Kenyan-born Professor Ali Mazrui, who passed away Monday in Binghamton, New York at age 81, is being remembered as a Pan-Africanist and innovative thinker who put Africa on the world map by popularizing African ideas.
Ugandan-born Amii Omara Otunu, professor of history and international human rights at the University of Connecticut, said Mazrui lived his life as the great Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah would have wanted us all to live.
Mazrui authored numerous books, including the television documentary The Africans: A Triple Heritage, which addressed Western, Islamic and indigenous influences on Africa.
At the time of his death, Mazrui was an Albert Schweitzer professor in the Humanities and the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University.
Otunu said Mazrui used biography and juxtaposition of ideas to explain Africa in a way no one else could have done.
“He put Africa on the world map in terms popularizing African ideas, especially after the 1986 Africa: A Triple Heritage documentary. He was very good at analyzing the ills within African societies,” he said.
Mazrui was exiled in the 1970s after he criticized previous Kenyan and Ugandan regimes led by Daniel Arap Moi and Idi Amin respectively.
“That is the greatest tragedy because our best minds arguably are always outside the continent. Yet, if we are a continent where people could earn their living honestly, if there was freedom for everyone, if in fact there was democracy within Africa, I think most of our brilliant minds would be within the continent because they love the continent,” Otunu said.
Otunu said Mazrui gave all Africans who aspire to intellectual greatness the example that intellectuals must be independent-minded, innovative, and unpredictable.
In one of his books, Islam between Globalization and Counter Terrorism, Mazrui explained how religion was entrapped in rising extremism.
Otunu said Mazrui would have seen the rise of Al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria as a perversion of Islam.
“I’m sure Professor Mazrui would have seen this as a perversion of Islam because Islam is really about peace, about love, about light. And he demonstrated in his teachings and writings that you could be Muslim and be an intellectual, and be as liberal as possible,” he said.
He said Africa has lost a great thinker who should belong to Africa’s intellectual Hall of Fame.
Although he was exiled from his native Kenya, reports indicate his body will be flown back to his native land for burial.
Otunu said this demonstrates how deeply Mazrui loved Africa.