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Farewell Professor Mazrui

By Paul T. Shipale
Professor Ali Mazrui, who has died at the age of 81, is regarded as one of Africa's foremost intellectuals and has been a household name in Kenya and beyond.

On his passing on, I am reminded of Yash Tandon, on 12- 07-2012, when he wrote on the passing of Professor Dani Wadada Nabudere, describing himasalong-timecomradeand anuncompromisingrevolutionary figure. He said "of some people it is true to say that they are better known after they have left this world. What makes them relatively unknown in their life time is a mystery".

Like Dani Wadada Nabudere, Professor Ali Mazrui was one of the most enigmatic revolutionary African figures of the 20th Century, a prophet of a man and a three-dimensional man. I agree with the Tanzanian Deputy Minister of Communication, Science and Technology, January Makamba, who said, when he paid him tribute, that Professor Mazrui taught us to appreciate and value Africa's complex identity and multiple heritages.

Professor Mazrui wrote and presented a ground-breaking BBC television series in the 1980s entitled The Africans - a Triple Heritage that talked of the Western, Islamic and indigenous influences on Africa. He won several awards and in 2005, the US journal Foreign Policy and British journal Prospect listed him as among the world's top 100 public intellectuals. Born in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on 24 February 1933, some 20 years before the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule, he always portrayed himself as a true patriot. In his series of essays On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship, he wrote as an African scholar deeply involved in the fight for the freedom of his people, expressing empathy with those on the front line of the battle against colonialists.

Professor Mazrui's writings, though embedded in history, still resonate because he talks about the need to recognise national heroes, without worshipping them. They also give insight into some of the greatest concerns currently facing the world as he wrote about terrorism and Islam. In one of his books, Islam between Globalisation and Counter Terrorism, he explained how the religion was entrapped in the danger of rising extremism. The professor had immense international experience in his academic career. He studied at some of the world's most prestigious universities, including Oxford, from where obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1966.

A letter written to him by Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, from Cape Town, on the 10/ 10/02, sheds light on his "triple heritage". It reads as follow as paraphrased; Dear Ali Mazrui, Conference on Reparations for Arab-led Slavery I am writing in response to your letter of the 27th September, 2002, addressed to Iman Drammeh regarding the scheduled conference on reparations for Arab-led slavery. She passed it on to me. I am generating this response because as Elise Edwards points out in her article of the 8th July 2002 (People's Will), "news of the conference came after a recent meeting in New York between Kwesi Kwaa Prah ..., Director of the South African based CASAS (Center for Advanced Studies of African Society) and Iman Drammeh ..., Director of the Drammeh Institute whose organizations networked in preparation for the UN World Conference Against Racism last year." (2001). I am a full partner, not a sleeping partner, in the exercise and must take responsibility for my part of the endeavour. We intend to take the work of the Durban conference, in this respect, further.

I gave the contents of your letter a great deal of thought. Indeed, admittedly, my initial reaction was to agree that maybe we needed to postpone the conference in view of the explosiveness of the situation in the Arab world that has been generated in the US by the Bush Administration for war against Iraq, and the blood-letting which we see daily on television screens between Israelis and Palestinians in the region... In your letter you ask; "are you sure you would like to announce an anti-Arab conference at just the time when the Bush Administration is about to bomb an Arab country (Iraq)? Is there not a risk that your honourable plans would be mistaken for part of the Bush Administration's war propaganda? If we included a panel on the history of slavery in Iraq, the Bush Administration might even subsidize our entire conference. Are we sure this is the right time for such a conference"?

After lengthy reflection, and a round of consultations, I came to the conclusion that it would indeed be injudicious to postpone the conference and would for the umpteenth time subordinate African concerns to extraneous considerations, which have little or no direct bearing on strategically advised and enlightened African interests. I am happy you describe our plans as honourable but, I am profoundly surprised and deeply disconcerted by the fact that you think a conference raising the issue of reparations for Arab-led slavery, past and present, is anti- Arab.

Does the demand of reparations for the Atlantic slave trade amount to anti-Europeanism? The case you make is disingenuous. Should Africans in perpetuity be silent about Arab slavery in the past and present, (I repeat, "and present"), for fear that raising the issue would be treated as anti-Arab? I am of the view that most Africans will dispute your position. In fact, many may consider your standpoint anti-African.

The implication of your argument is that "suffer in silence, for you may offend your masters by protesting". For those who are aware of your Arab antecedents, the fundamental weakness of your argument may most unfortunately, prompt people to suggest that it is on account of your Arab background that you make this obviously flawed and inordinately anti-African suggestion... Arab slavery of Africans, unfortunately, continues to the present day, and every day it continues, is a day too long. Africans cannot wait for other people's problems to be resolved before our problems are resolved.

We have waited too long. When we ask for reparations, we are not asking for revenge. We are not asking for retribution. We are not even in the first instance asking for monetary returns. We are asking for, firstly, acknowledgement of the barbarities wreaked on African people by Arabs. We are asking for open and public apologies for past and continuing wrongs. We are asking for the trade in Africans to stop. To stop immediately.

If by asking for our freedom and the acknowledgement of centuries of dehumanization some accuse us of being anti those you describe as the master race, then unfortunately some of us will say you are holding brief for the constituency you defend. I am not anti-anybody. I am pro-African. To love others, I must first love and value my own humanity. Anybody who hates a people and stereotypes them is in fact antihuman and a fascist.

Two million Africans have lost their lives in the Southern Sudan since the 2nd Civil War commenced in 1983. Sudanese Africans are currently being sold. Must we postpone saying that this must stop?...

You say the demand for reparations for Arab-led slavery will split the OAU/AU. If it does, then the OAU/AU has historically proven to be unable to see through greater freedom, emancipation and unity for Africans in our times. We hope this does not happen, but we cannot, because of fear for this, postpone and defer a dream for freedom, unity and development. We cannot acquiesce in our bondage in order to nurse the sensibilities of our bondsmen. There we seriously part ways. What I call continentalism is the bane of Pan-Africanism. The geographical definition of Africans simply means that everybody in Africa is an African, even where some of such people insist they are not Africans.

Everybody becomes an African, and therefore nobody is an African. The dialectic takes its course. Continentalism means those who are not on the continent are not Africans, therefore, the Diaspora is not African, (quod erat demonstrandum). This is the sort of bizarre direction continentalism logically takes us. Equally unhelpful is the crude colour-based definition. Because most Africans are black does not mean that all Africans are blacks, or that all blacks are Africans.

We shall go forward with our meeting and will make sure that we are as considered, morally upright, humane and openminded as democrats and progressives should be. We shall not flinch from calling a spade a spade even if this makes some people uncomfortable. Some time ago, I pointed out that "I think it is useful to remember that, Africans both on the continent and in the Diaspora, are capable of expressing themselves and speaking for themselves and must be given platforms and a chance to do so in all instances where issues affecting them are concerned.

I hope my short note helps you to understand that it is possible to be in favour of the Arab cause ..., and at the same time, oppose Arab racism against Africans in the Afro-Arab Borderlands." Kwesi Kwaa Prah Like Professor Prah, I disagree with my learned Professor Mazrui on the issue of reparation. May His Soul Rest In Peace.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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