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. ]]>
In Celebration of an African Hero and Global Citizen: Professor Ali Mazrui
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Ajong Mbapndah L* Sandwiched between the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa and the people’s revolution that swept Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso from power, the passing of Professor Ali Mazrui was lost to many. Yet, the life of the towering intellectual that Professor Mazrui was deserved greater attention than passing headlines in the media. Professor Mazrui spent a lifetime fighting for Africa. He wrote profusely, and used a distinctive television documentary, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage” to share objective history of Africa with Africa and the world. To people like Professor Mazrui, there is reason to take pride in the rich cultural and historic contribution of Africa to modern civilization. Unfortunately, instead of promoting the African heritage that Ali Mazrui advocated, many of contemporary leaders in Africa have excelled only in pushing the continent in the wrong direction. As someone who endured a fair share of personal hardships from homegrown political detractors, Professor Mazrui no doubt would have supported the people of Burkina Faso in their heroic resistance against changing constitutional term limits by a leader that had held power for 27 years. Had Professor Mazrui been alive, he would have continued to educate the world that far from stigmatizing an entire continent of over a billion people with the Ebola, the virus is largely restricted to three countries in one region—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa. Simplifying understanding of the continent, its peoples and its history for the world was part of the mission to which Ali Mazrui devoted a lifetime When Pan-African Visions thought of a special edition to celebrate Professor Ali Mazrui’s relationship with Africa and Africans, we turned to Professor James Kariuki who runs the Global Africa Blog. We did so aware that Professors Mazrui and Kariuki were professional colleagues and close personal friends. They knew each other over the years as they taught at different US universities and worked jointly on several projects in the US and Africa. Kariuki graciously accepted the challenge of coordinating this issue. When we approached him, his response was, with tongue in cheek, who am I to say no? [caption id="attachment_14827" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ajong Mbapndah L[/caption] To celebrate Ali A. Mazrui, this Special Edition of PAV has pulled together African intellectual Titans living thousands of miles apart. From Willy Mutanga, the Chief Justice of Kenya and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, the thread stretched to link to the Distinguished Professor and world-famous novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o at University of California in Irvine, California, Professor Sulayman S. Nyang of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Professor Isawa Elaigwu of the University of Jos, Nigeria, and others. In so doing, these contributors have conquered time and space to join hands in fellowship with other influential academicians, legal luminaries and common people to commemorate one of their own, the late Professor Ali Mazrui. The life and works of a giant in the mold of Professor Ali Mazrui can never be amply dissected in a single publication like this but kudos to Professor Kariuki for taking the lead in this venture. Our gratitude goes out to him as well as to the contributors who responded to his call for submissions that have made this edition possible. As we, Africans, vilify tyrants and visionless leaders who hold the continent hostage, we must also celebrate our heroes and this special edition is one small step in that direction. Ali Mazrui was truly the epitome of Africa’s finest and his legacy will transcend generations to come. Happy reading!! *Managing Editor PAV]]>
Kenyans Must Reconcile Themselves to Excellence of Thought?
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
Matthew 13:57: “…only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Those familiar with the writings of Mjomba (Uncle) Ali Mazrui know that he loved comparative approaches, drawing out contradictions and paradoxes and generating rich insights in the process. And in a way his own life is an illustration of this stylistic device that he employed so effectively. Mjomba Ali Mazrui’s life captures the promise and tragedy of our nation—the Kenyan paradox. It is a paradox or contradiction that his death must help us resolve. On the one hand, his achievements represent the excellence of the Kenyan spirit and abilities: a people confident enough to conquer and rule the world. On the other hand, his exile from his home soil represents our discomfort with excellence at home, a penchant to reward the most undeserving and punish the most meriting. A strange habit of making competence a burden in this country! We must stop insecurities that free thinkers seem to stir in us—insecurities that made us deny Mjomba Ali an appointment for public service but after we atoned for our sins by making him Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (KUAT), we let him exit yet again without deserving honor. We have punished thought by exiling these free and great thinkers. And these free thinkers have succeeded in shaming us by their sheer excellence in the foreign lands to which we banished them. We rejected the intellectual confidence of Barack Obama Senior and now he has produced the first black American President. We exiled Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o to Mexico, now he has given us the first African Oscar. We exiled Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, now he has been in the top running for the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. We exiled Ali Mazrui, a man listed both by Foreign Policy and Prospectus Magazine of the United States and United Kingdom respectively as one of the world’s top 100 most influential thinkers. That is no mean feat even though exiling him was a very mean act. We exiled the eminent and distinguished Professor Yash Pal Ghai to the UK and finally to Hong Kong, recalling him home to write our Constitution only to end up frustrating him in that patriotic duty. Professor Ghai has continued writing and rewriting Constitutions for other nations, a great project that made the Queen honor him with a CBE (we honored him with an EBS but are yet, after two years, to give him the medal)! We exiled Professor Alamin Mazrui after we detained him without trial and he prospered and achieved greatness in the US. We exiled Micere Mugo, a great professor of literature to Syracuse University in New York. We exiled Wangui wa Goro to London since she was in her 20s. We exiled Kamonji Wachiira to Canada where he ended up holding diplomatic and development positions with the Canadian government and Canadian Sida, respectively. We exiled Professor Maina Kenyatti, the first Kenyan historian to show passionate interest and conduct research on the Mau Mau War of Liberation. We exiled Professor Shadrack Gutto to Zimbabwe and South Africa where he has excelled in matters of constitutions and constitutionalism. We exiled John Samuel Mbiti, a re-known and brilliant philosopher who taught at Makerere and could not get a job at home after Idi Amin came to power in Uganda and his life working in Uganda was in danger. He now works in Switzerland and continues to write and recently translated the Bible in Greek into the Kikamba national language. We exiled the brilliant historian ES Atieno-Adhiambo to the US where he has distinguished himself as a scholar par excellence. We exiled Professor Makau Mutua who is now a distinguished professor at Buffalo Law School, constantly glorified by the Governor of New York and the Chief Judge of New York. And there are many more great scholars we have exiled! So if there is anything to be learned, it is that our nation’s culture of constant discomfort with excellence, of exiling thought because ideas terrify us, only succeeds in shaming us abroad and costing us dearly at home. The rest of the world benefits from our rejected gems, as we continue to suffer from underdevelopment and poverty and constant attempts to sabotage a promising constitutional democracy. We are only proud of one small and useless idea: that we have perfected the art of ethnic calculus and other divisions in our politics, and elevated corruption as a high science of our nationhood. These are two traditional sins of Africa’s governance that Mjomba Ali spent his lifetime in scholarship and public service fighting. Kenyans have a big spirit; a great potential and an in-built confidence to lead and conquer the world. However, to realize this potential, we must learn to be at ease with excellence and stop punishing and exiling thought. As we wish Mjomba Mazrui to rest in peace in death, may we also learn to live and be at peace with great ideas—and with great thinkers among our women and men! Finally, we all agree that Mjomba Ali was a global African. Born in Mombasa, he was a Kenyan, a native of the continent of Africa, and a global citizen. If we are serious about implementing the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, particularly the provisions on patriotism, nationhood, and unity in diversity (be it ethnic, religious, regional, religious, gender, generation, clan, class), then Mjomba Ali gives us the ideological, political, and cultural template for necessary political leadership to succeed in that endeavor. We need not suffer from the crisis of political leadership anymore. We only need to internalize the virtues of Mjomba Ali in our transformation. I end where I started. The “hometown” and the “house” in this case must both refer to “Kenya” and “Kenyans!” May the Almighty Allah rest Mjomba Ali’s soul in Eternal Peace! Allahu Akbar. *Willy Mutunga is a Kenyan leading scholar and Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya.]]>
Homage to Professor Ali Mazrui – a Global Citizen
December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments
By Harold Acemah* On October 13, 2014, an intellectual giant passed on at Binghamton, USA. Prof Ali A. Mazrui was one of a kind and his death at 81 marks the end of an era. He did Africa proud as a teacher, a scholar, an author and as a global citizen. I first met Prof Mazrui in 1967 when I enrolled at Makerere College of the defunct University of East Africa. He was professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. As one of a handful of African heads of department at Makerere during the 1960s, Mazrui was at 34 the youngest, but easily the most prolific and most admired professor on the hill. Students fondly called him “The University Orator” which did not go well with his detractors who were obviously jealous of him. His public lectures at Makerere’s Main Hall attracted, in droves, students, academicians and Uganda’s political elite. Prof Mazrui taught an introductory course (POL 1.2) in Political Science for First Year students. I enrolled for the course during the 1967/68 academic year. Our class of about 120 students often welcomed “visiting students” from other departments who came weekly to listen to and be mesmerised by our Mwalimu whose two-hour lectures were so absorbing and so engrossing that time always flew unnoticed. He had the unique ability to explain complex ideas and theories to the level where all students in his class would answer or nod “Yes” when he asked: “Are we together?” When I requested Prof Mazrui in 1988 to be a referee for my application to the Graduate School of the University of Toronto, he not only agreed without any hesitation, but also gave me a fantastic recommendation which enabled me secure admission to “U of T” which is Canada’s leading university. I am grateful for the guidance, encouragement and support he extended to me as a student. Prof Mazrui’s legacy A graduate of Oxford University, Dr Ali Mazrui was professor and head of the Department of Political Science at Makerere from 1966-1973; he taught at several universities thereafter, such as the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Nigeria at Jos and from 1989 until his death he was the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS) at the State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton. Prof Mazrui has left a powerful, impressive and enduring legacy in the academic and literary world; he published more than 20 scholarly books, including Towards a Pax Africana which was a must-read for students of Political Science in the 1960s. Ali’s finest hour for me was in 1979 when he delivered BBC’s prestigious Reith Lectures under the theme “The African Condition” which brought vintage Ali Mazrui to the whole world. This was followed in1986 by the TV series “The Africans: A Triple Heritage” produced jointly by BBC and America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Prof Mazrui continued to write, teach and travel across the world to give lectures on a wide variety of subjects. I often wondered what kept him working tirelessly and unceasingly even at old age. He will be missed by the Political Science fraternity. In September 1996, I visited Prof Mazrui at Binghamton; my visit regrettably coincided with the death and funeral of Ali’s right hand man at the IGCS, Dr Omari Kokole, who was my friend. Omari was a student of Political Science at Makerere and Dalhousie University, Canada. He was like me from West Nile, but brought up in Jinja and spoke fluent Lusoga and Luganda in addition to Kakwa, his mother tongue. After the funeral, Prof Mazrui invited me and some friends of Omari for lunch at his residence and later on I had a one- to- one talk with him at his office at the IGCS. During our conversation, I came to realise how much Omari’s death at the tender age of 44 years had affected him, because he spoke with tears about his departed colleague; Ali was human and was overcome by emotion at one stage. He told me that Omari was like a son to him and that he had groomed him as his successor at IGCS. I was deeply touched and for those who knew Dr Kokole, they will recall how much he sounded like Mazrui. Omari did not resemble Mazrui at all, but when he spoke at meetings one would think it was Prof Mazrui. Dr Kokole was a renowned political scientist in his own right and a professor at SUNY. What pains and riles me about Ali Mazrui, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Okello Oculi and hundreds of Africa’s best and brightest sons and daughters, is the fact that they were forced to flee their countries of origin or Africa by a hostile political environment poisoned by callous, ignorant and worthless African dictators! Prof Mazrui was blacklisted and harassed for over two decades by the notorious Moi regime; he died in exile. The enemies of the African revolution who have caused a massive brain drain from the continent have deprived Africa’s youth of the knowledge, skills and wisdom of scores of great African intellectuals and scholars who are languishing in exile in Europe, USA, Canada and elsewhere. Instead of Ali Mazrui and Chinua Achebe, the men who deserve to languish in exile are the greedy, violent and useless African dictators, such as Yahya Jammeh, Teodoro Obiang and Isaias Afewerk who have turned Africa into a laughing stock! How long must patriotic Africans and people of goodwill put up with such outrage? One hopes not long. May Ali Mazrui’s soul rest in eternal peace! * Source Daily Monitor . Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. email@example.com ]]>
Jacob Zuma’s Presidency under Siege?
September 25, 2014 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
At the end of August this year, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma embarked upon what was called a ‘working visit’ to Russia. Officially, Zuma’s objectives in Moscow included discussing trade enhancement between the Russian Federation and South Africa, searching for investment opportunities and for the South African president to get some rest. But, given their propensity for curiosity, the news media immediately wondered aloud why the details of an official presidential visit seemed to be shrouded by a veil of secrecy in both South Africa and Russia.
Curiosity verged on frustration. First, the ‘resting’ claim for the president was unconvincing. It is true that the Zuma may have needed some rest given his grueling election campaign earlier in the year, his generally questionable health condition and the turbulent events of the first three months of his second term. But, since the trip coincided with the beginning of one of Russia’s notoriously brutal winters, weather alone virtually ruled it out as a vacationing destination of choice for an aging African leader.
On the other hand, if Zuma went to Moscow to promote bilateral trade cooperation and investment opportunities, why is it that his delegation did not include personnel from the relevant Department of Trade and Industry or from the cabinet’s economic cluster? Oddly, the president’s senior official entourage was composed of only the State Security Minister and the International Relations Deputy Minister. To consummate the intrigue, Zuma was not accompanied by a single journalist.
Given the mystique, news reporters were prompted to speculation. What was the ‘real’ purpose of the trip? Why now and why Russia?’
Analysts reminisced that Zuma’s presidency has always been dogged by controversy. But it was precisely in late August 2014, just prior to the Russian trip, that the same presidency became truly embattled. It was at that time that two domestic political crises converged and seemed to escalate uncontrollably to a crescendo.
Political challenges posed by these crises were indeed daunting, sufficiently unsettling to prompt observers to liken them to the infamous US Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. That political scandal pushed President Richard M. Nixon to his historic resignation of 1974 and infected the American body politic forever. It is said that, as a result of the Watergate scandal, the American political system lost its innocence.
The two issues that may forever define the Zuma’s presidency are captured in the general category of corruption and, specifically, they include the so-called Zuma spy tapes and the Nkandla scandal. Remarkably, the otherwise streetwise President has so far fallen short of finding a way to make either of the two problems go away.
Meanwhile, the public passions that the scandals continue to trigger are inflamed by the fact that each is embraced as a crusade attitude of three influential and highly visible public figures. These include Helen Zille, the leader of Democratic Alliance (D.A.) and the largest opposition party; Julius Malema, the leader of the recently formed and recalcitrant Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Thuli Madonsela of the Office of Public Protector. Though they act as separate and distinct entities, these have become Zuma’s political nemeses and are hell-bent to the proposition that, come hell or high water, Zuma will be forced to pay for his political indiscretions.
The most enduring of Zuma’s catalogue of political ‘sins’ is what has come to be known as his spy tapes. Just before South Africa’s 2009 national elections, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) cited the tapes as the basis for withdrawing over 700 counts of fraud and corruption allegations against Zuma. But this issue has stubbornly remained unsettled for half a decade and as the core and immovable element in the President’s gathering storm.
The dismissal of the spy tape charges was indeed an indication that the NPA had concurred with Zuma’s contention that the taped conversations between the NPA and the-now-disbanded Scorpions Investigative Unit were convincing evidence that there indeed was a ‘political conspiracy’ against him. The withdrawal eliminated a major legal hurdle for Zuma, clearing the way for him to become president.
However, Helen Zille’s Democratic Alliance (DA), was not convinced. The timing and alleged grounds for Zuma’s exoneration appeared too convenient to be true. For this reason, the largest opposition party was determined to listen to the spy tapes to determine if there indeed was a bona fide legal justification for exempting Zuma. All told, the DA has spent R10 million for this purpose in six court cases during the past five years to get its hands on the Zuma spy tapes.
Clearly, the DA’s hope in this lengthy pursuit has been to ‘uncover’ whether or not the 2009 decision to withdraw the 700 corruption charges against Zuma was politically-driven rather than legal. More than any other figure, Helen Zille has championed this cause with a devotion far greater than a mere political issue would warrant. This is so because, if the spy tapes can demonstrate that the 2009 withdrawal of charges against Zuma was politically-motivated, those charges can be reinstated in court to the detriment of Zuma and his presidency.
Precisely for this reason, it is said, Zuma has fought tooth and nail for nearly half a decade against the tapes’ lease and at a hefty legal fee borne by the tax payers. Unfortunately, his animated objection against the release started to crumble in the same, infamous August 2014. Specifically, on August 28, 2014, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that the NPA had to release the contested spy tapes to the DA in five days. Three days later, Zuma departed for Moscow.
The other volatile issue is the Nkandla scandal, the allegation that Zuma has spent R246 million of public funds on his private residence under the guise of presidential security upgrades. In March this year Thuli Madonsela, in her capacity as the Public Protector, released a two-year investigation report that some of the Nkandla modifications were inconsistent with claims of security upgrades and that the President had to pay back for the misspent public funds.
Politically, Julius Malema and Thuli Madonsela are indeed strange bedfellows. The former is the leader of recently formed radical political party, the EFF. As indicated, the latter is the incumbent Public Protector, a government official. Ideologically, they have nothing in common. It is thus a measure of the mounting pressure on Zuma’s presidency that an alliance-of-sorts seems to have emerged between the two in opposition to the Nkandla issue, especially in Parliament. In August, both were demanding from President Zuma a transparent accounting for Nkandla, insisting on the right of the public to know when he planned to pay back for the alleged non-security expenditures.
On August 21, as the EFF aggressively grilled Zuma in Parliament regarding the Nkandla affair, a heated verbal exchange erupted between the Speaker of the House and Julius Malema. As a result of an ensuing chaos and stand-off between the two, the Speaker adjourned the National Assembly while riot police were summoned to physically remove EFF members from the building.
To the extent that the EFF MPs were unrelentingly heckling President Zuma in demanding answers to the Nkandla upgrades, was the President’s failure to provide satisfactory answers undermining proper and respectable functioning of a key branch of government? Are we witness to a specific political scandal of Nkandla escalate into a scathing constitutional crisis of national proportions?
The week before the parliamentary humiliating spectacle, Madonsela had accused Zuma in written form of “being guilty of an attack on the constitution and the rule of law by granting the Police Minister of Police the power to review her (Madonsela’s) findings” on Nkandla. Had the Nkandla infection ballooned into a constitutional crisis for the nation, a matter vastly larger than the original tag of corruption?
Besieged by such rugged news and punishing headlines, President Zuma found himself in a corner. To think through the bombshells thrown at him, he was probably well-advised to seek a few days of solitude and privacy of far away from his troublesome home.
A week after the fiasco in the National Assembly, Zuma left for Moscow. But why to Russia?
Reportedly Zuma and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, have evolved a bond in which the South African leader derives considerable comfort, a personal friendship that goes beyond the call of duty. It is said that the two have now become very good friends.
Especially in context of the BRICS fraternity, Zuma and Putin meet fairly often and take time to discuss ex-officially matters of mutual concerns. Those include global issues such as the on-going turmoil in Syria, the Israeli-Palestine recent military crisis and the deteriorating condition in the Ukraine.
In all likelihood, Putin feels that he has received bad publicity over Ukraine and probably needs Zuma to boost his quest for political support in Global South. He is basically fed up with the Western negative campaign against what it calls Russian aggression. He is thus may be eager to garner support from Africa and the developing world in general to counter the sustained ‘propaganda’ of the US and its traditional European allies. Presumably, Zuma can be invaluable in this regard.
Conversely Zuma, given his political woes at home, probably needed a shoulder to cry on and a word or two of encouragement from the world’s greatest political survivor of the twenty first century. In recent years, Putin has defied and successfully resisted attempts of powerful Russian forces to unseat him. Could it be the case that Zuma is seriously concerned about political survival at home and went to Russia to seek consolation and advice from the ultimate expert on ‘how to?’
Seen in the above context, Zuma’s real purposes for the visit to Russia several weeks ago was not so puzzling after all. But it could not be public information.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his