Ugandan academics mourn, laud Prof Ali Mazrui’s strides

The late Prof Ali Mazrui. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

Loss. Professor Mazrui was one of Africa’s greatest scholars.

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.”

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