Here now is an introduction and body of work that the scholar has left the world with, from his tenure at Makerere University to his retirement in the University of Guyana.
Professor Mazrui’splace of nativity is Mombasa in Kenya on February 24, 1933. His ethnicity was Kenyan Arab. He studied both in Kenya and abroad before attending several universities where he obtained his Alma Mater. These include, Manchester University, Columbia University and Oxford University. Upon obtaining his PhD from Oxford, he began lecturing at Makerere University in Uganda. He has had a stint in Kenyan campuses, including Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where he served as Chancellor.
Timeline on Works and Ideology
In the post-independence decade, of the ‘60s, Prof, Mazrui who had just obtained a doctorate from Oxford University began his tirade of criticism on Western colonialism and post-colonialism surrounding African intellectuals. His important work of the period was On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship: Essays on Independent Africa, through which he argued for a special kind of emancipation that could not perpetuate the colonial instruments of the past.
His ideology developed in 1971, with the publication of an avant-garde novel, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, a parody on the individual sacrifice of a poet’s humanistic beliefs as opposed to the political cause that had led to the execution of the poet. He characterized the aforementioned poet who passed on during the Biafran War in Nigeria’s tender post-independence years, using a supernatural stage as the judgment canvas.
By 1973, an especially political year for him (see next paragraph), Mazrui published World Culture and the Black Experience, a book that, on the whole, served as a critique on the so-called black liberation. What he argued for is the spirit of a new kind of emancipation where the West would not have a chance to penetrate Africa through secondary means that still proved as neo-colonialism.
It was in 1973 that Mazrui’s antagonism with dictatorial and socialist regimes came to bear on his own life, when the then Ugandan dictator Milton Obote found him untenable for his country. Undeterred, Mazrui also strategically critiqued the neighboring Tanzania’s ujamaa administration of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere as edifying an impenetrable field of idiocy for the bright individual. In other words, he saw such ideologies, such as, communism, which African countries were embracing, as equivalent to colonialism: they provided a means to stem development of the original minds out there.
Idi Amin’s ouster of Milton Obote, only aggravated matters for he posted a 24-hour surveillance on Mazrui’s compound forcing the scholar to opt for exile in 1973. He became professor in the University of Michigan a year later and from there amassed a number of academic accolades.
He was not fettered however for, in 1978, his book on the educated class and the politics of the continent came up. Following this was a detour into television, (1986), with The Africans: The Triple Heritage, that soared him into widespread popularity with BBC’s T/A. This show also brought him into fundamentalists’ path, especially Islam intellectuals, who compounded his show as anti-gender, relating to women.
There would be no complete tribute to Prof. Ali Mazrui without a briefing on his Islamist activities and his views. Here is a compressed selection of what he believed in, the intellectual controversies he fawned and the writings he jotted down on the subject:
Despite his grounded views on Islam religious beliefs, he once broke Ramadan fast at the presidential residence in Washington D.C.
Though he sometimes held forth with radical Islam outfits, he was also quite humble and down-to-earth. A popular memorabilia of past activities in Western press portrays Mazrui in Trinidad and Tobago where, during a prayers session with a radical organization, he once requested another cleric to lead the occasion. The latter declined, saying that saying prayers was the prerogative of an elder, saying that in any case he would soon go to a local brew club, to which Mazrui replied he would also gladly fall to!
Fundamentally, Mazrui, up to his death, did not countenance terrorism or jihad, but allowed Islam extremists who had a purpose in providing a new kind of democracy. For instance, his lifelong opposition of Israel and Zionism was under the premise of the democratization approach of Palestinian fundamentalists.
Perhaps one can trace this unique view of North and South socio-political division as parallel to his views against the clout of Marxism and socialism and mainstream capitalism that were the main arguments of most of the 20th century. Though he approved of capitalism, he did not like the introduction of capitalism into Africa in the mode of Apartheid in South Africa. This is why he would preach a new kind of liberation that would have mainly African elements that were strengthening and empowering to the continent.
Why did he fall out with Home Regimes?
For men of genius, the political systems in place always serve as a starting point for ideological opposition. This was no different in Mazrui’s case.
By 1973, his subtle method of benefiting Ugandan kids had become too much for Milton Obote’s term in office. This is because he had began a fan base that just like with pen pals do today, sent out official letters in reply to school-going kids in Uganda who would request for funds to buy stationery. He would become so devoted with these writings on the Makerere University’s newsprint, that he earned foes with the administration that feared his widespread fame.
Later, his fully-fledged public lectures dealt a death blow to his rise and led to his exile in the United States.
Prof. Ali Mazrui amassed a lot of recognition especially ones that connoted to earlier global scholars and figures in various disciplines. Perhaps the following list will give an example of these illustrious figures under reference:
The Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities.
Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies.
Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large in the Humanities and Development Studies, University of Jos, Nigeria.
Andre D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Chancellor, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
2005 recipient of the Order of the Burning Spear
In 2005, he got acclaim as one of the ‘top 100 public intellectuals,’ courtesy of two major political journals in the UK and US.
Finally, how were his final years and accomplishments?
Prof Mazrui went into retirement at the University of Guyana. He also began to visit several campuses around the world, mainly in the US, UK, south-east Asia, North Africa, Middle East, and Kenya. The most recent views that the professor has held include those on Islamic ideologies. He has especially paid tribute to religious fervor that opposes terrorism but is anti-imperialist in nature. He has also argued that Sharia is quite passable with the democratic dispensation despite opposition from Western critics.
Professor Mazrui died in Binghamton in the US, after a battle with a long ailment. Nevertheless, his writings will remain a poignant memento and beacon in defining African neo-liberalism.