Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE LIFE OF ALI MAZRUI


What was unique about Ali was that he was always bubbling with new ideas, which he tested on the students, his colleagues and the public in general whether in the lecture halls, academic journals or the columns of newspapers .A renowned scholar, teacher and public intellectual with expertise in African politics, international political culture, political Islam and North-South relations, Mazrui’s prolific writing over the past half century has shaped ideas about Africa and Islam among scholars and the general public, earning him both international acclaim and controversy.Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, 81, died peacefully on October 12, 2014 of natural causes at his home in Vestal, New York, surrounded by family. A political scientist, Mazrui was the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York, until his retirement on September 1, 2014. Ali Mazrui argues that the emphasis in world politics continues to be on arms, on resources and on strategic calculations and that the importance of culture has been grossly underestimated. Professor Mazrui's own mind is a cultural cross-roads; he can give Islamic insights to Western audiences about The Satanic Verses; he relates the Beijing Spring to the Palestinian Intifada; he compares the effects of Zionism and Apartheid; he puts together Muhammad, Marx and market forces; and he tells the Americans that their attitude to the Third World is a dialogue of the deaf.Ali speaking to a packed audience in the KICC, Ali reminded Kenyans that Kenya’s multi-religious and multiethnic character, and urged  to device a constitution which recognised this diversity but at the same time promoting a strong and united Kenya nation—a people with a common identity. 
Mazrui delights in dualism and dichotomy, in pairs and parallels, and the paradoxes thereof. Bringing the south's point of view to the north, the east's to the west, and in return showing how the north and west's standpoint and behaviour have been culturally conditioned may begin to loosen hidebound beliefs.Mazrui new book... presents an alternative view of the world that does not see Europe or America as the only players in world affairs.he is an Afro-Asiatic westerner) Mazrui is, perhaps, better placed than any of us to use Afro-Islamic and Judeo-western prisms to discern the cultural forces that are at work in world politics. He had also been serving as the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University and as the Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large at the University of Jos, Nigeria. He was a renowned scholar, teacher and public intellectual with expertise in African politics, international political culture, political Islam, and North-South relations. His prolific writing over the past half century has shaped ideas about Africa and Islam among scholars and the general public, earning him both international acclaim and controversy. He authored over forty books and hundreds of scholarly articles and book chapters. His political analyses appeared frequently in news media around the world. He is best known for the nine-part television series he wrote and narrated, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” A joint production of BBC and PBS, the series originally aired in numerous countries in 1986. The series, and the book on which it is based, reveals and analyzes the complex ways in which African communities exhibit a blend of three cultures: indigenous, Muslim and Western.


I seek to demonstrate below that Mazrui had done well in predicting some of the major global events of the last half a century or so. True, Mazrui’s style of intellectual discourse attaches less value to the predictive power of social scientific theories. Indeed, Mazrui had said in 1969: “…only a thin dividing line separates scientific prediction from fortune telling.” He uttered those words at least twenty years before “empirical” political scientists were humbled by two major international events of our time, the “sudden” collapse of communism and the rise of China as an aspiring global hegemon. Let us briefly review a few of Mazrui’s specific “predictions” and show how, retrospectively, he seemed to have been substantially vindicated. 
Mazrui wrote in 1972: “When the hold of the white minority in Rhodesia is one day broken, we will almost certainly have a country called Zimbabwe.” Rhodesia gained independence in 1980 and was renamed Zimbabwe. 

In 1973, Mazrui maintained that “before long the question was bound to be asked whether China belonged to the ranks of the weak and underprivileged, or was about to join the ranks of the powerful.” This was at least half a decade before Deng Xiaoping opened up China for business and people began to debate about, for instance, whether China was a partner or a neo-colonial power in the making in Africa. Mazrui lamented in 1975 that “we are nowhere near an international police force strong enough to keep the Russians out of another Czechoslovakia”. Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979.


 In 1986, in his TV series, The Africans, Mazrui asserted: “South Africa will be free from the white minority rule in the 1990s.” In 1994, the white minority rule came to an end in South Africa. Mazrui predicted in 1989: “If Islam gets nuclearized before the end of the century, two regional rivalries are likely to have played an important part in it. One is the rivalry between India and Pakistan; the other is the rivalry between Israel and the Arabs.” Pakistan exploded the nuclear device and joined the nuclear club in 1998.

Mazrui wrote also in 1989: “Islam in despair could be pushed to a nuclear terrorism as a version of jihad…And a future case of Islamic nuclear terrorism—aimed probably against either Israel or the United States or both—may well be the outcome of the present Israeli-American insensitivity to the sense of honor of Islamic civilization.” Mazrui made those observations more than a decade before the issue of “terrorism” and “clash of civilizations” became principal categories of discourse in the West. In 1994, Mazrui rhetorically asked: “Will Islam replace communism as the West’s perceived adversary?” This was long before the “war on terror” entered the political vocabulary. 

In 1998, Mazrui wrote: “While the first industrial revolution of capitalist production and the Christian reformation became allied to the new forces of nationalism in the new Western world, the third industrial revolution and any Islamic reformation will be increasingly hostile to the insularity of nationalism of the state…Islam and the information revolution will be allies in breaking down the barriers of competing national sovereignties. The new technology will give Islam a chance to realize its original aim of transnational universalism.” Does this in any way relate to what is going on in Iraq and Syria in the year 2014?

In 2000, Mazrui wrote: “Behind the Western fear of the spread of nuclear expertise to Third World countries is the fear of nuclear weapons proliferation. There is anxiety in Western capitals that what begins as the peaceful use of nuclear energy may become something more ominous—thus the repeated attempts by the United States to pull back Russia from any kind of nuclear cooperation (however peaceful) with a country like Iran.” This passage could have as well been written in 2014.

Mazrui said in May 2001: “If Americans are going to spend money only to listen to views which they regard as “balanced”, they had better brace themselves for international shocks in the future at least as “bewildering” as the Iranian and Cuban Revolution!” Three months later, it was 11 September 2001, or 9-11 as it more commonly known in the United States. 

As he told us in 1980, Mazrui’s predictions are not limited to international affairs. He said: “In 1967, in a lecture at Makerere, I predicted that the future of Swahili in Uganda depended on the decline of the Baganda and the rise of the military. The Baganda had been the greatest opponents of Swahili; the soldiers (mainly from Northern Uganda) were the greatest champions of the language. It turned out to be true that one of the very few cultural gains brought about by Idi Amin’s rule was the greater use of Swahili in national affairs in Uganda”. 

In 2004, Mazrui wrote: “The United States stands the best chance of achieving before the end of the twenty-first century a historic compromise on race, ethnicity, and religious differences. The struggle for this historic compromise is likely to be led by African Americans, joined by other Americans of good will”. Four years later, the United States elected its first African American president: Barack Obama. 

In 2007, Mazrui wrote: “There is a possibility that the South of Sudan would secede from the North by the end of this decade.” As it turned out, in January 2011, South Sudan officially seceded, becoming the newest independent state in Africa. 

Mazrui wrote in July 2011, just after Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned and when the dominant discourse centered around the quite optimistic theme of the “Arab Spring”: “I think because Egypt is a very ancient civilization, it may have to overcome a lot of older traditions, if you like, the pharaonic impediments to democratization. Egypt has had five thousand years of bureaucracy.” Mazrui added: “I’m worried that these ancient tendencies of accepting power at the center which go back in Egypt thousands of years and not just centuries, may themselves prove an impediment to rapid democratization. Egypt’s ancient political culture of deference to authority is dying, but not fast enough. I hope I am wrong. If Egyptians become democratic within the next fifty years, I hope my children will celebrate, because that will be faster than I was expecting it to happen due to that built-in lethargy of pharaonic traditions.” 

Now let us turn to some of Mazrui’s broader generalizations. His first major scholarly work was about collective identity formation, published in 1963, decades before this topic captured the attention of many political scientists. 

In his 1980 essay, “Technology, International Stratification, and the Politics of Growth,” Mazrui seemed to have anticipated some of the arguments Jared Diamond brilliantly articulated more recently in his ground-breaking 1998 book, Guns, Germs and Steel. The question both Mazrui and Diamond asked was: why did industrial revolution begin in Europe and not in Africa or Latin America? In formulating the tentative answers, Jared Taylor, of course, also had the benefit of new insights on the subject in various disciplines.

Did Mazrui also anticipate some of the elements of Susan Strange’s theory of structural power? In her well-known book, States and Markets published in 1988, Strange introduced what she called the four structures of power in global political economy—namely, the security structure, the production structure, the financial structure, and the knowledge structure, which she defined respectively as: the framework of power created by the provision of security by some human beings for others; the sum of all the arrangements determining what is produced, by whom and for whom, by what method and on what terms; the sum of all the arrangements governing the availability of credit plus all the factors determining the terms on which currencies are exchanged for one another; what is believed (and the moral implications and principles derived from those beliefs); what is known and perceived as understood; and the channels by which beliefs, ideas and knowledge are communicated—including some people and excluding others. 

Mazrui laid down the elements of his theory of structural dependency in 1985: production, consumption, currency or liquidity, technology and (the English) language. Apparently, this was an elaboration of what he had articulated in 1976: “structural dependency concerns the organizational aspects of political, economic and technological imbalance. A lack of symmetry in power relations, captured in institutional framework, lies at the heart of structural dependency. The phenomenon of multinational corporations constitutes one of the latest structures of dominance emanating from the Western world and operating elsewhere. Financial institutions, certain types of technological transfers, as well as large-scale military alliances involving major powers, are all forms of dependency structurally defined.” Mazrui’s theory was concerned more with North-South relations or, specifically, the relationship between the United States and the Third World.

Does Mazrui’s theory of “mature interdependence” which he formulated in 1980 have an affinity with what international relations scholars Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye called in 1989 the theory of “complex interdependence”? Mazrui defines “mature interdependence” as a form of interdependence between groups which combines sophistication with symmetry. The sophistication comes from enhanced technological capabilities and expanded intellectual awareness; the symmetry emerges out of a few egalitarian morality combined with a more balanced capacity for mutual harm. The other forms of interdependence in Mazrui’s arsenal of categories are primitive interdependence and feudo-imperial interdependence.

Mazrui had elaborated some of the major social constructivist postulates as well in a language strikingly similar to that of contemporary social constructivists. Was he a social constructivist before social constructivism emerged as a formidable paradigm of thought in the discipline of International Relations? Consider the following examples. Alexander Wendt, a well-known social constructivist scholar today, thus wrote in 1999 about the role of ideas versus distribution of capabilities in the international system: “US military power means one thing to Canada, another to Communist China.” One decade earlier, in 1989, Mazrui put the same idea in this way: “Although Brazil is much larger than Iraq, Brazil’s nuclear capability would be less of a global shock than Iraqi nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s explosion of nuclear device would carry with it greater fears than a successful explosion by China.” In 1999, Wendt also unveiled his concept of “ontological security,” defining it as “the human predisposition for a relatively stable expectation about the world around them.” Wendt clarified the concept thus: “…along with the need for physical security, this [predisposition] pushes human beings in a conservative homeostatic direction, and to seek out recognition of their standing from their society.” In a very different context, Mazrui elaborated a roughly similar idea in 1971, calling it “the sense of security afforded by the familiar.”

Mazrui had advocated at least since the 1970s what he called “horizontal nuclear proliferation” which is designed to shock the original nuclear powers to ban nuclear weapons for all. At the time, his idea was either ignored by the mainstream discourse, or was generally criticized and rejected by his peers. One prominent scholar who had rejected Mazrui’s idea was J. David Singer. Methodologically, Mazrui and Singer were also in opposing camps even though, paradoxically, the two scholars were colleague on the same campus at the University of Michigan for a number of years. Singer, in his 1969 essay titled “The Incompleat Theorist: Insight without Evidence”, challenged Mazrui’s method which Mazrui espoused and shared with his contemporary Hedley Bull, or the other way round. Singer came out in 2008 and suggested, somewhat reluctantly, that it was worth seriously considering Mazrui’s old idea that “the vaccination of horizontal nuclear proliferation might be needed to cure the world of this nuclear malaise, a dose of the disease becomes part of the necessary cure.” 

Ali A. Mazrui is indeed the ultimate futurologist in my view, the man who saw the future. The question is: how did he do it? 


Mazrui’s own upbringing reflects this triple heritage. He was born on February 24, 1933, in Mombasa, Kenya, to Swafia Suleiman Mazrui and Sheikh Al-Amin Mazrui, an eminent Muslim scholar and the Chief Qadi (Islamic judge) of Kenya. Immersed in Swahili culture, Islamic law, and Western education, he grew up speaking or reading Swahili, Arabic and English. He pursued his higher education in the West, obtaining his B.A. from Manchester University in England (1960); his M.A. from Columbia University in New York (1961); and his doctorate (D.Phil.) from Oxford University in England (1966). While studying in England, he married his first wife, Molly Vickerman, and they began a family in Kampala, Uganda, where he launched his academic career at Makerere University. He taught at Makerere for ten years, during which his first three sons were born: Jamal (1963), Alamin (1967) and Kim Abubakar (1968). At Makerere, he served as head of the Department of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Dean of the Faculty of Law. During his tenure at Makerere, dictator Idi Amin became increasingly repressive toward critics, ultimately forcing Mazrui into exile with his family to the United States.

Mazrui’s career in the US began at Stanford University, where he visited for two years (1972–74). He then joined the Political Science Department at the University of Michigan for seventeen years (1974–91), where he also served as Director of the Center for Afro-American and African Studies (1978–81). In 1989, the State of New York recruited him to Binghamton University to assume the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, previously occupied by Toni Morrison. At Binghamton, he founded the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and regularized his at-large affiliation with Cornell University. In 1991, he married Pauline Uti of Jos, Nigeria. They had two sons, Farid (1992) and Harith (1993), and adopted a daughter Grace (b. 2004) in 2012. 

Mazrui’s publications are influential and voluminous. He made his mark early in his career, before completing his doctoral studies, when in 1963 he published articles in the most prestigious political science journals in the United States and Britain: “On the Concept of ‘We Are All Africans,’” The American Political Science Review (Mar. 1963) and “Consent, Colonialism and Sovereignty,” Political Studies (UK) (Feb. 1963). His many books began with the publication of three in 1967 alone: Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition (1967); On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship: Essays on Independent Africa (1967); and The Anglo-African Commonwealth: Political Friction and Cultural Fusion (1967).

Other Mazrui books include A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective (1976); The African Condition: A Political Diagnosis (1980); Cultural Forces in World Politics (1990); Islam Between Globalization and Counterterrorism (2006); and African Thought in Comparative Perspective (Seifudein Adem, Ramzi Badran & Patrick Dikirr, (eds.), 2014). The African Condition also formed the basis of the prestigious annual Reith lectures that Mazrui delivered in 1979 for the BBC. His book, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in Africa’s Experience (co-authored with nephew Alamin M. Mazrui) (1998) was launched in the British House of Lords at a ceremony honoring Mazrui’s work. He and Alamin M. Mazrui also published Black Reparations in the Era of Globalization (2002). The project stemmed from his appointment in 1992 as one of twelve Eminent Persons by the Organization of African Unity Presidential Summit in order to explore the modalities and logistics of reparations for enslavement and colonization. He also published a novel, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971), which was inspired by his anguish over the Nigerian Civil War and the tragic death of a childhood friend, Mohamed Salim Said (nicknamed “Giraffe”). For an annotated bibliography of Mazrui’s work, comprehensive to date of press, see The Mazruiana Collection Revisited (Abdul S. Bemath, (ed.), 2005). Books containing scholarly papers about Mazrui’s work include The Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui (Omari H. Kokole, (ed.), 1998) and the Politics of Global Africa (Seifudein Adem, (ed.), 2011).

Mazrui served in numerous capacities in addition to his primary professorships. He was a visiting scholar at Australia, Baghdad, Bridgewater, Cairo, Chicago, Colgate, Denver, Guyana, Harvard, Leeds, London, Malaysia, McGill, Nairobi, Ohio State, Oxford, Pennsylvania, Singapore, Sussex, Teheran, UCLA and Washington. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki appointed him Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi, Kenya, a position he held for six years (2003–09). He was awarded honorary doctorates by several universities in such varied disciplines as Divinity, Sciences of Human Development, Humane Letters, and Political Economy. He also served in leadership roles in several organizations, including as President of the Muslim Social Scientists of North America and President of the African Studies Association of the United States. He also served as Chair of the Board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and as Special Advisor to the World Bank. Mazrui was a principal contributor to several United Nations projects on matters of global significance, such as human rights and nuclear proliferation. He served as editor, for example, of Volume VIII (Africa since 1935) of the UNESCO General History of Africa (1993), and as Expert Advisor to the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations.

Mazrui’s honors are numerous. For example, he won the Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award of the University of Michigan in 1988 and the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the US in 1995. The President of Kenya awarded him the National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Burning Spear and the President of South Africa made him Grand Companion of Oliver Tambo. Morgan State University awarded him the DuBois-Garvey Award for Pan-African Unity. In 2005, the American journal Foreign Policy and the British journal Prospect ranked Mazrui among the top 100 public intellectuals in the world. He was also featured in the “500 Most Influential Muslims,” (a.k.a. the “Muslim 500”), a publication by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in cooperation with the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Mazrui was elected an Icon of the Twentieth Century by Lincoln University. For a more complete list of Mazrui’s achievements, see the Institute of Global Cultural Studies website,http://www2.binghamton.edu/igcs.

Mazrui was also a gifted teacher and orator. His passion, eloquence, and charisma as a lecturer filled classes throughout his teaching career. Similarly, his reputation for insightful analysis and moving oratory created standing-room only audiences at public speaking events throughout the world. Indeed, his “Millennium Harvard lectures” drew large, engaged audiences for three consecutive days. (The lectures were subsequently published as The African Predicament and the American Experience: A Tale of Two Edens (2004).) Mazrui was, moreover, deeply dedicated to his students. One of the things he regretted most about his declining health was the inability to meet his teaching responsibilities. He was grateful to be able to video-record an apology to his students. He was so adored and revered as a teacher and mentor that family and friends referred to him as “Mwalimu” (Swahili for teacher).

Defining features of Mazrui’s intellectual legacy include courage and controversy. A principal theme of his work was to identify and criticize abuses of political, economic and military power, whether by colonial or imperial nations, including the United States, or by leaders of developing countries, including African nations. His original and bold ideas generated passionate debate on African and Islamic issues. Expressing those ideas took professional and moral courage, especially when his personal security was put at risk. While he was still living in Uganda in 1972, for example, he released a widely circulated essay entitled “When Spain Expelled the Jews and the Moors,” an unmistakable criticism of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandans of South Asian origin. In fact, during Mazrui’s tenure at Makerere, he gave several public lectures that criticized Presidents Milton Obote and successor Idi Amin for violations of human rights and the rule of law. Additionally, while he was critical of Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, Mazrui was one of the few famous Muslims to publically oppose the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. These public stances could have cost him his life. 

Mazrui also risked his reputation, even when not his life, by taking positions of principle that generated sharp criticism and condemnation. For example, his long-standing criticism of Israel (not Judaism or Jewish people) for its treatment of Palestinians provoked some pro-Israeli critics to challenge Mazrui’s character; label him (falsely) as anti-Semitic; impersonate him as the author of hateful communiqu├ęs; subject him to leaflets that used racial epithets while demanding the termination of his employment; and shut down, through concerted e-mail traffic, the ability of his institute to access the internet. His argument in favor of nuclear proliferation, whereby all countries could obtain nuclear weapons so long as any country could, was denounced by some as irresponsible and dangerous. He insisted, however, that the most effective way to persuade the current members of the “nuclear club” to agree to universal disarmament was to allow other countries they did not control to pursue the power of nuclear threat. His 1986 television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, won praise around the world, including by members of the US Congress in statements published in the Congressional Record. It also generated strong criticism, however, such as by other members of Congress and by the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who condemned the series as an “anti-Western diatribe” and withdrew the agency’s name from the program’s credits. Ironically, the series was also banned for many years in Mazrui’s native country of Kenya, not for being too anti-Western, but for being too anti-African. Arthur Unger, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, wrote during the airing of The Africans that when he told Mazrui that he disagreed with many of his opinions but found the ideas challenging, Mazrui replied, with a smile, “Good, … Many people disagree with me. My life is one long debate.” For an account of some of Mazrui’s most prominent and controversial debates, see the multi-volume series, Debating the African Condition: Ali Mazrui and His Critics (2003, Vol. I), (2004, Vol. II), (2013, Vol. III).

Those close to Mazrui loved him for his character and personal qualities. His warmth was enveloping and his laughter was infectious. He was endlessly generous toward family, close and extended, and to people in less fortunate circumstances. He was gracious to all, including strangers and intellectual adversaries. The hospitality of Mazrui and his beloved wife, Pauline, drew hundreds of visitors to their Vestal, New York home from across town and the world. He also kept in touch with relatives, friends and colleagues in far off places with a personal newsletter that he wrote annually for nearly forty years. He enjoyed learning from people from all walks of life and cultures. An egalitarian and humanitarian, he endeavored to treat all people with respect, dignity and fairness. At the same time, he valued spirited debate about political, economic and philosophical ideas. Mazrui modeled integrity and decency.

Mazrui’s personal interests included reading murder mysteries by Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. He enjoyed watching films with his family, especially Hollywood classics, James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and comedies, such as I Love Lucy, Airplane and Young Frankenstein. He also enjoyed television dramas, such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Mission Impossible. He was a fan of boxing great Muhammad Ali and Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. An avid consumer of daily news through print, radio and television, he especially enjoyed the radio broadcasts of the BBC World Service and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as the PBS NewsHour and the Rachel Maddow shows on evening television. He loved travelling the globe to speak to audiences of all kinds, enjoying meeting people of different religions and ethnicities, sampling their cuisine, and taking in the natural beauty that different regions offer. A man of faith, he prayed to return Home. As his Mombasa family says, “We are from God and to Him we shall return.”

Mazrui is preceded in death by his parents Sheikh Al-Amin and Swafia Suleiman, his brothers Muhammad and Harith, and his sisters Salma, Nafisa and Aisha. He is survived by his wife, Pauline Uti Mazrui; five sons: Jamal Ali Mazrui (and wife Susan) of Takoma Park, Maryland, Alamin Ali Mazrui (and companion Rosalind Holden) of Binghamton, New York, Kim Abubakar Ali Forde-Mazrui (and wife Kay) of Charlottesville, Virginia, Farid Chinedu Ali Mazrui of Vestal, New York, and Harith Ekenechukwu Ali Mazrui of Vestal, New York; and by his daughter, Grace Jennifer Adaobi Ali Egbo-Mazrui. He is survived by three grandchildren: Will Nielsen Forde-Mazrui of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ali Alamin Mazrui of Vestal, New York, and Nicole Molly Mazrui of Takoma Park, Maryland. He is also survived by the close and long-time members of his Vestal home family: “Mama” Alice Uti, Goretti Mugambwa, and Maria Liverpool. He is survived by his sister Alya of Mombasa, Kenya, and by numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

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