a remarkable leader. In addition, he was by all accounts a decent human being of impeccable integrity. Most importantly, Nyerere was also a man of action, an exceptional African of vision and conviction. He was sufficiently audacious to act if that would improve Tanzania’s and Africa’s tormented condition. Little wonder that many enlightened Africans today are convinced that, in terms of political leadership, Nyerere is by far the best that free Africa has produced. Both Nyerere and Mazrui shone in their respective fields. In 2004, the London-based magazine, The New African, invited its readership to respond to the question: Who are the greatest Africans of all time? Both Nyerere and Mazrui were featured in the results as numbers 4 and 50, respectively. This was one year before Ali Mazrui was selected as the 73rd topmost intellectual on the list of top 100 public intellectuals worldwide by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States.) As a ‘back door’ salute to the two East African icons, we pose two questions: What set Mazrui and Nyerere apart? What was their relevance to the all-important issue of apartheid in South Africa? After all, South Africa’s racist policy did trigger public comparisons between the two giants. Historically, no issue has bedeviled post-colonial Africa as deeply and uniformly as apartheid. The racially-driven policy actually united the entire Black world in an alliance-in-adversity. How did our two East African heroes handle apartheid’s existence on their continent? Rooted in the firm conviction that apartheid was a repugnant moral abomination, Nyerere was decidedly and unalterably against it from the outset. He made this clear before his country became independent in 1961. On October 22, 1959, he made a powerful pledge before the colonial Legislative Council, “We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where there was before only humiliation.” Henceforth, Nyerere effectively became a diplomatic globe-trotter, urging the Western world to desist from supporting apartheid. Meanwhile, Dar es Salaam quickly transformed into a Mecca for all the liberations movements from across white-dominated Southern Africa. In sum, Nyerere provided moral, political and material support to the struggles against white-rule in southern Africa. In the end, his contribution was consummated by his peers when they installed him as the Chairman of the Frontline States upon its establishment in 1970. Ultimately, Nyerere’s dedication to the liberation of the African sub-continent earned him the distinction of being glorified as the ‘carrier of the torch that liberated Africa.’ Nyerere was thus a hands-on political actor regarding South Africa in particular and southern Africa generally. Ali Mazrui entered the South African scene differently, as a scholar steeped in the Western orientation. After apartheid, the next most agonizing issue in post-colonial Africa was arguably that of white mercenaries. Indeed apartheid and white mercenaries were often perceived and projected as one and the same thing to the extent that the latter was a byproduct of the former. As rejects of apartheid, mercenaries were jettisoned out of the white war-machine and were happy to become soldiers-of-fortune who hired themselves out to the despots in black Africa. This tradition of mercenaries continued until 1998 when it was legally banned by democratic South Africa. The first captive in this ‘dogs of war’ aberration was Congo’s Moishe Tshombe. He first engaged the much despised mercenaries in the mid-1960s to fight for the secession of Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga Province, and subsequently for a united Congo. As a result of this illogical flip-flopping, a question arose: Was Tshombe having fellow Africans killed by South African white racists in the interest of his country or for his personal ambitions? Mazrui of that time was the ultimate scholar in the Western tradition of genuine inquiry and free speech. Regarding the presence of white mercenaries in the Congo he argued that there was a silver lining to it in the long run, because the Congolese had less to forgive each other for if the killing was done by foreign mercenaries. In his own words, “…the use of foreigners to commit some of the atrocities (in the Congo) might cynically but truly, be a positive contribution to the realization of future peace.” As far as pure logic goes, Mazrui’s proposition here was certainly viable. However, human affairs do not happen in a vacuum. In an abstract sense, there was coherence to Mazrui’s logic but, in an African setting, there was something about that logic that was cold-blooded and abrasive. Regardless of the fate of peace in future Congo, the very idea of entertaining (and paying) racist South Africans to spill African blood anywhere in freed Africa, was itself anathema, absolutely unacceptable. It was a classic case of the ends not justifying the means. What is more, the collective will of post-colonial Africa was total isolation of apartheid South Africa. Mazrui’s logic-of-the-head overlooked those deeply-held sentiments in black Africa. By repeatedly employing insensitive and unpalatable reasoning, Mazrui was nearly tagged with a pejorative stigma of being stoic to pan-African causes, the critic of orthodoxies of African thought. At least he earned the label that, in his earlier scholarship, Mazrui was an aloof and pointlessly combative polemicist. Yet, there was another side to Ali Mazrui, a kinder and gentler person who was deeply devoted to Africa and easily moved by the misfortunes of fellow Africans. Unfortunately, this side of Mazrui remained largely unknown except to those who got to know him personally. Relative to South Africa, Mazrui-of-the heart was exposed to me in the late 1960s by a South African event. In 1969, the University of Cape Town tracked Mazrui down to Makerere University in Uganda and invited him to give a public lecture at the ‘world class’ institution. This was at the height of the dark days of apartheid. UCT is the same university where in 1966 the US Senator Robert F. Kennedy had directed some brutally challenging remarks at apartheid. Mazrui took the bull by the horns by stating three conditions for accepting the offer. He was prepared to give the lecture at UCT provided (a) he was free to say whatever he wanted (b) that he addressed only a racially mixed audience and (c) he could bring along his British wife. UCT responded that it was prepared to risk the first two conditions but the third one was ‘going too far.’ Indeed bringing his white wife to South Africa would make Mazrui liable to prosecution under the Immorality and Mixed Marriage laws. So, in 1969 Mazrui did not go to the old South Africa but he made his point of protesting against apartheid by upholding pan-African sentiments. So, he was indeed capable of being moved by feelings after all! [caption id="attachment_15187" align="alignleft" width="194"] Prof James N. Kariuki[/caption] In the early 1970’s, there was a propensity among upcoming African scholars to ‘dismiss’ Ali Mazrui. To them, he had succumbed to becoming a detached, ivory tower academic committed to being a negative critic of orthodox African thought. Why did he not animate his scholarship by applying it to public affairs of society in the mold of Julius Nyerere, Martin Luther King or WEB Dubois? Yet, by the time his body started to fail him, Mazrui was deeply involved outside the academy in gigantic global projects of denouncing injustice. Such included campaigning on behalf of the African Union for reparations for slavery and seeking justice for the Palestinians. Similarly, after the presidency, Julius Nyerere took on a global responsibility of becoming Chairman of the South Commission, comprising of the continents of the Southern Hemisphere. What is the moral of this story? The two East African icons travelled different routes to international acclaim but they arrived at the same destination of combating injustices of this world. Beneath the façade in their external appearances, what they had in common transcended those differences. Perhaps African critics should allow time and space for their homegrown intellectual treasures to shine when they are ‘good and ready.’ *James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), a consultant and an independent writer. More of his work and the Special PAV edition on Prof Ali Mazrui can be found on his blog Global Africa]]>
Ali A. Mazrui in Historical Context: A Tribute
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Professor James Kariuki[/caption] In 2004, one of the major South Africa’s national newspapers, City Press, came to an agreement with Professor Ali Mazrui that he would write a regular column for it. The association was not entirely accidental. The paper had acquired a new editor and the new management team had decided to adopt a new ideological orientation summed up in a new motto: Distinctly African. For that, City Press could hardly find a better match than Ali Mazrui. Adoption of the paper’s new motto came in the wake of the historic African Union-organized Diaspora Conference of Intellectuals in Dakar, Senegal. The conference was a formal affirmation that African intellectuals have a role to play in shaping post-colonial Africa and its Diaspora. The launch of the Mazrui column in the City Press came one month after the announcement of 100 greatest Africans of all time. Earlier in the year London-based publication, The New African, had invited nominations from its readers to respond to the question: Who are the greatest Africans of all time? Their editorial offices were awash with nominations. The result, published in August 2004, was a unique mix of some of the most significant Africans in history. But the list of nominations manifested three biases. One was a gender bias: there were very few women in that list of African luminaries. Secondly, there was a political bias. The selected nominees were disproportionately political heroes and giants of statecraft. Finally, there was a temporal bias in that the nominated Africans ware primarily Titans of the 20th century. Not enough heroes from the previous centuries were nominated. The list included Ali Mazrui, an African scholar and the distinguished author of the relatively new ‘Africana Column’ in City Press, as a historical hero. Mazrui shared the 50th place with F.W. de Klerk, the former president of South Africa who was instrumental in dismantling apartheid. It was surprising even to Mazrui himself, that of the East Africans who made the list he is the only scholar to have earned that distinction. Literary gaps in the list included the absence of Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Tanzania’s Swahili poet Shaaban Roberts, and Okot p’Bitek, author of Song of Lowino, from Uganda. Mazrui was in splendid isolation among East African academics. African founding fathers of post-colonial era did feature prominently in The New African’s list. Those included Kwame Nkrumah, Robert Mugabe, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius K. Nyerere, Milton Obote and others. Also recognized were some of Africa’s martyrs such as Kenya’s Tom Mboya who was assassinated in 1969, and Dedan Kimathi, who was executed by the British during the Mau Mau war in Kenya. Some of the nominations for historical greatness were obvious such as Shaka Zulu. Some omissions were inexcusable, such as the absence of Menelik II of Ethiopia. It was impressive that The New African recognized that the Diaspora was part of Africa. Thus, the 100 greatest Africans included such Diaspora giants as W.E. B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the boxer Muhammad Ali and others. Coincidentally, the idea of selecting 100 greatest Africans of all time followed in the wake of an earlier pan-African proposal by Ali Mazrui for nomination of 100 greatest African books of the previous 100 years. Mazrui made the suggestion at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1988, and the international publishers and others acted upon the proposal. Nominations of great books were invited internationally, and a distinguished panel of judges was set up. Since the concept of 100 greatest African books had originally come from Mazrui, his own books were disqualified from the competition. However, he was recognized as the ‘founding father’ of the whole exercise. When the awards of the final list of Africa’s greatest books of the previous 100 years were at last ready to be given to the authors in Cape Town in 2002, Mazrui was given a special role. This included presenting an award to Nelson Mandela personally for his book written in prison, Long Walk to Freedom. Just as Mazrui had helped to honor Mandela among the authors of Africa’s 100 greatest books of the century, The New African ranked the same Mandela as the greatest African in history. This was the same year, 2004, when both Mandela and Mazrui were honored with honorary doctorates by the University of Transkei, but this time the great Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was included in the honor list. [caption id="attachment_14858" align="alignright" width="168"] From left standing President Mbeki, Prof James Kariuki & Prof Mazrui seated[/caption] From the point of view of honorary doctorates, the year 2004 was exceptional even for Ali Mazrui. In that year alone he received four honorary doctorates in four different countries—doctorate in divinity form Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, USA, one in political economy from the University of Transkei in South Africa, another in humane letters from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and, finally, one in science and human resource development from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. Incidentally, Mazrui was so pan-African that not all Africans knew which country produced him. As he spent 10 of his formative years as a scholar at Makerere University in Kampala, many Africans believed that he was Ugandan. On the basis of his Swahili affiliations, attire and cultural background, other Africans believed that he was Tanzanian. And since he was married to a Nigerian, some Africans were convinced that he was Nigerian. Finally, because of his four decades residence in the USA, many Africans were convinced that he had become African-American. The New African described Mazrui as a Tanzanian intellectual and writer who represented a positive image of Africa and its people. Mazrui was actually from Kenya but, as the essay here by Uganda’s Jude Kagoro indicates, some other African countries are almost ready ‘to take up arms’ to claim him in death. Mazrui himself regarded the mistake about his nationality as a tribute to his pan-African orientation. City Press newspaper, under the editorship of Mathatha Tsedu, hoped that their association with Professor Ali Mazrui foretold of the golden days when all Africans would be African first and foremost and Nigerians, South Africans and Kenyans last. City Press could not have picked a better choice. Ali Mazrui was the epitome of the golden days’ aspiration. May his soul rest in eternal peace! *James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), now an independent writer based in South Africa. He was a professional and personal friend of Professor Ali Mazrui. He runs the blog Global Africa ]]>
Growing Up with Professor Ali Mazrui
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Dr Willy Mutunga is Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya[/caption] I have had a long association with the academic, author, documentary maker, and tree shaker, Professor Ali Mazrui, who died a little more than a month ago. I borrow the metaphor “Growing up with” from the title of renowned Professor Karim Hirji’s autobiography, Growing Up with Tanzania, to reflect on just a few inspiring encounters over the decades I have had with the intellectual giant of Africa. Mjomba Ali died in Binghamton, New York, on October 12, 2014. He was 81 years and 8 months old. I remember Mazrui particularly in context of debates at the University of East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, which were as ideological as they were political. There were professors on the left and on the right with liberals in the middle. It was the era of the Cold War and this was reflected intellectually, ideologically, and politically at the university. The debates were among great African, regional, and global scholars such as Walter Rodney, Giovanni Arrighi, A. J. Temu, Justinian Rweyemamu, John Saul, Tamas Sczentes, Yash Tandon, Abdalla Bujra, Mahmood Mamdani, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Nabudere, Omwony Ojok, Henry Mapolu, Aki Sawyerr, Kwesi Botchwey, Marjorie Mbilinyi, Yash Pal Ghai, Dharam Ghai, John Samuel Mbiti, Okot p’Bitek, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Micere Mugo, Sol Piciotto, among many others. Dar es Salaam College of the University of East Africa became the liberation Mecca for many liberation movements: ANC, Frelimo, Swapo, Polisario, PLO, Black Power and Black Panthers, among others, with President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere providing the intellectual, ideological, and political umbrella that nurtured these great debates. Dar University was a great institution of higher learning to be in during the 1960s and the 1970s. I regard myself as having been very fortunate to be a student there during that period. First encounter I first met Mjomba Ali in 1969 while a student at the Dar es Salaam University College. Then teaching at Makerere University, he was in Dar to attend a conference. In those days academic conferences took place on a regular basis under the auspices of the University of East Africa. I attended many of them when Mjomba Ali presented papers. Needless to say I saw and heard the great academic, scholar, wordsmith, intellectual, nationalist and pan-Africanist, and radical liberal at his brilliant best. In his modesty and humility Mjomba Ali was later to confide in me that he believed that he lost his debate against Walter Rodney which took place at Makerere University in 1970. Reflecting on these debates it is easy to understand why a radical liberal would have a following among the students. The ideological debates between the right and the left were at times brutal, dogmatic, and ruthlessly critical. Students who wanted to hear and reflect on arguments from both sides of the ideological divide must have found Mjomba Ali’s middle position attractive. And Mjomba Ali remained consistent in that position while some of the scholars moved from one extreme to the other. We seem to have come a full circle in the 20th century with the middle, social democracy, being the basis of historicising, problematising, and interrogating the still dominant paradigms of neo-liberalism and socialism. The search for a paradigm that will liberate the world continues in earnest. The clarion call, the revolutionary slogan and resolve, A luta Continua, remains relevant. Autobiography Shy Professor Alamin Mazrui, Mjoba Ali’s nephew, and I had been keen to write Ali’s biography. We raised the issue with him. He did not want to say no to us, but upon reflection he was not very keen about the idea. He, however, did not disappoint because he suggested we could edit his great debates with scholars; that we proceeded to do in three volumes. I have always had this nagging feeling that Mjomba was never keen on the idea of an autobiography or biography. I should have figured out this when Alamin and I edited his debates! If you are a giant of a scholar who is constantly and continuously being debated, written on, critiqued, your story gets told permanently and indelibly. As Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya it was my great pleasure and privilege to host Mjomba Ali and Professor Robert Martin a year ago at the Judiciary. Mjomba Ali spoke to the judges about law and politics under the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. This was a timely intervention, particularly for judges who still nursed the idea that “the law is the law is the law” under the said Constitution. The Constitution of Kenya is not a legal-centric document and it requires a multi-disciplinary approach to its interpretation and implementation. It is a Constitution that fundamentally subverts staunch positivism. As an African who believes in my protection by the spirits of our ancestors, as creations of God, I have no doubt the Spirit of Mjomba Ali will watch over us as we continue to grow with him. I am sure more debate about his work and greatness will continue on earth for many centuries to come. I pray he will debate Walter Rodney yet again when their paths cross, this time round with clearer results! May the Almighty Allah rest his soul in eternal peace! *Dr Willy Mutunga is Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya. ]]>
ALI MAZRUI: The Human Dimensions
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Prof Elaigwu[/caption] An urbane gentleman, Ali Mazrui could easily have westernized himself, as some Africans have done. Some Africans in the West and in Africa are more Western than Westerners in their life-styles. But Ali Mazrui was a mixture of Western urbanity, African tradition, and Islamic values – part of the Mazrui Triple heritage. A liberal Muslim, Mazrui was genuinely committed to his faith, without necessarily making a show of it. He might not have met the numerical requirement for daily prayers, but he had a good heart, a kind heart, and the fear of God. Religion and Tradition Ali Mazrui’s family background and the values he learned in early life under his Grand Khadi father, always seemed to remain as some kind of check, even in the materialistic Western context he found himself. He was tolerant of other religions and made no fuss over religious differences. He could also engage anyone in debates over religion, without getting emotional about it. This was why he was incensed when critics accused him of religious bigotry – such as his position on Salman Rushdie or critiques of his narrative of Islamic events in The Africans documentary Indeed, Mazrui did not regard religious borders as impenetrable. He got married to his first wife, Molly, a Christian and British lady. His second wife, Pauline is Christian and Nigerian. Both have Islamic names. Mazrui never insisted that his wife should change her religion. Nor did Ali Mazrui insist that all his children be Muslim. One cardinal human trait of Ali Mazrui was his religious ecumenicalism in the family and among his circle of friends. Religion hardly came into his calculus of inter-personal relations. However, I observed that his early religious belief had much to do with his trust for people (until they proved themselves otherwise), his kindness, and his willingness to give without expecting returns. In a moment of introspection Mazrui once noted – “I grew up in the shadow of Mau Mau; I am aging in the shadow of Al-Queda.” To what extent did Ali Mazrui grow up in the shadow of his family’s Islamic tradition, and age under the shadow of stronger personal conviction as a Muslim? May be the answer is to be found in his experience in Africa with the BBC team as he shot scenes in various parts of Africa in the mid-eighties for The Africans. The documentary examined indigenous, Islamic and Western civilizations. In the process of filming, something new happened to Ali Mazrui. As he wrote: “I studied more closely than ever the religion of my birth within my own ancestral continent. Something in me was affected during those years.” If something affected Ali Mazrui in those years, the telecast of The Africans exposed him to new Islamic constituencies around the world. His lectures and writings on Islamic topics increased. In 1995 alone, he gave 10 lectures on various topics on Islam – from Oxford University through San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio, to Hong Kong and Canada. Another interesting aspect of Mazrui was his interest in African tradition. He was a collector of traditional African art, handicrafts and others. He was passionate about Africa. A humble and amiable personality, the only area I noticed his vanity was whenever he wore African clothes. He showed off African clothes, from all over the continent, with pride. Even when he wore a Western suit, he proudly adorned it with ‘kente’ muffler from Ghana. For Mazrui, Africa had many things of which to be proud. One of these was the rich variety of African fashions. Large Heart and Generosity I have never met anyone as generous as Ali Mazrui. In fact, the late Omari Kokole and I, believed that if Ali Mazrui managed his resources by himself, he would be broke in three months. He easily identified with the down-trodden and the less privileged. Like a typical African, he believed in the maintenance of an extended family and his wards also became members of the family. Several Ugandans became his wards. In many cases he assisted them with admissions to educational institutions and others with cash and jobs. This also applied to Nigerians and other Africans. Until his death, his house in Binghamton was a typical African family house with extended family members of three generations. He retained that African elder’s propensity to be his brother’s keeper. In capitalist, nuclear family-oriented America, Mazrui still played the typical African. Ali Mazrui had a large and forgiving heart. As an illustration, there was this ward of his who stole his checkbook, forged his signature, and cleared large sums of money from his bank account. Mazrui found, to his chagrin, that checks written to pay his children’s school fees were not being honored. He discovered that his ward had ‘sanitized’ his account. Mazrui did not cut off this ward; he still visited with this man when he was in his country. Similarly, on the faculty of the Department of Political Science in Jos, there were a few colleagues, who out of career insecurity made false academic allegations against Mazrui, and even tried to instigate students against him. They had painted him as a conservative agent of liberal western civilization. Of course, none of these colleagues had the courage to challenge Mazrui to debate. I learnt quite a great deal from the maturity with which he handled these junior colleagues. He treated them with courtesy and politely tried to erode their sense of insecurity. It showed maturity, humility and good skills in inter-personal relations. Leadership and Influence Ali Mazrui provided leadership in largely very informal but definite ways. The late Kokole and I always braced ourselves to the usual Mazrui yellow ruled sheets, a day after he travelled. Late Nancy Levis, his Secretary then, usually had the largest number of yellow sheets. He discussed freely with one; he was the boss without being bossy; and took time to spend evenings with us, his friends. A number of times Omari, Ali and I would meet at my apartment or at Ali’s in Binghamton till the early hours of the morning, chatting over the trivial, the humorous and even highly debatable issues. I missed those informal friendly sessions. Ali and I also had such sessions in Jos with Prof. Nurudeen Farah. I often teased late Dr. Omari Kokole, over his attempt to become an Ali Mazrui clone. Omari copied many traits of Ali Mazrui without knowing that he was doing so. His writing was almost exactly like Mazrui’s. However, I stopped teasing Omari when I realized what happened to me in Paris in 1979, at the conference on “Historical and Socio-Cultural Relations Between Black Africa and the Arab World from 1935 to the Present,” organized by UNESCO Committee on the General History of Africa. I had just finished delivering my paper, when the former teacher of King Hassan of Morocco (I believe it was His Excellency, Mr. Mohammed El Fasi) called me aside and congratulated me, but advised me to be slower in my delivery especially when there were translations. He then turned to Ali Mazrui and said – “Professor, goodness you are reproducing yourself, only that he is faster in his delivery. Tell him to slow down.” Ali Mazrui smiled. I could not detect, even today, the ‘mazruiness’ in my style of presentation. In short, Ali Mazrui could be very infectious in his influence. I have been teased by many Nigerian colleagues and others as a “Nigerian Mazrui.” I have strongly denied this. One, I am nowhere as prolific as he was; two our writing styles are different, and, three, our modes of presentation are different. Moreover, I always argue that I would rather be Elaigwu, because that is what I would like to be, and that is what I believe Ali Mazrui would like me to be – myself, even if I had learnt some tricks of the profession from him. How does one draw the boundaries of influence? Humanity, Humility and Africanity I was personally touched by Prof Mazrui’s humanity. You only needed to put Ali Mazrui on a carpet to debate any topic of interest to him to see his strength of personality. The image of a very strong orator, polemicist, writer and academic, belied the deeply human, empathetic and emotional aspects of Ali Mazrui. Ali Mazrui valued relations with people, family and friends in very emotional terms. He did not pretend to be unemotional. He was very committed and loyal to his family and friends, no matter what differences existed. He did not pretend not to get incensed or offended, but he was quite patient. Nor was he vindictive. He forgave very easily, even if he might not have forgotten. Past wrongs so forgiven, did not affect his relations with the person. I once witnessed moments of Ali Mazrui’s anguish. The occasion was the death of Maureen, one of Ali’s Ugandan wards. I had never seen Ali Mazrui weep before, but he did. He was devastated. Omari and I had to devise ways to console him. It was not easy. Warm, emotional in relationships and honest, Ali Mazrui found himself, feeling like he had lost part of himself. But he picked himself up and travelled to Uganda to make funeral arrangements with Brenda (Maureen’s sister.) Omari and I were relieved by the assumed stoicism. Ali brooded like any human being, then put himself together and took up what he considered to be his responsibilities. Another example of Ali Mazrui’s anguish was the death of Omari Kokole. I knew Omari’s role in Mazrui’s life and vice versa, and I could imagine how the latter felt at the death of Kokole. As he wrote to me later – “What a shock, Jonah. We are quite bewildered.” I fully empathized with his situation. At that point I was not sure what I was more concerned about – Omari’s death or Ali’s health. I resorted to prayer for the Mwalimu. Again, like a strong character, he gradually overcame the tragedy and moved on. In a typical African way, Mwalimu Mazrui not only arranged for the funeral, he visited Omari’s mother, sister and two daughters to console them. Mazrui was really disturbed by the debate with Wole Soyinka and its depreciation into pettier levels than he had expected. In Nigeria, whenever anyone challenged Ali Mazrui publicly about it, one could feel the personal anguish he was going through. His usual explanation that he did not start the debate and the gutter-type vituperations which followed did not seem to convince, even himself. His anguish was, I believe, “why should two elder academics debase themselves before younger and junior colleagues?” In African tradition, elders are conscious about how they settle their squabbles, such that wrong signals are not sent to younger ones. Mazrui’s dilemma was whether to stop or continue to reply to charges he felt were untrue and unfair, in view of the side-effects on younger colleagues. In 1995, Ali Mazrui was given the Distinguished Africanist Award at the 38th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, meeting in Orlando, Florida. At a party held in his honor by the African Studies and Research Centre of Cornell University, Ali Mazrui paid tribute to the five pillars of his professional career, two of which were in Africa – Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Jos in Nigeria. The other three were American universities – the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Cornell University. Ali Mazrui’s commitment to Africa was beyond dispute; his ability to interpret it has been accepted world-wide, even if there is no consensus on such interpretation; and his spirit of congeniality towards fellow Africans and Africanists has been confirmed by many Africanists themselves. The impact of Ali Mazrui’s works transcends countries and continents, race and ethnic groups, religion and languages. Mazrui was a modern Aristotle, his peripatetic style did not merely involve walking while talking in the classroom, it involved flying to Tokyo, a car-ride in Brazil, and walking in the rural areas and the bushes of Nigeria, as he filmed and lectured all over the world. There was no stopping this African in his intellectual crusade as a globalist, trying to make the world understand Africa, and Africa, the world. Professor Mazrui’s works reflect his beliefs and concerns about Africa, Africa and the world; the contradictions in the continent’s developmental process; the alternative mechanisms for conflict resolution; the socio-psychology of the African elite and the dilemmas of development; the politics of globalism and Africa’s position; the third World and the North – issues of dependency and liberation; modalities for South-South cooperation; religion, language (culture) and the State; academic freedom and the freedom of the writer, and many others. Some of the issues highlighted in his writing and public lectures are matters that gave him personal causes of agitation. Even in these circumstances, he tried to maintain as much academic objectivity as humanly possible, driven by powerful logic and incredibly coherent and impressive prose. You may not always agree with Ali Mazrui, but you will agree that he was a distinguished academic and Africanist. Ali Mazrui thought, wrote and spoke about Africa with passion and patriotism. It is important to note that although Ali Mazrui resided in the United States for forty years, he retained his Kenyan passport and citizenship. He could easily have become an American, possibly British, citizen. Even at eighty (four score years) Prof. Ali Mazrui still made frequent international trips to give lectures. While the wheel chair came to his aid at the airports, Mwalimu Mazrui still soldiered on in spite of his ill-health. His persistence, hard-work, determination and commitment to the cause of expanding the parameters of knowledge, has been a great lesson to those of us coming behind him. Conclusion Professor Ali Mazrui journeyed to the “Hereafter”, after eighty one years. For me, it has been an honor to be associated with Ali Mazrui from Palo Alto to the Nigerian Plateau and beyond. Professor Mazrui had been a role model, an inspiration, a mentor, a teacher and a boss. He represented noble characteristics of an urbane western-educated African who is Islamic and yet traditional. From Ali Mazrui I learnt not only skills in intellectual work but in interpersonal relations. I must confess that Mazrui’s Africa-centric concerns encouraged me to remain in Nigeria, even amidst massive exodus of Nigerian intellectuals from the country. I did not want to be far away from the field of my study. Let me salute this great African Globalist and Global African, this orator and master of English Language; outstanding academic, scholar par excellence, novelist, excellent narrator, an amazingly efficient teacher, meticulous editor, and astute administrator. I salute his humanity, humility and Africanity. I salute his passion and patriotism, and above all, the courage to be himself even when others disagreed. I salute this true “African child of a mountain called Kenya, a river called Niger and a lake called Victoria.” May God grant his SOUL eternal rest in the “Hereafter.” Amen!! *J. Isawa Elaigwu is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Jos; President, Institute of Governance and Social Research, Jos, Nigeria]]>
The Ali Mazrui I Knew
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Esther Githinji[/caption] I knew Professor Ali Mazrui for only ten years, 2004 to his death. Yet, in that short period, we got to know each other fairly well because we talked and worked on both personal and professional levels, at times, quite intensely. When he passed away on October 12, 2014, I asked myself a simple question: What principles guided this remarkable man in life? I share here a handful of thoughts which have occurred to me, keeping in mind that this is still a work in progress. Speak Up for the Downtrodden Since his days at Makerere University, Ali Mazrui would not be silenced on matters of principle or public interest, even if this meant provoking the powers that be of East Africa. As Mazrui himself came to put it, “Obote was sometimes tempted to detain me or expel me (from Uganda); Idi Amin eventually wished he had eliminated me, and Julius Nyerere is in recurrent debates with me. Moi does not know what to do with me.” But in terms of live and hot political issues, it was Uganda’s Milton Obote who bore the brunt of Mazrui’s challenges. This was so in part because Mazrui lived and worked in Uganda in most of the 1960s. Indeed, Obote was once driven to summon him for a warning coded in form of a pointed rhetorical question, “Professor Mazrui, do you know the difference between a professor of political science and a politician?” In the days to come Mazrui would pay a hefty professional price for the reputation of being ‘politically engaging.’ Indeed it was precisely for that reason that the University of Nairobi declined to offer the otherwise popular professor a job when Uganda became too dangerous for him during Idi Amin’s era. Why did Mazrui get involved in politically charged issues? Was he a man inclined to taking chances? It was startling, for example, that in the 1980s, at the height of general oppression and human rights abuses in Kenya, he dared call a news conference in Nairobi to challenge President Daniel Arap Moi to step down from power; that he had outlived his usefulness. Many a man had lost their lives for less. If Mazrui took chances, it certainly was neither because he was oblivious to the risks involved nor because of blind audacity. Moi knew the Mazrui name; Mazrui’s nephew, Alamin Mazrui, was in his ‘den of political detainees’ without trial in the same 1980s. More importantly, the President was certainly acutely sensitive to Alamin’s internationally famous uncle. After all, he had personally banned his scholarship in Kenya, including telecasting of his world famous television documentary, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” It was not that Mazrui was indifferent to his personal security. The point was that there was a bigger, more powerful imperative: to speak up for the downtrodden, the voiceless people of Kenya. As has been said, “…he dined, wined and argued with Kings, Presidents, and Generals but he never lost his common touch.” Forgive but Not Necessarily Forget Professor Ali Mazrui left Makerere in the early 1970s pushed to do so by Idi Amin’s widespread inhumanity against his own people. By that time Mazrui had already established himself worldwide as a towering scholar. If he needed a job abroad, all he had to do was say so. Odds are that most Africans in his shoes would have opted for a secure and lucrative position in more stable and wealthier West. Mazrui’s first choice was to teach at the University of Nairobi, in his home country. And indeed he did approach the Vice-Chancellor of that institution to offer his services. However, the VC informed him with regrets that, ‘higher ups’ had conveyed a message that at the University of Nairobi, Mazrui was a persona non-grata. Hurt and disappointed, Mazrui departed for the USA where he worked at some of the finest Americans educational institutions. Mazrui did not disintegrate for being rejected by his mother country. As the old saying goes, it is impossible to keep a good man down. During his years away from Uganda and Africa, Mazrui became infinitely more productive. In addition to rolling out prolific publications, he undertook his defining work of writing and producing his legendary television documentary, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” Meanwhile, back in Kenya, Mazrui’s works, including the documentary were prohibited material, thanks to the regime of Daniel Arap Moi. The ban remained in effect until President Mwai Kibaki came to power and revoked it. [caption id="attachment_14866" align="alignright" width="586"] From left standing, Esther Githinji, President Mbeki, Pauline Mazrui & Professor Mazrui seated[/caption] Kenya’s powers that be attempted to dismiss Ali Mazrui because they dreaded his liberating ideas. Mazrui kept writing newspaper commentaries on Kenya (and in Kenya) when issues of national interest arose, such as the post-election violence of 2007 erupted. He never ceased to suggest political solutions. As fate would have it, ordinary Kenyans refused to abandon their intellectual gem, their finest political thinker. Secret love affair between Mazrui and Kenya never died; it was deeply entrenched. Those tempted to question this claim should review the Kenyan news media—electronic and printed— of the two weeks after Professor Mazrui passed away. The queues at his burial, the editorials, the tributes, the crowds at his funeral would make you think that the country had lost its beloved head of state. Loudly and clearly, Kenyans claimed their intellectual giant, their favorite son, even in death. Give a Helping Hand where You Can I was lucky to visit Mazrui’s home in Binghamton, New York, for professor’s 80th birthday celebrations. So, I state with certainty that when you hear it said that the Mazrui home was an African Center of sorts, it is meant literally. When African visitors arrived in Binghamton, they wanted to visit Ali Mazrui and his family. They did not care that Mazrui was perhaps too “big a name” and might be too busy or snobbish to welcome them. They felt and knew otherwise. Residents at that home were Mazrui’s extended family that covered three generations, mostly from Uganda and Nigeria. Some were family. Others were friends while others were children that Mazrui had legally adopted so that they could benefit from his name. In another essay in this collection, an unequivocal assertion is made that Mazrui was generous to a fault. This could indeed be an understatement. I became involved in the management of Professor Mazrui’s affairs in South Africa in 2004. I noticed immediately that it was expected of me to contact and arrange Mazrui’s meetings with people from everywhere in Southern Africa; he wanted to meet and see them in the flesh to personally verify how they were doing. One time it was a Zambian ex-soldier who Mazrui was assisting financially because somehow he had come to hard financial times. Next, it was a Ugandan student at Fort Hare University who Mazrui was sponsoring through school. When they came to Johannesburg, I booked them in hotels. Mazrui was footing the bill for their travel, room and board. Mazrui never talked much about these extra-curricular ventures; they were private between him and his friends. What has to be remembered is that this was Mazrui spending time and money on nameless ‘John Does.’ This is the same man for whom we had no difficulty securing meetings and appointments with Thabo Mbeki when he was President of the country and after. Along this same line, many of us know that Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. What is less known is that towards the end of the candidates’ review, the Norwegian Peace Committee consulted Professor Mazrui regarding Wangari’s candidacy. His strong endorsement that she was ‘eminently qualified’ probably tipped the scale in her favor. Let No One Push You Around I was witness to one running disagreement between Professors Ali Mazrui and James Kariuki. Kariuki was pushing the opinion that Mazrui should quit responding to those who criticized him in print. In Kariuki’s view, Mazrui as a scholar had become too big for such engagements and his work spoke for itself anyway. Additionally, his writings were so vast that he could not effectively keep up with all his academic nemeses. Mazrui’s reaction was that he had to respond because “ignoring the critics was a higher form of arrogance.” Kariuki was later to confide in me later that, in his view, the reasoning that Mazrui state was partly correct, but there was an additional factor. When challenged, the small giant in Mazrui had to rise to the occasion and show his critics that there was a tiger in his tank. On many occasions, Mazrui himself lamented that his whole life had been one long debate. You can see why. He relished a good debate. Unfortunately, some of these written exchanges eventually degenerated to undesirable levels. The most notorious of these was the exchange between Mazrui and Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka and, to a considerably lesser degree, South Africa’s late Archie Mafeje. The barrage of attacks and counter-attacks became acrimonious and virtually ad hominem (playing the man not the ball) which grieved Mazrui deeply but he could not stop himself from continuing the duels. The tiger in Mazrui had been roused. Shake them up occasionally lest they doze off [caption id="attachment_14867" align="alignleft" width="586"] From right seated Esther Githinji, Professor Ali Mazrui & Professor James Kariuki standing[/caption] At some point in my involvement in the management of Professor Mazrui’s affairs in South Africa, he was given an honorarium in check form for a lecture that he had delivered. It was on a Friday and he was leaving for home the following day, a Saturday. It was critical to cash his check in South Africa; he could not just deposit it (in South African rand) in his bank account in New York. So, on Saturday morning we went to the bank in Sandton and he carefully handed over the check and his passport for ID to Professor Kariuki to go to the counter and cash it for him. Meanwhile, Mazrui and I sat down; his legs were already getting fragile. At the bank we were served in about ten minutes and we proceeded back to Prof. Mazrui’s hotel to get him ready for his departure in about four hours. We were sitting at the hotel lobby sipping coffee and talking casually when, out of nowhere, Mazrui dropped a bomb. He said to Professor Kariuki, “James, where is my passport?” Kariuki’s heart skipped a beat but, for emphasis, Mazrui continued, “I remember giving it to you at the bank but I do not remember you giving it back to me!” Kariuki knew that he had received the passport and was also sure that he did not have it now. The question remained: where was that travel document? The banks were already closed; we could not check there. James and I drew a blank! Professor Mazrui did not seem particularly perturbed about the agonizing state of affairs. But you rewind and consider the state of mind for Kariuki and me. Here is an elderly international icon in South Africa and he will be stuck here for an indefinite period of time because we, his ‘handlers,’ had lost his diplomatic passport. How long will it take to get him another diplomatic passport from Kenya? Where will he be staying meanwhile? Will a new visa be required for Mazrui to enter the US? Who will be responsible for his bills in South Africa? Did he bring with him enough of his medications? What about his professional duties back in New York? Can you imagine the newspaper headlines in South Africa, Kenya and even the USA? These questions ran through our minds in bewilderment. As usual a woman’s mental intervention’ came to the rescue. I recalled that when we returned from the bank to the hotel, Professor Mazrui changed his jacket which I folded neatly and put it in his suitcase. I thus asked him for the keys, went to his room, opened the suitcase and voila! There was the passport in the inner pocket of his jacket. Kariuki’s heart started beating regularly again and we continued with our conversation and coffee sipping as if nothing had ever happened. Mazrui never uttered another word about his alleged lost-and-found passport. Was he pulling Kariuki’s leg about the passport fiasco to stop us from dozing off? He never told; we will never know. May your soul rest in eternal peace, my special friend! *Esther W. Githinji is a Kenyan business lady who is currently doing philanthropy work in South Africa.]]>
WE WILL MISS PROF. ALI MAZRUI’S CONTRASTS
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Mathatha Tsedu[/caption] When South Africa’s weekly newspaper, the City Press, decided in early 2004 that it would reposition itself and become a more distinctly African publication, part of the challenge was to find appropriate content that would be in line with this new philosophy. The challenge was to find hard news about daily and weekly developments in our country and the rest of Africa to feature pieces and columnists whose writing, thinking and stature would affirm the new approach. Professor Ali Mazrui’s was one of our first names on the list for columnists. The other was another towering Africanist intellectual and writer, Molefi Kete Asante. After hearing what City Press was trying to do, Mazrui agreed to write for us without even discussing payment arrangements. And so began a relationship between the City Press and Ali Mazrui that saw him come into the country as a guest of the paper to address staff and other meetings. This giant of African and world intellectuals was a soft-spoken man with minimal demands. He always met his deadlines for article submissions and was more than a worthy addition to the mix that made City Press a must-read every Sunday for people interested in African thought and politics. And this showed in the rising circulation of the paper. Just to emphasize the point, Mazrui cared more about where his articles were going to appear than about how much he would be paid. A rival publication offered him double our rate but he declined, saying the environment created by the City Press as an Africa-focused publication meant his views were sharing space with similarly focused articles. For us he wrote about US policies towards Africa, Islam and the problems of African leaders who were more inclined to stay in office than to serve their people. He had been a victim of one such dictator, Idi Amin, when he was based at Makerere University in its heyday. He was forced to leave Uganda and Makerere which he dearly loved or share the fate of many highly visible personalities of Uganda who disappeared during Idi Amin’s the reign of terror. Mazrui truly believed in Africa and its good side without denying the sad realities of poverty in many countries. When the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – in line with the new world information order in the late 80s – decided to write a different view of African history, Mazrui was appointed editor of one series even though he was not part of the team of experts put together to manage the project. The series that emerged from this exercise provided the world with a different view of African history, which did not start with colonization but went back to civilizations and African kingdoms before white settlers set foot on African soil. Not one to shy away from expressing his views, Mazrui often stirred controversy, especially on Islam, to a point where new words such as Mazruiana and Mazruiphobia were coined to describe his philosophy and reactions to it. Mazrui received death threats, especially after the World Trade Center attack by al-Qaeda militants in 2001. While he condemned the attacks, he argued that the US needed to look at why it attracted such hostile reactions from some quarters of militant and extremist Islam. But in that post-9/11 attack mode, the US was in no mood for ifs and buts, and wanted unmitigated condemnation of Islam. [caption id="attachment_14840" align="alignright" width="300"] From left to right Prof Ali Mazrui, Mathatha Tsedu and Prof James Kariuki[/caption] A father figure with his signature trademark of Kente cloth scarf, Mazrui oozed fatherly wisdom, intelligence and dignity that did not need to be dug up. You just felt secure in his presence where he served as a fountain of knowledge, kindness and limitless insignts. This is borne out by the recognition that he received across the world for his work and the demands on his time. On one occasion, he served as a senior lecturer-at-large for three institutions in three countries at the same time. Professor Ali Mazrui wrote profusely and in one of his relatively recent works of 2006, A Tale of Two Africas: Nigeria and South Africa as Contrasting Visions, edited by his colleague and friend, James Karioki, he examined and contrasted Africa’s two powerhouses and how differently they approached several issues. The above is a subject has since been revisited recently by former South African and Nigerian Presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, as they called for the harmonization of relations and approaches. Mazrui reveled in contrasts and in many of his writings he contrasted one issue with another instead of stating a point outright. It is the trademark of Mazruiana approach that we will sadly miss. *Mathatha Tsedu is former editor of the City Press. He is currently the Director of the South African National Editors Forum. And also the Manager of Media 24’s Journalism Academy.]]>
Prof. Ali Mazrui: The Kenyan, the African and the De Facto Ugandan
December 15, 2014 | 3 Comments
Jude Kagoro and Prof. Ali Mazrui[/caption] On 27th October 2014, a Ugandan news magazine, the Independent, published an article, “Prof. Ali Mazrui: Remembering a Giant Mind of Africa.” The article attracted several comments, most of which were centered on the claim that Prof. Mazrui was a Kenyan and also a de facto Ugandan in many ways. In the same article I highlighted Mazrui’s connections to and love for Uganda. A comment purportedly written by a Kenyan retorted, “Ugandans stop claiming our Mazrui. Just because he taught at Makerere does not make him Ugandan….” Another writer sarcastically noted, “hahaha, Ugandans are amazing; first Amin [former Ugandan president] claims Kisumu; then Museveni [the incumbent Ugandan president] claims Migingo [an Island in Lake Victoria]; again newspapers claim Barrack Obama [the American president] and now Dr. Kagoro and his supporters are claiming Prof. Mazrui. Why do you always want to steal from Kenya?” Then a Zambian, Precious Chilufya, countered, “Not too fast Ugandans and Kenyans to claim Mazrui. To me, growing up in the 1990’s, Prof. Ali Mazrui was Zambian because he was a weekly feature on our TV screens with his documentary “The Africans: A Trple Heritage.“ This man is a legendary African scholar who transcended being Kenyan.” The preceding comments, among others, are a microcosm highlighting that Prof. Ali Mazrui was an inspiration, a larger-than-life intellectual and a symbol of scholarly pride for many Africans. The Ali Mazrui brand has been enormous across Africa and beyond. One has to excuse Ugandans for emphasizing the “Ugandaness” of Mazrui. Who would not want to identify with an iconic personality? He is considered a Meta figure who nurtured many academics in the country. For that matter, I beg the reader to tolerate my own emphasis of Mazrui’s Ugandan connections. In fact, some press reports in Uganda have highlighted that Prof. Mazrui once made attempts to add the Ugandan citizenship to his Kenyan one. Moreover, Makerere University, the most prestigious and oldest university in Uganda, holds a proud record of having given Mazrui a platform to blossom and his first high profile appointments in the intellectual world. He joined the famous Hill as a political science lecturer in 1963, before becoming Head of Department of Political Science and later the first African Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. During his time at Makerere, the incumbent Chancellor of the University, Prof. John Ddumba-Ssentamu writes, Mazrui laid a firm foundation for Political Science Studies. This included the introduction of courses in International Relations and Law, which have since gone a long way in making the Department more relevant for both local and international issues. Fittingly, in Mazrui’s honor, Makerere University initiated the Mazrui Endowment Chair and the East African Ali Mazrui Centre for Global Studies in 2009. Mazrui was an outstanding speaker whose addresses and lectures were always popular and were attended to maximum capacity at the university’s historic Main Hall. During his time at Makerere, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o writes that Mazrui was always steaming with fresh thoughts which he engaged with his students, colleagues and the general public in forums such as open lectures, academic journals and in Ugandan newspapers. Similarly, a renowned Ugandan scholar, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, remembers that Mazrui established a tradition of bringing contentious and urgent socio-political issues into the university for debate. Hon. John Ken Lukyamuzi, a prolific debater, a leading opposition figure in the Ugandan legislature and a product of Mazrui’s debating initiatives at Makerere University describes Mazrui as a man with a voice of command and that every word he stressed was worth stressing. Mazrui was a fearless intellectual who profoundly influenced macro-political debates within the framework of Uganda. He sharply and uprightly criticized the former Ugandan President, Milton Obote, for suppressing Ugandans and for abrogating the country’s 1962 constitution. Indeed, Mazrui went further to describe Obote as “a great leader with great mistakes” in a time when it was deemed very dangerous to criticize Obote. For a while, when self-proclaimed Field Martial, and “Conqueror of the British Empire,” Idi Amin, took over power through a coup in 1971, Prof. Mazrui was his blue-eyed intellectual. Prof. Mazrui revealed later to the New York Times in 1986 that Amin had invited him to be his “Kissinger” or his chief adviser on foreign affairs. Instead, Mazrui rebuked Amin and his excesses, an epoch that sadly led to him having to flee the country. Noteworthy, Mazrui had the reputation of being courageous enough to concurrently critique both Idi Amin‘s and Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta‘s regimes. Those activities eventually forced Mazrui to choose the US as his exile destination. While by now much has been said and written about the life and works of the late Prof. Ali Mazrui, I personally would like to celebrate his ability to sharply generate debate, pro and con, an idea he espoused. I am particularly reminded of a scholarly debate I unintentionally generated by citing his work. In April/May 2010, I was invited to present a paper at an international conference hosted by the Center for Contemporary Theory and the Committee on African Studies at the University of Chicago. In the course of presenting the paper titled “Politics, Military and Society in Uganda,” I read out a citation from Ali Mazrui’s 1975 thesis, “Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy.” The citation was: “Statehood has so far been the final consolidation of the marriage between politicization and militarization and what we have now is a basic transition from the warfare state to the welfare state. This welfare state has been marked by a paradoxical process of attempting to divorce the military from politics in the state.” At the end of my presentation, one American professor made a comment to the effect that I should not have quoted Mazrui because in his perspective, Mazrui was a “journalist” and not an academic. Before I could respond an argument ensued among senior professors in the room. Many thought that Mazrui was too big a name to ignore and in fact, another professor in the room inferred that any academic work on the socio-politics of Uganda and Africa as a continent could not be considered complete if Mazrui was not mentioned. Perhaps one may excuse the professor’s description of Mazrui as a “journalist” but not the additional comment “not an academic.” One of Mazrui’s main strengths was his ability to creatively simplify heavy academic texts for the interest of non-academics. He wrote many articles in Kenyan, Ugandan, and South African newspapers. Ultimately, in 1986, Mazrui’s legendary reputation travelled beyond academia when he authored and hosted the nine-part television series, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” This master piece was aired on the BBC in England, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States and subsequently, as the comment from Zambian Precious Chilufya indicates, was also embraced by television audiences across Africa and the world. In April 2013, I was honored to be invited by the New York African Studies Association (NYASA) to attend to participate at its 38th annual conference in Binghamton University, New York. The conference with the theme, “Global Africa, Triple Heritage and Pax-Africana: Looking Back and Looking Forward,” was a truly a most stimulating academic events. The organizers purposely synchronized the conference with the grand celebration of Prof. Mazrui’s 80th birthday as well as the 50th year of his publishing career. Despite his already declining health, Prof. Mazrui attended several presentations, freely interacted with his guests and found time to individually encourage young scholars in their academic endeavors. He was humorous and refreshingly down-to-earth, a true inspiration. The conference/celebrations exemplified Mazrui’s love for Makerere University and Uganda in general. Makerere had a special exhibition stand and was represented by a large delegation led by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Ddumba-Ssentamu. Uganda had the largest number of invitees, including the King of Buganda, Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro and other high profile politicians, businessmen and academics. At the function, Prof. Mazrui personally spoke highly of Makerere University and referred to Uganda as home, just like Kenya. I am therefore gratified and proud to have met Prof. Ali Mazrui the Kenyan, the African and de facto Ugandan. He greatly influenced debates on Africa and the world at large and I hope – indeed, expect, that his towering influence will shape academia beyond the continent for many years to come. *Dr. Jude Kagoro is a Ugandan and a Post-doctoral Fellow, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies, University of Bremen, Germany. ]]>
How Ali Mazrui, the Global Kenyan, Charted my Path
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
[caption id="attachment_14873" align="alignleft" width="275"] Ngugi Wa Thiong’o[/caption] Late Prof Ali Mazrui and I were not social friends; and we did not always see eye to eye on politics and art. In the analyses of African politics he emphasized ethnic conflicts where I saw class conflicts as the prime mover. But our lives interacted in the most amazing of ways. In a documentary that Dr. Ndirangu Wachanga has made of the life of the late Ali Mazrui, he asked me what I thought of my fellow countryman. Mazrui, I said, is primarily a political scientist with a literary bent; and I, primarily a literary artist with a political bent. I knew he had this bent because, way back in the early 1960s, as a guest editor of a special issue of Ghala, then the literary arm of the East African Journal, I had published one of his short stories. Later he would write the novel, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo that would confirm this bent. Our first international conference together was at the 1969 International Congress of Africanists in Dakar, Senegal, where, on the eve of the conference, President Sedar Senghor received us in his palace and who, on shaking my hands, told me proudly that he knew Jomo Kenyatta. The conference was attended by the leading Africanists of the time. When it was the turn of Ali Mazrui to speak a day later, the hall was already packed, standing room only, with intellectuals from all over the world, pushing and shoving each other for space. I had seen similar crowds at his lectures in Makerere where he was the Professor of Political Science, the new wonder kid newly crowned with a Ph.D. from Oxford, towering over a campus that once rejected his application for admission as a student. I had just resigned over issues of academic freedom from the University of Nairobi in the English Department; and it was Mazrui together with David Cook who came up with a rescue package that enabled me to teach creative writing in the English Department and a class on Pan-Africanism in the Political Science Department at Makerere. It was from there that Mazrui and I had jetted to Dakar for the Congress of Africanists. Asthma attack: It was on the way to Dakar that Mazrui came up with the possibility of both of us I, as a creative artist and he, a political scientist, writing a biography of Jomo Kenyatta. The plan would later be shot down by those around the State House Nairobi but the idea was fascinating: Mazrui the first African Professor of Political Science and I the first published African novelist writing about the First President of independent Kenya. It was in the dark alone in my hotel room that I had my first serious attack of Asthma. I had no idea that I had this ailment. It was just that, one night, alone in my room at the hotel, I found myself unable to breathe. I remember crawling on all fours from my room down the stairs to seek help at the lobby. It was dawn. I hardly knew French, and my neighbors were equally, deficient in English, but somehow I managed to scribble down Mazrui’s name. It worked. They tracked him to his hotel and in no time he was with me, now a prostrate figure on the ground, fighting for every breath. Kenya had no diplomatic mission in Dakar; so it was finally the British Embassy that represented Kenya’s interests there and it promptly managed to get me a doctor. It was magical: one moment I was literally dying for lack of air, and the next minute, I was breathing normally. I was really grateful but vaguely disappointed that we had sought the offices of our former colonizer for my rescue. It was the same way that the newly independent East African states in 1964 had sought help from the same quarters to quell the African military mutinies. Wrath of KANU After my one-year-stint as a Makerere Fellow in Creative Writing Mazrui, through his good contacts with the late Gwendolyn Carter of North Western University in the USA, enabled my invitation as Visiting Associate Professor of English and African Studies, there, from 1970 to 1971. It was there where I begun writing my third novel, Petals of Blood. It was this novel together with the play, I Will Marry When I Want that would, in 1978, have me sent to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and later forced into exile. In the course of it, somehow, Mazrui and I had earned the wrath of the KANU regime, I for work with the London-based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners and him for his outspokenness on human rights abuses. Years later Mazrui and I would return to Dakar, Senegal, as special guests of the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (Codesria), at their 30th conference, where we were made life members. My Honorary Doctorate from Walter Sisulu University in 2004 became special to me because Mazrui and Mandela received theirs on the same occasion. It was all remarkable. Two Kenyan intellectuals being honored at the same time by the prestigious research institution in West Africa, and by an African University in South Africa! We leave it to political scientists to assess Mazrui’s intellectual legacy. But for me, taking his output as a whole, he more than lived up to the description of the global African. He made Kenya and Africa visible in the highest echelons of intellectual production. Very heaven To see Ali Mazrui on the platform, quoting from poets and philosophers alike in support of his arguments, was to witness a master intellectual performer. He dined and wined and argued with Kings, Presidents, and Generals but he never lost his common touch, attentive to the voice of the student with the same respect that he gave to the Mighty. He belonged to Generations; they saw themselves in him. I witnessed this at close quarters at the 2013 New York African Studies Conference in Binghamton to celebrate Mazrui’s 80th birthday. Intellectuals of his generation and others who could as easily have been his grandchildren gathered and read papers in his honor. Among these grandchildren was my 20-year-old Mumbi Wa Ngugi from Harriet Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, who gave a paper on the Politics of Silence and Agency. She opened her address by saying that there was no way she could have been left behind when it came to the celebration of a Kenyan legend and global African. Ali Mazrui sat through most of these, listening keenly to what the young had to say. Mazrui was very fond of William Wordswoth poem welcoming the French Revolution, particularly the lines: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven! I may no talk about Heaven but it was truly bliss to have witnessed Ali Mazrui intellectual performance at the height of his powers. He shone; he dazzled; he enlightened. Some of that bliss can be found in his numerous publications that will keep his spirit alive for generations to come. *Prof. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, USA. The Piece is culled from Standard Newspaper.]]>
Celebrating Mwalimu Ali Mazrui
December 15, 2014 | 1 Comments
Lindah Mhando[/caption] Situated at the intersection of the indigenous, Islamic and Western influences (the triple heritage), Mazrui’s philosophy in life, embodied the triple heritage of African, Western trained and Muslim. Mazrui’s scholarship was also influenced by Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah’s ideas on Pan Africanism, as evidenced in his doctoral thesis at Oxford University, Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition. But Mazrui’s brilliance was vivid in his analysis of the Triple Heritage, through the nine-part television series, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” In the convergence of “triple heritage” Mazrui ascertains the coalitional strategies for resisting racialized and oppressions of global capitalism. The Africans is widely considered one of the most comprehensive assessments of African politics, economics, culture, and society. In it Mazrui established his global reputation, and also generated strong controversy. The series were condemned by the National Endowment for Humanities as anti-Western and ironically, banned in Mazrui’s homeland of Kenya, for being too anti-African. Mazrui was a master wordsmith, gifted with oratory ability, eloquence, unconventional style, originality of ideas, and fierce independence of thought. There are many memorable moments elaborating his prowess, including the town hall debates at Makerere University and the debates he had with Dr. Walter Rodney at the University of Dar-es-Salaam. Although some of us were too young to be at the University then, the legacy lived on. Mazrui was also known for stimulating the audience by his “Millennium Harvard Lectures” that drew large, engaged audiences for three consecutive days. The lectures were subsequently published as The African Predicament and the American Experience: A Tale of Two Edens in 2004. He was considered to be a leading scholar in the field of African studies and a major African public intellectual, who has been the subject of numerous articles and books. Some scholars argued that, it is perhaps fitting to compare him with the likes of W.E. B. Du Bois, who had stolen similar titles in the last century. He truly captured the world’s imagination with his knowledge and ideas; influenced multiple fields within academia, but has also sent reverberations outside the ivory towers and scholarly journals, and clearly, revolutionized African studies. Mazrui’s writing has evolved into what is now termed as the “Mazruiana” collection; a paradigm with its own scholarship. Some of his most innovative and perhaps most enduring contribution to political philosophy has been, the re-invention of the “triple heritage” (the convergences of three civilizations: Islam, Euro-Christianity and indigenous), “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” (complexities of leadership/power) and “Afro-Saxon” (importance of cultural linguistic). In many ways his scholarship, situates a research agenda and praxis in order to challenge the assumption of neutrality. This resonates with me, and in fact, the process forced me to even retrace the contours of my own personal history; in other words, the way I understand myself and how I see others in relation to me. Mentoring Of his many accomplishments, mentoring his students was one of Mazrui’s proudest joys. He became my mentor when I was a graduate student at Binghamton State University, and our association developed in unanticipated ways. He was super busy, but at the same time making sure I was busy enough to hold on my own. From very early on he knew that my interest was to decolonize the capitalist supremacist patriarchal ways of thinking, and creating a trope that gives the marginalized, voices. One can just imagine the spirited conversations we had about these issues. I spent as much time in conversation with his ever-growing body of scholarly work, as in conversation with him. His works challenged me to think about different categories; from slavery to freedom, choices, citizenship, community and subjectivity. He created opportunities for me and through his mentorship, dozens of graduate and undergraduate students he supervised, trained, empowered, and challenged others to do the same. As a mentor, I can attest to the fact that not only was he my advocate, and understood that what I needed was interdisciplinary preparations for my future endeavors. He made my reading and writing a politically useful activity and a collective endeavor. I vividly remember how my intellectual confidence was boosted, when I was invited to write a comparative analysis piece on his Festschrift, I compared him to Mwalimu Nyerere. I received a complement from him, saying “your intellectual strength is in making comparisons” – it was perhaps the first time that I felt like a working scholar. At that time in many ways I was a poster child; the first Ph.D. African woman in the Sociology Department at Binghamton, fascinated by the notion of transnational feminism, social movement and political economy. The time we spent together was incredibly valuable to my intellectual development and my ability to be myself in the very white department. Being a first is not easy; you are carrying many burdens for the race, for the gender, being judged as a representative, not simply as a human being. In those ‘first positions’, stumbling is not an option. I tried and navigated well. After graduation, I joined St. Cloud University, but before long, I was hungry for more challenging opportunities. Given job market scantiness, I asked Mazrui, what areas should I focus my job talk on? With a grin on his face he said “anything you are going to talk about has to be authentic.” Mazrui never ceased encouraging me and following his advice I ended getting job offers at two prestigious institutions. In my naïveté, I was so proud to enter Black Studies and I was trying to weigh which institution would give me more resources. I was fortunate that his advice did not allow me to play that game. I ended up going to Penn State University. I moved from a traditional department of Sociology to Black Studies. In a very frank, paternal talk, Mazrui cautioned me that I would encounter resistance to my chosen scholarly and career paths. He urged me that, I should allow myself to read quite a bit about the history of Black studies. Indeed, efforts at institutionalizing Black Studies have their roots in the heroic work of W. E. B. Du Bois and others in an attempt to forge local and international alliances toward a larger vision of radical social change. Mazrui echoed what Manning Marable has argued, “Black Studies is simultaneously descriptive, corrective and prescriptive” insisting that, in black scholarship, there is a practical connection between scholarship and struggle, between social analysis and social transformation. While several African intellectuals of preceding generations have fought battles for the recognition of African scholarship in the global knowledge society, the challenge for the emerging generation of scholars is to complete the move; in the words of Micere Githae Mugo, ‘from the periphery to the center’ of African Studies scholarship. [caption id="attachment_14885" align="alignright" width="200"] Charles Gray, Honorary Consul of Tanzania, Prof. Lindah L. Mhando and Prof. Ali A. Mazrui in New York at the launching of the book “Julius Nyerere: Africa’s Titan on a Global Stage” in 2013.Pic credit Tanzania Consul,USA[/caption] Mazrui has been my advocate, through my academic and personal journey. He had numerous sons, but no biological daughter. Like his adopted daughter Grace, many of us considered ourselves as his daughters. He made us feel heard, seen, loved, special and worthy. He stood behind us, and was always available to offer advice. When I invited him to Penn State, and met some of my students, he said this was one of his proudest moments, saying “when a mentor gets to witness his/her mentee taking a role of a mentor, it is very satisfying.” In turn I learned humility! Mazrui also took special interest in my contributions, certainly another expression of his encouragement. We ended co-authoring the book Julius Nyerere, Africa’s Titan on a Global Stage: Perspective from Arusha to Obama, allowing me to take lead in the project, which culminated into a recognition award from our peers at NYASA on his 80thBirthday. The last time we shared a stage and spotlight was in October 2012, at the United Nations, in New York, where we were invited to launch our book, in commemoration of Nyerere Day. Mazrui was on wheel chair then. We had moments to have lunch, conduct interviews and chat. As always, he was ever generous and sensitive; he was concerned about my well-being, since I looked thinner than usual. Our families were close. My partner is originally from Tanga, the Tanzania side of the border from Mombasa, Kenya. He was the only one I knew who would converse with Mazrui in ‘their’ native Swahili tongue, of which Mazrui was very proud. The young sons with his wife Pauline were about the same age as my old daughter, so he would tease me that he could be an in-law to one of my girls. As a couple, Mazrui and his wife complemented each other well. Pauline is extremely generous and their house was always open. Every New Year eve, the couple would invite the Binghamton African community to his house, have a great meal, and just talk about the world! Mazrui was well informed, knew sports, music, mass culture and was an avid follower of the television program 60 minutes. On Islam I was not aware how deeply involved Mazrui was in intellectual commitment to denouncing all forms of violence. Cognitively he had a sense of urgency in his call for collective struggle to overcome the burden of discrimination and criticized violence against innocent people. He outspokenly criticized both the US and European imperial war on terror, exploitative capitalism, intervention in the global south; as well as extremists such as Boko Haram and other Jihadists; the enslavement of women; the bombing of civilians, or the drone attacks. Distinguishing between violence and power, he maintained that, although theorists of both the Left and Right regard violence as an extreme manifestation of power, the two concepts are, in fact, antithetical. Mazrui was highly critical of Salman Rushdie’s 1988, The Satanic Verses, he urged Muslims not to attack Rushdie physically. He was also passionate for humanity, and peace (has written quite a bit about Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s non-violence tactics), challenging neo-liberal imperialism, understanding the living reality of race, and his call for collective struggle to overcome the burden of discrimination. This resonates with the corpus of my scholarship and political belief, and I began to think hard about unpacking the question of positionality, my intellectual assumption of what would a de-colonial trajectory, particularly in relation to feminist solidarity and transnational feminism look like? I am deeply honored to have worked with Mwalimu Mazrui, I shall miss him dearly. What I know for sure is that he would not want any of us to remain immobilized by grief at his death. He would want us to celebrate life and carry on his legacy. Buriani Mwalimu (RIP) *Lindah Mhando (PhD) is currently a Visiting Associate Professor of African & African America Studies and Women Studies & Research Associate – Center for Study of Race, Gender Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences at Duke University]]>
Professor Ali A. Mazrui: A study of an African Scholar with Global Significance
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Professor Ali A. Mazrui has left our world and now resides in what he once described as “After Africa.” In writing this brief essay on the man and his works, my mind is directed by a number of books written during his lifetime. Each book In his catalogue of essays and comments about Africa and the world corresponded with what I once talked about some thirty four years ago at the 1980 annual meeting of the African Studies Association. At that time, when Ali was being examined for immediate and global attention among Africanists, I suggested that, those who had the determination and the endurance to look at his essays and followed his train of thought, were destined to journey into what I called a galaxy of planets of insights and illumination. That expectation was first trigged by the first chain of books and essays now called Mazruiana. In writing about Ali and his works, I intend here to do a number of things to shed some light about the Man who just left us in a moment of shock and sadness. Drawing from my Senegambian background, I am going to deploy our ethnic art of staging the biographies of individual members of society. In both the Wolof and Mandinka narratives about life and death, the age-grade system of profiling members of society proves to be instructive. Among both the Mandinka and the Wolof, the human being can be categorized through stages of development from the womb to the grave. First of all, among these two groups, who are a part of minimally six most powerful ethnic groups that formed the demography and ethnography of the Gambia and by extension Senegal, the lowest level of membership and socialization is the Din-Din category for the Mandinka, and Haliyi for the Wolof; Kambano/Wahamande as the post adolescent and socialized member of the society; and finally, one evolves into the top level of membership in society. This is to say, you get elevated to the status of Kebba for Mandinka and Mak for Wolof. By drawing from this scheme of identifying and describing members of society, one could here argue that Ali was an Afro-Arab who went through the stages of development noted almost all over the world by different languages and cultures in terms of measuring your contributions to the human conditions.The reason I decided to deploy the anthropological tools of these two groups from my area of origin is to translate how Ali is perceived by our people. Here is a man who grew up in colonial Kenya, where White power ruled and the English language became the badge of social assimilation and the dominant currency of power and exchange. In analyzing Professor Mazrui, we can focus on him as a young teenager in Kenya and how his ethnic and cultural background combined to define his role and place in Kenyan society. Truth be told, both Ali and those who wrote about him have discussed his Arab roots and how this background explained how he felt about the history of his Swahili-speaking people in Mombasa. Five things need to be addressed in this narrative. First of all, as a Din-din or Halibe, Ali was raised just like his Senegambian counterpart. Exposed to traditional African languages and cultures, Ali too became familiar with the mythologies and traditions of his people. Just as the Senegambian child learned to develop a command of Mandinka or Wolof, Ali too embraced Swahili and Arabic. Here is a parallelism between Ali and his Senegambian counterparts. Exposed to two major civilizations and cultures, Ali and his Senegambian counterparts learned their mother tongues as well as those of their colonial masters. For the Senegambian who shared much in command culturally and linguistically, the different colonial masters put forward French and English as rival cultural tools in advancement of their political control. Because of the primacy of English, the Gambians therefore had more in common with Ali in terms of British colonial legacies. Gambian economist and poet, Dr. Tijan Sallah of the World Bank, who had an opportunity to respond to Professor Ali A. Mazrui when he came to Howard University as the keynote speaker when Howard University conferred the lifetime achievement award to Professor Sulayman S. Nyang, reminded that audience and elsewhere how the Gambians defined themselves separately from their Senegalese cousins, who speak French and other similarly shared languages. As the first point of analysis about Ali as a young Swahili-speaking Kenya, it must be asserted here that as a Din-Din or Halibe in the Senegambian narrative, he too faced the challenges of English and Arabic. Since both Ali and his Senegambian counterparts are products of Arabic and Islamic cultural training, one could argue here that Ali’s concept of triple heritage had its origins in this common pattern of socialization between two or more cultures. Affected by Islam and the Arabic language, Ali mentally travelled in the same domain as Senegalese scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop who came from a prominent Muslim scholarly family in Senegal. He too recognized the impact of religion in African thought, but his lines of reasoning were not necessary driven by Islamic metaphysics. Rather, for Diop, the ancient Egyptian legacies long lost by Africans warranted immediate retrieval. What is striking to me is the fact that, when Ali went to Senegal to underscore the relevance and impact of his triple heritage in Africa, his visit to Touba, the spiritual center of the Muridiyya Sufi order, served as a major bone of contention. Indeed, no one can define Islam in Senegal without the murids as faithful companions of Senegambian Islam. The second point that deserves attention in this analysis of Professor Ali A. Mazrui and his works is the transition from being a Din-Din/Halibe to being a Kambano/Wahamande in Kenyan society. In reading the writings of Ali and others who commented about his life and times in Kenyan society, one can see how British colonialism shaped his perception of the world. Learning the English language opened new doors of opportunity for him. The role of the British colonial governor in his education is part of his Kambano phenomenon. At that time, the young Mazrui, who spoke Swahili and had some familiarity with the Quranic Arab deployed in prayers and other related rituals, was now attracted by the British center of cultural gravity. What needs to be emphasized here is that, Ali like his Senegambian counterpart s went through the colonial assimilation process. Certainly, his education in English and his engagement with an English spouse sent signals of cultural assimilation. This cultural development on the part of Ali Mazrui paralleled the life and times of Cheikh Anta Diop and Leopold Sedar Senghore in Senegal. Both in Senegal and in the Gambia, we had highly educated Africans who came back home with a white wife. As a Kambano/ Wahamande, who is sufficiently trained in the ways of the ancestors, both Ali and his Senegambian counterpart, went to the Western world prepared culturally and returned home undamaged. In looking into the story of Professor Ali A. Mazrui, it is important for us to take a closer look at the third factor in this equation. What is this third factor? It deals with the transition from being a socialized adult in one’s culture to being exiled abroad as a Kebba. Ideally, Ali would have loved to spend his life in Africa. The transformations in his life rested in the hands of the political leadership of his country. Unlike many Kenyan, East African and African contemporaries, Ali was not politically connected to run for office in Kenya. Rather, history decreed that Ali would be a major literary force in Kenya and beyond, and his impact would be felt .not only through his speeches and lectures, but also in his relationships with the rulers and the ruled in Africa and beyond. As a Kebba, Ali certainly played the role of a Kebba known to the Senegambians, but his Kebbaya (patriarchal influence) was limited by political circumstances in his life. Three things ought to be mentioned here briefly and in passing. One is the agony of rejection from his Kenyan leaders; the second is the uncertainty in Uganda, where Idi Amin made life dangerous and deadly; thirdly, there was the distance between family members in Kenya and pangs of divorce from his first wife. A combination of these developments made his Kebbaya real but difficult. . In examining Professor Ali A. Mazrui and his works, there is the need to focus on the fourth factor that helped us define the Man and his achievements. Truth be told, Ali was a Din-din, who never lost his cultural grip in Mombasa society. As the African-American folks say, he “was a homeboy who mastered the lingo of the neighborhood and was widely celebrated by those who knew who he was.” Taking this as a point of departure, we can now argue here that, the late Professor from Kenya, who went to Uganda and made a name for himself, is now a factor to be recount with. Not only was he seasoned to negotiate relationships in Swahili and English, but he earned certain opportunities and privileges as a scholar, teacher, advisor and a colleague to the politically powerful and economically well-endowed. Those who tried to study and measure the man must devote a greater deal of time and attention to his books, essays, lectures and speeches to navigate the planets in his galaxy. There are five things that beg for attention in this revaluation of Ali as Din-din, as Kambano and as a Kebba. Fate in its ways of paradoxes and ironies has taken Ali away from us. His mourning wife and living children, younger and older, are now charged with the delicate tasks of keeping memories alive. Those of us who are long-term friends and colleagues owed it to him to pass on his words honorably and magnificently. Finally, in writing the fifth point in this narrative about the man and his works, let us go back to the evolution of Professor Ali A. Mazrui. From Mombasa to Manchester to Columbia to Oxford and to Kampala, Ali has many numerous stops on the way to fame and glory. . This cultural and physical geography of Ali’s journey to a homeland other than his own Kenya has been the bone of debates among his colleagues and ideological foes. During the Cold War, Ali as a person was deeply wedded to the West and for this and other related reasons, three groups have been at logger-heads against Ali. One is the ideologically motivated African socialist. His strong opposition to African dictatorship was evident in his earlier writings. Much has been said about his characterization of Kwame Nkrumah as a “Leninist Czar.” However some of his critics in his latter days were disturbed by his relationship with men like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The second groups against Ali were theoretically motivated. In their view, Ali was a traditional scholar who was somehow allergic to statistical data and mathematical calculation as it is now celebrated among the behaviorists. The third and final groups against Ali were politically and religiously inspired. These were either Zionist element who despised his association with the Arab/Palestinian cause and were determined to challenge and if possible humiliate him. As I have stated elsewhere, Professor Mazrui had the nerve and the verve to confront his foes. His pugilistic skills led one of our colleagues over thirty years ago to project him as the Muhammad Ali among African scholars. . *Prof Sulayman S. Nyang is a professor and former chairman of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C]]>
Professor Ali Mazrui Confronted Cultural Genocide
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Chief Taku[/caption] A major contribution of Professor Ali Mazrui was to reawaken and affirm the humanity of the black race and the underlying liberating values that sustain this reality. An enduring effect of centuries of crimes that were perpetrated against the black race from the slave trade, to the “Berlin Bazaar”, colonialism, neo-colonialism and other variants of international conspiracy that are ongoing is cultural genocide. In this cultural genocide, African cultures were vandalized; interdicted and sub-human foreign values imposed in their place. A hallmark of the cultural genocide first to destroy the humanity of the black race was to impose an image of God that was totally foreign to the black race. In this situation, while other races recognized God in themselves and in their own cultures, Africans did the contrary. The result is that the creative genius in the black race that inspired the marvelous inventions and developments in the sciences, architecture, arts, religion, and philosophy was suppressed or simply lost. The evidence of this is found in a fragmented continent, lost kingdoms, endangered human species, a devastated cultural heritage, valuable artifacts and precious treasures in western museums, palaces, universities, religious sanctuaries and imperial homes. This is explained or depicted as the glorious prizes of gallantry at wars against savage black people living in the caves of the Dark Continent. African intellectuals were trained or taught to participate in the destruction of their own cultures, to resent indigenous values, to abdicate their own cultural identity and forsake their common spirituality. Franz Fanon in his classic book, The Wretched of the Earth (1966), laments that during the period of decolonization, certain colonized intellectuals began to dialogue with the bourgeoisie of the colonialist countries and during this period, the indigenous population was discerned only as an indistinct mass. Fanon posits that during the period of liberation, the colonialist bourgeoisie feverishly looked for contacts with the elite to carry out rearguard action with regard to culture, values, techniques etc. According to Fanon, the most essential value for the people is land because it brings bread and above all dignity; dignity which has little to do with dignity of the human person for natives can be arrested, brutalized, starved, and dehumanized and no professor of ethics, no priest, ever comes to be beaten in his place or share his bread with him. Fanon sees the so-called elite and black intellectuals as either mere opportunists or agents of oppression. Nwafor Orizu in “The Corrupting Influence of the West” casts the so-called colonial educated intellectuals, among them lawyers, for considering African cultures and traditions as heathenism which they surveyed with high contempt, obeying no laws, and observing no rules. Ali Mazrui broke ranks with these categories and took upon himself the responsibility of researching, studying, and presenting to the world, the distinct supreme human values in African cultures and their unique contributions to world civilization. Like Franz Fanon, he identified the humiliating and dehumanizing predicament of the black race and Western vampire proclivities that threatened and continue to threaten the very existence of the black race. This dehumanizing predicament was brought about by a policy of cultural genocide which aimed at destroying the Africans, in whole or in part, on the basis of their culture and race. With his towering intellectual acumen, he led the crusade to marshal the contributions of African intellectuals towards the study of African cultures and values for the amelioration of the African condition. He critically legitimized the creation of cultural awareness among Africans in particular, and the black race in general, as critical tools for our freedom, liberation and collective survival. He taught the world that the cultural, environmental, spiritual, socio-economic and political attributes that Africa possessed like the hydra shall rise to serve and save humanity. In this he was profound, relevant and commanded with significant success the battle for the re-conquering of black humanity as the very canon of its own collective survival and existence. At the time of his death, Ali Mazrui had eternalized the fight to roll back the cultural genocide that was ongoing for several centuries, an impressive legacy for the present generation and posterity. The battle is ongoing with intensive ferocity. However, looking at the record and legacy of Professor Ali Mazrui, I am hopeful that the future of a peaceful, prosperous world belongs to the cradle of human existence, Africa. In his television series, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage,” he was optimistic about this. So am l. *Chief Charles A. Taku is a Pan-Africanist lawyer, writer and author of books and professional articles on international law. He led counsel at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal -UNICTR, Special Court for Sierra Leone and the “ICC Continuing investigation in the Republic of Kenya for Dr. David Matsanga. With co-counsel, Betty Lyons, he obtained a remarkable acquittal in the Military II trial at the ICTR. ]]>