Muhammad Ashraf Saleem

The year 2014 took away a very prominent son of Africa, for whom the whole continent wept. Professor Ali Alamin Mazrui was one of the world’s most prolific writers, and Africa’s gift to the academic world. Mazrui was dominating the field of African studies in his academic career spanning over five decades. Born on February 24, 1933 in Mambosa, Kenya, went to Manchester University, where he graduated with distinction. He acquired his Masters from Columbia University in United States and a doctorate from Oxford University.

Mazrui taught at Makerere University, Uganda and remained it’s Head of Department of Political Science and Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences. He barely escaped the dictatorship of Ugadanga’s Idi Amin in 1973 and joined the faculty of University of Michigan as professor and later as the Director of Afric-American and African Studies. Professor Mazrui joined faculty of Binghamton University in 1989, then state University of New York as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Studies. Professor Mazrui, a prodigious writer, authored and co-authored more than 45 books and hundreds of academic articles, including “Towards a Pax Africana (1967)” and “The Political Sociology of the English Language (1975)” and a utopian novel, “the Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971)”, which was anchored on the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70.

With a wide ranging research interests from African politics to international political culture and North-South studies which were very ably reflected in his insightful works like “Africa’s International Relations (1977)”, “Political values and the Educated Class in Africa (1978)” and co-authored, “The Political Culture of Language: Swahili, Society and the State”; “A World Federation of Cultures : An African Perspective (1976)”; “Cultural Forces in World Politics (1990); “Islam: Between Globalization and counter-terrorism (co-author)”. One of his books, “The Content of Character: Ethical Sayings of the Prophet Mohammad”, is rated amongst the most popular books.

As a theorist, Professor Ali Mazuri employed knowledge of histories of global civilizations for promoting Islam and Africa’s interests. In collaboration with prominent historians  Ade Ajayi (Nigeria), Bethnel Ogot (of Kenya), and Joseph Ki-Zerbo (Burkina Faso), they promoted late Nigerian politician-cum-billionaire Mushood Abiola’s project for achieving reparations for crimes of slavery by the Americas and Europe. He also advocated for ‘Black Africa’s’ nuclear bomb Late Professor Archie Mafeje of South Africa accused Mazrui of advocating for the re-colonisation of Africa when Mazrui argued for powerful states of Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa to end conflict and bring an “order in Africa’.

Professor Mazrui will be fondly remembered as a pan-Africanist who examined the interplay of the three predominant forces and their influences on the Africa continent - the indigenous, the Islam from the East and the Christian west. This was the predominant theme of his television documentary “The Triple Heritage” in the 1980’s. Ali Mazrui states that Islamic influence in Africa was limited by the reach of horse and camel and could therefore, make limited progress into Sub-Saharan Africa. He dared to interrogate the above three factors, how they impacted on the continent’s political evolution, social landscape and the economic milieu.

He propounded that Africa was a victim, villain and a victor at the same time on the global stage; victim for being humiliated by enslavement and colonialism, a villain as it was the host of post colonial corruption, greed and military coups, and a victor because of its historic achievements. The television series was produced by Mazrui jointly, with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the US Public Broad Casting Service, in association with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

Africa’s future is tied to its triple historical heritage. It’s modern experience must take off from that fundamental core of diversity. For entire Africa, diversity is critical reality in terms of culture, languages and colonial experience. Professor Mazrui dedicated himself to an understanding of how Africa can successfully convert its negative inheritance of socio-political and economic anomie to a positive capital of genuine liberation and development. Professor Mazrui’s legacy left to Africans is to begin redefining themselves in a contemporary world of neoliberal globalisation when they are sufficiently liberated themselves from colonial and post-colonial mental blocks. As per Marcus Garvey ‘all emancipation is from within’. Ali Mazrui’s legacy demands of Africans to look deep into their historical reality for the clues to their liberation.

Mazrui was a very well recognised innovative thinker who won recognition for Africa, like the Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and Chinhua Achebe, by popularising African ideals and ideas. Conscious of his African roots he identified himself with the fastly emerging continent on the globe. He also noted that while ethnic checks and balances are necessary to avert the destructiveness of ethnic conflict, the case for gender checks and balances was ultimately essential to promote androgynous creativity and development. He wrote in his recent essay, “Off Course, gender equity is also an issue of human rights in the moral sphere,”.

Ali Mazrui also held three concurrent appointments as Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large in the Humanities and Development Studies at the University of JOS (Nigeria), Anrew D White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi, Kenya. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford, Chicago, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Oxford, Havard, Cairo, Leeds, Nairobi, Tehran, Denver, London, Baghdad, McGill, Sussex and Pennsylvania.

Professor Ali Marzui was selected as the 73rd most intellectual person in the list of 100 persons, as determined by a UK-based publication.

Full of zest and very fearless Marzui stood a tradition of free speech and critical inquiry. He saw the newly-emerged global phenomenon of ‘religions’ being entrapped in the rising extremism. A great son of Africa, born in Kenya, breathed his last on October 13, 2014, in Binghamton, New York. Ali Mazrui, the public intellectual, who defined the terms of political debate for his generation, shall be long remembered on African and global stage for his piercing intellect, great courage and audacity to challenge the norm.

Muhammad Ashraf Saleem is Pakistan’s High Commissioner at Abuja, Nigeria and a retired military officer.