An intellectual giant: Ali Mazrui (1933-2014)
by HATEM BAZIAN
Ali Mazrui PHOTO/Al Jazeera
For the past 50 years, Ali Mazrui dominated the field of African Studies through 26 internationally acclaimed books and hundreds of articles, essays, interviews, and appearances on radio and television programmes. On October 13, the world lost an intellectual giant who helped shape academic and scholarly understandings of Africa during a critical period for not just the continent but global history as well.
Mazrui’s books include the classics “Towards a Pax Africana” (1967) and “The Political Sociology of the English Language” (1975), along with a utopian novel set in heaven entitled, “The Trial of Christopher Okigbo” (1971). His research interests, which ranged from African politics to international political culture, as well as North-South relations, are reflected in his works “Africa’s International Relations” (1977), “Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa” (1978) and “The Political Culture of Language: Swahili, Society, and the State”, co-authored with Alamin M. Mazrui. Two additional influential books were “A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective” (1976) and “Cultural Forces in World Politics” (1990).
When examining Mazrui’s contributions, we arrive at an epistemology grounded in pan-Africanist, anti-colonial, and transnational perspectives, which together informed and shaped his scholarly production. Before the 1960s, the field of African Studies was dominated by colonial discourses, and the work of scholars like Mazrui helped us arrive at a different examination of the history of Africa and its present circumstances.
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Ali Mazrui obituary
Ali Mazrui entertained a number of intriguing ideas such as his pet concept of ‘Afrabia’ – the merging of Africa and the Arab world
The Kenyan political thinker Ali Mazrui, who has died aged 81, was best known in the west for writing and presenting a groundbreaking television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage (1986). In the nine-part documentary, co-produced by the BBC and the US Public Broadcasting Service in association with the Nigerian Television Authority, Mazrui set out to explore wide-ranging aspects of African culture and society “from the inside”. Episodes focused on subjects including nature, the family, exploitation, conflict and political instability.
The common theme of the series was the impact on the continent of three distinct influences: indigenous African culture, Islam and Christianity. Drawing on a thesis first put forward by the Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, Mazrui argued that this mix of non-traditional religious ideals and sentiments had made it difficult to identify an authentically African way of doing things. He painted a forceful picture of the damage done by colonialism, and touched on issues such as the potential benefits to Africans of closer links with the Arab world and the possibility that “black Africa” would soon possess nuclear weapons.
Though greeted with generally respectful reviews, the series also proved provocative, particularly in the US. The National Endowment for the Humanities, which had contributed $600,000 to the production costs, demanded the removal of its name from the credits, and the organisation’s then chair, Lynne Cheney, dismissed it as an “anti-western diatribe” that blamed “all the moral, economic and technological problems of Africa on the west”.
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The Humanism of Ali Mazrui
by HORACE G. CAMPBELL
Ali A. Mazrui the great humanist joined the ancestors on Sunday October 12, 2014 in Binghamton, New York where he had lived since 1989. He had been living with his family and working as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Mazrui led a life that was controversial for the establishment and the boldness of his outlook was reflected at the prayers that were held for him at the Mosque in Binghamton on Monday afternoon at 5pm.
The controversy for some was that at the prayers held over the mortal remains of Ali Mazrui, three women were speakers at this mosque. After the performance of the Salat al-Janazah by the Imam and the men in front standing in three rows, the three women were called forward to speak. The speakers were Professors Betty Wambui, Professor Ousseina Alido and Professor Florence Margai. After the second female speaker paid tribute to Mazrui and his contribution to the struggles of women, the host, Professor Ricardo Laremont had to comment that although there were many in the prayer who were raising eyebrows about the departure from the ‘tradition,’ this mixed gender prayer was consistent with what Ali Mazrui stood for.
There are now many tributes pouring in from all over the world for Professor Ali Mazrui whose mortal remains will be interred at the historical monument of Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya this weekend. Ali Mazrui was born in Mombasa, on February 24, 1933 and he will be buried next to his family. Ali was a prodigious writer who was the author or coauthor of more than 35 books, numerous book chapters, and hundreds of scholarly articles, magazine and newspaper commentaries and the host of the TV series the Triple Heritage. Mazrui toiled as an international scholar in every continent and he can be claimed as a great Pan Africanist, a great African, and a great East African, but for this tribute I want to hail Ali Mazrui as a great humanist.
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Prof Ali Mazrui was a true Kenyan hero
by YASH PAL GHAI
Ali’s achievement as a scholar was remarkable; he was a giant in his field. The range of his interests was wide; his knowledge of theory and practice was remarkable; and his ability to weave insights from many disciplines into new perspectives was unusual.
He was a scholar in the finest traditions of great scholars: devoted completely to his vocation; searching analysis of broad relationships between religions, ideologies, and state systems.
Early on in his work, before the subject became popular, he drew attention to the impact of globalisation on developing countries and their relationship with the more economically advanced west. Starting as a liberal, he saw the discrimination against and suffering of the people in the US and other places, and became a champion of social justice.
Ali never lost sight of the relevance of scholarship to policy, with forays into public debates. He was welcomed by numerous heads of state who sought his advice—though he did not have to be asked, as Obote, Idi Amin and Mugabe learnt to their cost!
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