Kampala. Yesterday morning, tremours rocked academic circles around the world as news broke that Prof Ali Alamin Mazrui, the world-renown Kenyan scholar with so many connections to Uganda, had passed on in Binghamton, New York in the United States. From New York, the professor’s family members confirmed the news of the 81-year-old academic luminary’s death, revealing that he had been unwell for a couple of months. And in his native Kenya next door, the chairperson of Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), an NGO to which Prof Mazrui had strong ties, revealed that the deceased‘s body is to be flown back to the East African country for burial as per a wish the professor made.
In Uganda, Professor Mazrui’s death not only sent many into mourning, especially in the academic spheres. Many from Ugandan academic spheres paid glowing tributes to the deceased professor –lauding his trailblasing journey, the accomplishments he scored over his long career and the values he stood for as a person.
Prof Apolo Nsibambi, one of the few living contemporaries of Professor Mazrui in the pioneer batch of non-European lecturers at Makerere University’s former Faculty of Social Sciences, went on to laud the professor’s contribution to Makerere University.
“He animated the university and made the political education department a major player both within and outside Uganda,” said Prof Nsibambi. “I also remember, some people had a habit of quoting only Western academics, but Prof Mazrui would quote even the books and articles of Africans too, especially of Ugandans. He played a big role in having people at Makerere quote the papers of Ugandans, and he would encourage us to develop our own local academia.”
For some of the outstanding arguments for which Prof Mazrui should be remembered in Uganda, Prof Nsibambi said the deceased highlighted the question of a national language in Uganda. “He addressed the failure of government in taking deliberate efforts to introduce Swahili as a national language,” Prof Nsibambi said. He also pointed out the late Mazrui’s address on the question of the East African Federation, saying he made interesting analyses of the topic such as the irony-rich quip that “Tanzania has shown the greatest will for the federation, but her actions are anti-federation.”
Prof A.B. Kasozi, a former head of the National Council for Higher Education and a former student of Prof. Mazrui’s at Makerere University, says it is sad the academic world has lost someone who took the university to the public and critically questioned the way the government saw the university. “He never saw the university as an ideological institution, but a teaching and research instrument, and he defended his view in the face of a harsh government,” said Prof. Kasozi.
He also lauded Prof. Mazrui’s balanced thinking which enabled him to never regret belonging to Islam while on the same never letting Islam to dominate his outlook. “He was an intellectual who looked at the mind first irrespective of its ethnic, tribal, religious or other such sectarian inclination.”
He was a mentor
For Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, it is a sad loss of a role model of Ugandan academia. “He provided me and so many other Ugandan scholars with frameworks and approaches which have proved invaluable, which we have used to get where we are. I congratulate Makerere for having produced such an eminent person.”
Prof Nuwagaba points out that Mazrui should always be remembered for, among others, his firm stand on issues of global trade architecture and his objectivity regarding internationalisation and globalisation. “He showed that globalisation ought to create an equal society and castigated the current tendency of globalisation to create an unequal world,” Prof. Nuwagaba says.
Dr Nansozi Muwanga, the Head of the Department of Political Science at Makerere University’s School of Social Sciences, says as a department, they mourn the loss of a person who lifted the department and the entire school to lofty heights both locally and internationally.
She adds that the legacy of Prof Mazrui as a lecturer who encouraged critical thinking and opened up debates is one worth celebrating, and further lauds the deceased for his lifelong love for Makerere and Uganda, which love saw him at one time attempt to add Ugandan citizenship to the Kenyan one he already had.
Veteran educationist Fagil Mandy describes Prof. Mazrui as an academic who was “not a common teacher, not just an intellectual, but a revolutionary.” “We have seen many mere readers of books, but Prof. Mazrui was one of those who go beyond just reading books,” says Fagil Mandy.
“Mazrui was a man who used his academic career to be a changer of situations, a pan-Africanist who used his entire academic work to make a wholesome socio-political-economic analysis for the betterment of Africa.”
Who is mazrui?
Ali Alamin Mazrui was born in Mombasa on February 24, 1933, into the aristocratic Mazrui clan. As his father was a top Muslim, Mazrui got his primary and secondary education from a Mombasa Islamic school which admitted only Arabs and Black Muslims.
Unfortunately, Mazrui failed his Cambridge certificate exams, scoring a third grade owing to what he called a lack of motivation. Unable to be admitted to Makerere University or any other university where students with better grades went for further studies, he began working as a clerk in a polytechnic school. here, his sharp mind was noticed and he received a scholarship to study in Britain.
By 1961, had got a BA and MA from the University of Manchester and Columbia University respectively. He embarked on his PhD at Oxford University in 1962, with the aim of ultimately working for the UN, but Makerere University convinced him to take up a position as lecturer in 1963. By 1965, Mazrui had been appointed Professor of Political Science, a year before he received his PhD in 1966, becoming the first African Professor in East Africa. He has not only been one of Africa’s most prolific scholars, with more than 30 books and more than 100 scholarly articles to his name, but also one of the most controversial. Among his most memorable controversies was description of Wole Soyinka as “an inexact and careless scholar… prone to either overactive imagination or poetic hallucinations,” which sparked a protracted media exchange between the two.
Mazrui was married twice and is survived by five sons.
what kenyan leaders say about him
“ Prof Mazrui was a towering academician whose intellectual contributions played a major role in shaping African scholarship...Prof. Mazrui’s legacy and commitment to intellectual advancement will always remain etched in Kenyans’ minds...” Uhuru kenyatta, Kenyan president
“We have lost an intellectual giant and an important player in the pre and post-independence history of Africa who gave credence to the existence of African history pre dating colonialism. We thank God for a life dedicated to humanity and Africa...” Raila Odinga, former kenyan PM