BOOK RE­VIEW Trib­ute to a gi­ant

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - AN­WAR MALL voices@city­press.co.za African Per­spec­tives Pub­lish­ing 552 pages R400 from african­per­spec­tives.co.za

A Gi­ant Tree Has Fallen: Trib­utes to Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, edited by Sei­fudein Adem, Jide­o­for Adibe, Ab­dul Karim Ban­gura and Ab­dul Samed Be­math .....

There could not have been a more fit­ting trib­ute to the late Pro­fes­sor Ali Mazrui than A Gi­ant Tree Has Fallen, with a tree be­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate sym­bol for a man born and bred in Africa: re­silient, proud, gifted and of for­mi­da­ble in­tel­lect. Here friends and fam­ily, aca­demics and politi­cians of­fer a glimpse into the life of a man com­mit­ted to mak­ing the world a bet­ter place.

The early forces that shaped Mazrui’s think­ing are fas­ci­nat­ing. He was the son of a Khadi, a re­li­gious leader, given to strict prac­tices that would today be eas­ily re­garded as fun­da­men­tal­ist. Artis­tic re­pro­duc­tions of any liv­ing form were for­bid­den. The phys­i­cal sciences es­pe­cially were frowned upon since they pro­duced de­struc­tive weaponry. The al­ter­na­tive for Mazrui was a life in the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sciences, a de­ci­sion that eventually en­riched th­ese fields with his pro­lific con­tri­bu­tions that turned the at­ten­tion of the world to Africa, es­pe­cially in post­colo­nial times.

Mazrui did not ex­cel at school and was forced into a job at a UK-owned com­pany in Kenya. The races could not mix so­cially, but in­ter­ac­tion in the work and ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ments were com­mon. Even more in­ter­est­ing was what Mazrui de­scribed as an “in­te­gral cleav­age” found within black so­ci­eties, in this case in Zanz­ibar, be­tween the Arab pop­u­la­tion and the Africans of Zanz­ibar, both speak­ing Ki-Swahili, in­ter­mar­ry­ing and shar­ing a cul­ture, and yet there be­ing an un­der­ly­ing ten­sion be­tween them be­cause of the his­tor­i­cal fact of the Arab slave sys­tem, a source of bit­ter­ness and hu­mil­i­a­tion for the Africans.

Mazrui’s her­itage, brought to the fore in his BBC TV pro­gramme The Africans: A Triple Her­itage, was rooted in the in­dige­nous, Is­lamic and Western lega­cies of his early life in Mom­basa.

But he was cat­a­pulted into the colo­nial­ist (“lib­eral”) world with a schol­ar­ship to Eng­land. His ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in the po­lit­i­cal sciences was com­pleted at the uni­ver­si­ties of Manch­ester, Columbia and Ox­ford. He held univer­sity chairs in the US.

So, Mazrui had an ad­e­quate taste of the Western world, ar­guably de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­na­tional out­look. Ini­tially, he won­dered whether he had turned his back on his African and Is­lamic lega­cies. Was this a sign of an in­ter­nal “cleav­age” in the mind of this in­tel­lec­tual gi­ant?

He writes of him­self be­ing “nur­tured” in the shadow of the Cuban cri­sis in 1962, while bat­tling his in­ner con­fu­sion about his love for his white English wife of the Chris­tian faith.

Th­ese were the forces that shaped this great in­di­vid­ual’s life in an ever-shrink­ing global vil­lage.

He would take cen­tre stage as a cross-cul­tural and in­ter­na­tional ob­server and com­men­ta­tor in world af­fairs, with a spe­cial fo­cus on the African con­di­tion.

But his 10-year stint as head of po­lit­i­cal science at Mak­erere Univer­sity in Uganda ended un­der the re­pres­sive regime of Idi Amin, whom Mazrui crit­i­cised. He had to grace­fully ac­cept the sec­u­lar hu­man­ism (read athe­ism) of one of his chil­dren. He was ac­cused of an­tiSemitism when he crit­i­cised Is­rael’s poli­cies against Pales­tini­ans and of dis­play­ing an anti-Western tone in his TV pro­gramme.

His fight against “the other face of the Empire”, racism, and his fear of African na­tion­al­ism won him op­po­si­tion from some quarters.

In 1963, Mazrui coined the con­cept, “We are all Africans” – and how true this was as shown by phys­i­cal an­thro­pol­ogy, palaeon­tol­ogy and ge­netic stud­ies. His dream was of an African-Arab unity (Afra­bia) and, while an ad­mirer of some African lead­ers such as Julius Nyere, he was hon­est in his crit­i­cisms of them. He an­gered aca­demic and ac­tivist Archie Mafeje when he un­wit­tingly called for a “re­colo­nial­i­sa­tion” of Africa, whereby he meant to find a so­lu­tion to a failed Africa rather than go­ing back in his­tory. Mah­mood Mam­dani, the his­to­rian, ad­mired Mazrui for his free speech and crit­i­cal en­quiry. Mazrui’s hu­man­ism ac­com­mo­dated the ideas of Amina Wadud, who de­manded equal­ity for women in mosques, an idea chal­lenged by the Mus­lim estab­lish­ment.

De­spite his lib­eral stance and open­ness to un­cen­sored thought, one won­ders at some of the con­tra­dic­tions in his po­si­tions. For ex­am­ple, his feel­ings on the one hand about Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, which he con­sid­ered in­sen­si­tive, and on the other hand his co­op­er­a­tion with the aca­demic ac­tiv­i­ties of Rev­erend Moon’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Church. He un­pop­u­larly called for the pro­lif­er­a­tion of arms to pre­vent some coun­tries be­ing vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack by larger pow­ers.

Mazrui called for de­bate through his con­tro­ver­sial state­ments that went against main­stream think­ing. He con­tin­u­ally de­manded a fresh look at is­sues.

There is no deny­ing that this proud African left a mark and brought to the minds of many all over the world the in­jus­tice done to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ples, es­pe­cially Africans, by the colonial pow­ers.

This com­pi­la­tion is a must-read, es­pe­cially in th­ese times of de­bate and dis­cus­sion on de­coloni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion.

. Mall is emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor and se­nior scholar at the Di­vi­sion of Gen­eral Surgery at the Univer­sity of Cape Town

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.