This year on 12 October marked the 2nd annivesary of the passing on of an African academic, intellectual, giant and thinker, Professor Ali Mazrui.

Mazrui was a scholar from Kenya who studied in England and the United States of America. Afterwards he taught at Makerere University in Uganda where he became renowned as a bold academic whose outspokenness angered the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to such an extent that he was scolded to “Shut-up”. Moreover, under the regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arab Moi he was banned from teaching in his own country and subsequently became a highly controversial figure.

As an intellectual giant, he became one of Africa’s leading ambassadors in academia outside the African continent. He immigrated to the United States where he taught at various universities, and wrote more than 20 books and 100 journal articles. As he was known for his controversy he ignited a row when he called for decolonisation of Africa for Africa’s own interests. But perhaps that should have been viewed from another angle. He perceived it as a challenge posed to the African people in general, and their leaders in particular, because of the gradual collapse of African kingdoms and societies after decolonisation.

He went to extremes by challenging the opinions of one of the father figures of African liberation, Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah made a quotation from the Bible which he altered politically as follows: “seek ye first the political kingdom, and all things shall be added unto you”. By making corrections, Mazrui at first presented it in Marxist terms “Had Nkrumah been a thorough-going Marxist he would have been tempted to proclaim ‘seek ye first economic kingdom and all else will be added unto it’. But Mazrui understood the situation and showed that Nkrumah was partially right as colonial Africa initially had to seek political sovereignty first. He disagreed that all else would be added unto it. It was not an attack but a caution to the shortcomings of Nkrumah’s idea.

Nkrumah said it was like a blueprint, at least in communist terms. But Mazrui saw the short-coming and addressed it. That is what our academics and intellectuals are supposed to be doing and not simply being praise-singers of the ruling party. In reality, the academics in our continent Africa are either silenced or silent themselves. That is not because they are seemingly “shy’ or “quiet” by nature, but because of fear or their concern about their “bellies”. This result in selfishness and a sudden change from being concerned about people in general to being egoistic. Some African academics also fell into this trap. But Mazrui was neither a beneficiary of that “crime” nor a coward. A reflection of the “politics of the belly” is that, politicians are starting out as being lean parliamentarians, but in no time, their bellies, become enlarged literally!

Referring to Mazrui’s book “The African Condition”, Ostegard states that “Mazrui diagnosed Africa’s problems, the sources of those problems and how Africa can move beyond”. Apart from his writings, he also participated and represented Africa on the international front.

In conclusion Mazrui might have been controversial or misunderstood. But he was our own vocal academic, intellectual and ambassador. He had much love for his continent. That

Mazrui examined his continent thoroughly, identified its problems and provided solutions. He challenged what needed to be challenged and brought light where needed. He also represented us internationally, taught at various institutions overseas and demonstrated his intellectual prowess.

By Thembile Ndabeni
The writer is a freelancer and holds a Master’s degree in South African politics and political economy from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
(image source: