In the books of Western intellectuals, something good rarely comes from Africa. Until recently, Africa was nothing more than the “Dark Continent” or “people without a history”. Not anymore, thanks to Professor Ali Alamin Mazrui whose passing in the early hours of Oct. 13 has certainly created shockwaves across the world.
It was in a bid to debunk the wrong views of Africa that Chinua Achebe published his first novel Things Fall Apart in 1958 and Ali Mazrui came out strong as an intellectual conducting research into African history. In 1999, he published Africa Since 1935 but the period before 1935 was documented in several other books and essays.
The entire world – the academic community, in particular – mourns Professor Mazrui. But Africans should be weeping loudest because they have lost their greatest icon. Though Africa has produced great intellectuals, Mazrui, often described as controversial by many in the West, comes top on the list of impartial observers.
A true Muslim, he rejected terrorism in all its forms. But he argued that sharia law could be applied in a democracy. He was a proponent of “African liberalism” and cautious about Marxism and communism.
In reaching the conclusion that Mazrui is simply Africa’s greatest intellectual so far, Eyeway has not taken into consideration the ranking by magazines Prospect of the UK and Foreign Policy of the US in 2005 that placed Mazrui 73rd on a list of the top 100 intellectual people in the world. The same joint assessment placed Noam Chomsky first, Chinua Achebe 38th and Wole Soyinka 66th.
Mazrui’s intellectual achievements are documented in scores of books and hundreds of articles he wrote during his lifetime. He was perhaps the most credible authority on African and Islamic studies as well as North-South relations. Among the most popular are: The Africans: A Triple Heritage (1986), The Content of Character: Ethical Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (2005), Islam: Between Globalisation and Counter-Terrorism (2004), Africa Redefined (2002), Africa Since 1935 (1999), and The African Predicament and the American Experience: A Tale of Two Edens (2004).
The Kenya-born intellectual obtained a B. A. with distinction from Manchester University (UK) in 1960, M.A. from Colombian University (NY) in 1961 and D. Phil from Oxford University in 1966. Professor Mazrui taught in five continents – from universities in Kenya to Uganda and from the UK to Guyana and America.
Until his death, he was a professor of Political Science, African Studies and Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, Binghamton University, State University of New York, Binghamton, New York, USA.
He died in the city but will be buried in Kenya as he had requested. His wish to be buried in his hometown will be respected, according to his nephew Alamin Mazrui.
Born in Mombassa, Kenya, on February 24, 1933, Mazrui leaves behind a wife and six children.