Remembering Prof. Ali Mazrui   Leave a comment

In a private message someone once asked me whether I knew Prof. Ali Mazrui, and I responded by saying: yes, he was my elder brother. The person actually believed me, but I corrected him by narrating the following brief story.

In the 1960s, some of us undergraduate political hot heads in Canadian universities were quite exasperated when we read “controversial” articles in the magazine “Transition” published in Uganda under the editorship of none other than Prof. Mazrui. Two articles authored by Prof. Mazrui: “Kwame Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” and “Tanzaphilia”, touched off a storm of controversy among African intellectuals across the globe.

During this period, I was deeply involved in both student politics at the University of Waterloo, and the left student movements of the 1960s. I graduated from Waterloo in 1966 and proceeded to Northwestern University to pursue graduate studies. It was at Northwestern University in 1968 where I met Prof. Mazrui personally in a world conference on “violence” as a means of effecting change in society. Prof. Mazrui was one of the scholars who delivered major papers that set the stage for discussions. I played a small role as a student discussant for a paper which I cannot even remember now. At the time, I was preparing to travel to Kenya to conduct my PhD thesis research on “Ethnic Relations and National Integration”.

After graduating from Northwestern University in 1971, I became an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 1972. During my promotion from “assistant” to “associate” professor in 1978, Prof. Mazrui, who was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, wrote a powerful letter of endorsement for my “promotion with tenure”. These letters of support carry a heavy weight in the deliberations of the “Executive Committees” of each department in the United States academic system. In effect, your intellectual peers stake out their academic reputations and accomplishments in extending letters of support to you.

My next encounter with Prof. Mazrui was in 1979 in the “Fifth Congress of Pan African Studies” in the then Zaire. Prof. Mazrui was one of the “special rapporteurs” of the conference proceedings that were published in Paris, France. My contribution was the following paper: “Dependent Development and Urbanization in Kenya.” In V.Y. Mudimbe, ed. Africa’s Dependence and the Remedies. Paris, France: Berger-Levrault, 1980. Pp. 168-183.

In the 1980s, Prof. Mazrui was invited from time to time at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, to give special lectures on development and African politics. During these occasions, I engaged in private discussions with Prof. Mazrui on a variety of topics ranging from his own work to his personal experiences with African leaders and scholars. This is when I came to appreciate even more the depth of Prof. Mazrui’s intimate knowledge of African politics and his analytical savvy in laying bare the logic at work in the thinking of African leaders. Beyond this, we shared some lighter moments of jokes about “Pwani” (Kenya Coast), and our own unique roots in Muslim culture and the Coast.

We all miss you Professor Mazrui, and we shall try even harder to follow your giant footsteps in the march towards the dawn of a new day in Africa.

Mwalimu Edari

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Posted September 5, 2015 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

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