Presented at the Ali A. Mazrui International Symposium, Southern Sun, Westlands, Nairobi, July 16, 2016.
Let me begin by thanking the organizers for the singular honor of presenting closing remarks at this important symposium. It has given me the opportunity to meet many old friends, some that I haven't seen for many years.
Since his death on October 12, 2014, there have been numerous tributes for Ali Mazrui, an icon of African letters, one of the architects of postcolonial scholarship, an indefatigable voice for Africa's intellectual rebirth and empowerment. For this most global of African intellectuals, he would have been pleased that his life and work are being celebrated here in Nairobi, in the land of his birth.
The presentations in this conference have brilliantly captured the breadth and depth of Ali Mazrui's scholarship and activism. In his keynote address Horace Campbell talked about Ali Mazrui's immense contributions to the demanding pan-African project of dismantling the epistemic architecture of Eurocentric education and knowledge systems through transformative education and reparative justice. Mahmood Mamdani examined Mazrui's complex intellectual journey, his transition from the liberal seductions of universalism to an unapologetic African public intellectualism. Mazrui's aspirations to be a universal scholar were most evident in his remarkable Makerere period, and his transformation into a pan-African scholar activist occurred in the belly of the anti-black, anti-Muslim imperial beast of the United States.
The other presentations identified and elaborated on the multifaceted dimensions of Ali Mazrui's life, scholarship, and struggles. Makau Mutua celebrated Mazrui as the most renowned global African intellectual; Lindah Mhando, interrogated the intersections of global Africa and gender relations; Adekeye Adebajo uses Mazrui’s concept of pax-Africana to unravel the various debilitating scourges that ravage contemporary Africa. Hamdy Hassan, who was unable to attend the conference, sought to reevaluate another key concept from the corpus of Mazruiana, the notion of Afrabia. Chris Wanjala underscored the capaciousness of Mazrui's mind by reminding us of his literary work, both in terms of creative writing and literary criticism. Austin Bukenya examined the remarkable East African archive of Mazruiana. Peter Anyang’ Nyongo investigated Mazrui’s trajectory as a political scientist.
We heard about other dimensions of Mazrui's life, work, and struggles. Darryl Thomas placed Mazrui in the context of the confrontations of global Africa, black internationalism, and neoliberalism. Abdul Samed Bemath shared his engaging encounters with Ali Mazrui as his bibliographer. Macharia Munene put Mazrui's copious scholarship and intellectual journeys and battles in the rich traditions of African intellectual history from St. Augustine and Ibn Khaldun in the first millennium to Walter Rodney and Wole Soyinka in our own times. Kenneth Simala hailed Ali Mazrui's little appreciated legacy for Swahili studies.
Samuel Makinda argued that Ali Mazrui's work was anchored on eclecticism as a methodological and theoretical glue, as a paradigmatic frame that yields inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary insights and knowledges. He believes this constitutes Mazrui's greatest intellectual contribution and achievement. Seifudein Adem underscored the predictive power of Mazrui's work. N’Dri Assie-Lumumba discussed the issue of Mazrui's thoughts on decolonizing African education as a powerful instrument for reclaiming African domestic agency and fostering empowered global engagements.
Tim Shaw connected the cosmopolitanism of Mazrui's life and his interest in multiple identities to his vanguard work on the globalization of cultures, diasporas, finance, and governance; Africa’s triple heritages in the complex and contradictory interconnections of transnational, regional, and global Africas. Jideofor Adibe noted how Mazrui's own personal identity and writings problematized unproductive searches for a homogenized, racialized, and authentic Africa and Africanness. Ahmed Salem examined Mazrui's indispensable work on Muslim-Western relations, in which he brilliantly traced its troubled historical roots and boldly unravels its contemporary forces and manifestations.
For me, Ali Mazrui's stature rests on several extraordinary achievements, three of which I would like to single out.
First, there was his prodigious volume of scholarship: he published more than 30 books, hundreds of essays, commentaries, and film documentaries. Second, the range, probity, and impact of his intellectual analyses, interventions, and debates. Mazrui embodied the life of the public intellectual par excellence. He was a towering intellect who moved seamlessly between the classroom, conference circuit, popular media, corporate boardroom, to the corridors of political power. He relished intellectual debate and combat because he believed in the power of ideas as a dynamic force in human history. Third, his unfaltering commitment to repositioning Africa's global position and the place of African scholarship in global scholarship. He did this by unapologetically remapping and inserting Africa in global history, developments, and discourses, and through scholarship that was capacious in its interdisciplinarity, internationalism, and interculturalism.
I would like to focus the rest of my remarks and tribute to Professor Ali Mazrui on three sets of contributions he made to what I would like to call Africa's worlds of ideas. I have termed these as intellectual contributions, ideological contributions, and institutional contributions. I first met him in 1978 when he came as a guest speaker at my Masters class at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Over the years I got to know him personally through my friendship with his nephew, Alamin Mazrui, through our encounters at the US African Studies Association, and many other forums and contexts. He is a man, a scholar, I admired tremendously.
First, Mazrui advanced the heterogenization of Africa. From the beginning of his scholarly career, Mazrui contested the singular narratives of both Eurocentric and nationalist scholarship that tended to homogenize Africa. He insisted on the diversities, complexities, contradictions, and changing dynamics of African histories, of the multiple dimensions and trajectories of the continent's
economies, polities, societies, and ecologies. This was captured brilliantly in his Reith Lectures, The African Condition, and most memorably in the 1986 television series and accompanying book, Africa: A Triple Heritage in which he built on Edward Blyden and Kwame Nkrumah's theses that Africa represented a complex mosaic, a confluence of three civilizational forces: the indigenous, Islamic, and Western.
There have been many critiques of the series, including the very notion of triple heritage, and the historical weight given to each and their intersections. However, he forced us to face the reality of our multilayered identities and that African unity cannot be invoked from an imaginary homogeneity but constructed out of intentional solidarity forged our splendid diversities.
His trenchant critiques of Eurocentrism remained a permanent feature of his work. A methodological subversion of Eurocentric historiography was most evident in two books, Nationalism and New States in Africa: From about 1935 to the Present published in 1984 and Vol. 8 of the Unesco General History of Africa that he edited and was published in 1993. In both books decolonization and contemporary African history were dated to 1935, not 1945, to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia rather than the end of the Second World War.
His attack on the authoritarian propensities of nationalism, the assault on democratic aspirations and ideals of what has come to be called "the first independence" by the African postcolonial leaders was brilliantly captured in a series of his early books on post-colonial African politics including his 1967 books, On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship: Essays on Independent Africa and Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition.
Second, he promoted the pluralization of Pan-Africanism. Mazrui also brought his plural perspective to his analytical lens of Pan-Africanism as a movement and a project. He distinguished between five versions of Pan-Africanism: the Trans-Atlantic, continental, sub-Saharan, Pan-Arab, and global. He underscored the complex interconnections between these as an essential part of understanding the transnational African liberation movements and ideologies. This allowed him to complicate conventional conceptions of Pan-Africanism and advance the notion of "Afrabia" that challenged imperial constructs of Africa and the Middle East and gestured towards a different historical geography of Africa beyond the Hegelian construct of sub-Saharan Africa that profoundly influence my own work.
Mazrui's historically and culturally expansive and more accurate understanding of Pan-Africanism reflected and reinforced a broader conception of African Diasporas that is evident in his later work, including The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities that he co-edited in 1999.
Third, the globalization of Africa and Africanization of globalization. Mazrui believed passionately that Africa was a global civilization, that it was central, not peripheral, to the development of world history, both as a victim and a player. This is powerfully articulated in a series of publications including his 1990 book, Cultural Forces in World Politics and Africa and other Civilizations: Conquest and Counter-Conquest, The Collected Essays of Ali A. Mazrui published in 2002.
First, Mazrui was a key architect of post-colonial liberalism. This was evident in his spirited attacks on both the rigidities of Marxism and African socialism. The latter was most memorably demonstrated at the famous Dar es Salaam debate between Mazrui and Walter Rodney, the Guyanese Marxist scholar activist.
Second, Mazrui articulated an African humanism. His relocation to the United States, into the heart of empire, refocused and sharpened his scholarship into an expansive humanism, marked by a deep concern and commitment to human agency and freedom. His scholarship embarked on and embraced analyses of struggles for social justice for communities based on racial, gender, and religious marginalization. His work focused especially on the emancipation of African peoples from postcolonial tyrannies, apartheid, and racial dehumanization in the diaspora, of women across the world, and of Islam from fundamentalist intolerance and Euroamerican demonization.
The eclectic works of Mazrui from the late 1970s to the time of his death reflect a mind increasingly agitated by oppression in all its forms, scholarship animated by moral passion and fearlessness, an abiding faith in the indomitability of human agency. I recall his fateful prediction in his television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, that apartheid would be defeated in the 1990s at a time when Western pundits were pontificating on the endurance of apartheid for decades to come.
Mazrui ruffled many feathers among western intellectuals some of whom had lauded him while he was in Uganda as a paragon of liberalism. The National Endowment for the Humanities withdrew its name from the credits of the television series. He entered the fray of the fraught debate for reparations against slavery when he was appointed to the Eminent Persons Group by the OAU on the subject. In 2002 published Black Reparations in the Era of Globalization.
His commitment to gender was articulated in a series of interventions both intellectual and political. Writing on the African Renaissance he argued that it needed three major revolutions in skills, values, and gender relations. Thus he saw women's emancipation and empowerment as an ethical, cultural, political, and economic necessity, as a developmental and democratic imperative.
Mazrui's scholarship also increasingly focused on the ferocious debates about trends in Islam and the rising Islamophobic post-Cold War West looking for new a eternal enemy to feed the insatiable hate machine of the military industrial complex. This is reflected in series of publications including Islam: Between Globalization & Counter-Terrorism published in 2006 and the co-edited collection Islam in Africa's Experience published in 2008.
Third, Mazrui embodied the values and virtues of public intellectualism. This was manifested in three main ways: He was actively engaged in public media through his numerous appearances, contributions, and interviews; in advocacy work on matters of importance to Africa and African diasporas; and through the accessibility of his work. The latter refers to the readability, eloquence, and evocative style of his writing and use of language, metaphors, juxtapositions, which made his work appealing to multiple audiences from fellow academics to the general public.
Mazrui's institutional contributions are no less remarkable. First, he was a pioneering figure in the development of the field of African political science. This was evident in his role at Makerere University as the first professor of political science. Also, the topics he dealt with helped set terms of debate in the field of African politics, and Africa's international relations. Furthermore, he mentored generations of African students.
Second, after his relocation to the United States he participated in the contested fields of African and African American American studies. This played itself out in his various roles as the Director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (1978–81), Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University (1991-2014); and President of the African Studies Association (1978-79).
Finally, he made notable contributions to the development of African institutions of higher education. He did this in two main ways. One, through his scholarly work on African universities and intellectuals. Examples include his book Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa published in 1978 that explored the problematic colonial legacies of African universities and the ambiguous identities of the educated class. In 1998 he published The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience on the disempowering effects of the dominance of European languages in African scholarly knowledge production and political governance.
Two, there were the various administrative and consultative positions he held in academic institutions and transnational developmental organizations. They include serving as Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, member of the Pan-African Advisory Council to the United Nations' Children's Fund, Vice-President of the World Congress of Black Intellectuals, member of the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations, member of the World Bank's Council of African Advisors, and Vice-President of the International African Institute.
For me, Professor Mazrui was one of the most important griots of the 20th and 21st century, a fierce guardian of African memory and dignity, a seer of our present condition who fervently believed in our future possibilities. As he memorably stated in The Africans: A Triple Heritage, “We are a people of the day before yesterday and a people of the day after tomorrow.” He was a giant of the first postcolonial generation of African scholars to whom my generation and the generations coming after us owe tremendous debt and gratitude for giving us the permission to think big, critically, confidently, eclectically, and holistically about our history and humanity in the past, present, and future.
Ali Mazrui—A Tribute to an Intellectual Griot