Mazrui, Ali 1933—

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Ali Mazrui 1933

African scholar, political scientist, author

Taught in Uganda

Sparked Controversy with The Africans

Left Michigan for SUNY

Selected writings


Ali Mazrui is one of the worlds most prolific and controversial writers on Africa. The author of more than 20 books and hundreds of essays, Mazrui has profoundly influenced ideas about Africa among scholars and members of the general public alike. Although his views do not always sit well with American audiences, Mazruis powerful writing style has made it impossible for even his harshest critics to ignore the unique perspective he brings to a huge variety of African issues. His soft-spoken charm and eloquence as a lecturer have also made him a favorite among students at every university he has served.

Mazrui was born on February 24, 1933, in Mombasa, Kenya. An old and prominent Muslim clan, the Mazruis had ruled the city-state of Mombasa during the 18th century. Mazruis father, AlAmin Ali Mazrui, was Chief Kadhi of Kenya, the countrys top judge of Islamic law. As the son of an eminent Muslim scholar, Mazrui was expected to follow in his fathers footsteps. British colonialism changed the direction of his education, however, and after attending local schools as a child, Mazrui continued his studies in England. He graduated from the University of Manchester in 1960.

After receiving his B.A. from Manchester, Mazrui received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to attend Columbia University in New York, where he received his M.A. in 1961. From there, he returned to England to begin working on his doctorate at Oxford University. In 1962 he took a job as a political analyst for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He also married a teacher named Molly Vicker-man that same year. Mazrui moved back to Africa in 1963, but continued working for the BBC on a part-time basis until 1965.

Taught in Uganda

In 1963 Mazrui moved to Kampala, Uganda to teach political science at Makerere University. In addition to his work for the BBC, he did some writing and broadcasting for Radio Uganda and Radio Tanzania over the next couple of years. In 1965 Mazrui was named head of Makereres political science department. After completing his doctorate at Oxford the following year, he also began taking on visiting professor assignments at overseas universities, including stints in the United States

At a Glance.

Born Ali Al Amin Mazrui, February 24, 1933, in Mombasa, Kenya; son of Al Amin Ali (a judge of Islamic law) and Safia (Suleiman) Mazrui; married Molly Vickerman (a teacher), 1962 (divorced 1982); children: Jamal, Al Amin, Kim Abubakar (au sons); married Pauline Uti, 1991; children: Farid Chinedu, Harith Ekenechukwu (both sons). Education: University of Manchester (England), B.A., 1960; Columbia University, M.A., 1961; Oxford University, D.Phil., 1966. Religion: Islam.

British Broadcasting Corp., associate political analyst, 1962-65, Reith Lecturer, 1979; Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, lecturer, 1963-65, professor and head of political science department, 1965-69, dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, 1967-73; Radio Uganda, political analyst, 1964-65; Radio Tanzania, special correspondent, 1964-65; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, professor of political science, 1974-91, director of the Center for Afroamer-ican and African Studies, 1978-81; Cornell University, Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large, 1986-92, Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar, 1992-; University of Jos, Nigeria, professor of political science, 1981-86, Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large, 1991-; wrote and hosted television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, 1986; State University of New York, Binghamton, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities, 1989-, director of Institute of Global Cultural Studies, 1991-; visiting professor and research scholar at numerous universities, including University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Harvard University, and Oxford University, 1965-; guest lecturer, commentator, and advisor on African issues for many publications, broadcasts, and organizations.

Awards: National Unity Book prize, Northwestern University, 1969; Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award, University of Michigan.

Member: International Political Science Association (member of exeutive committee, 1967-76, vice-president, 1970-73); African Studies Association (president, 1978-79); International Congress on African Studies; International African Institute; Pan-African Advisory Council to UNICEF; Athenaeum Club (London); United Kenya Club.

Addresses: 0ffice Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, P.O. Box 6000 Bingah-mton NY, 13902-6000.

at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, UCLA, and Harvard University.

Mazruis first three books were all published in 1967. One of them, Towards a Pax Africana, was a published version of his Oxford dissertation. The Pan-African, anti-colonialist views expressed by that book became ongoing themes in Mazruis writings over the years. The other two books were The Anglo-African Commonwealth and On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship. The simultaneous publication of those three influential books made Mazrui a rising star among African scholars, and he was chosen as dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Makerere soon thereafter. He was also elected to various offices in the International Political Science Association, the International Congress of Africanists, and the International Sociology Association during the period that followed.

Throughout the remainder of the 1960s, Mazruis reputation as one of Africas leading scholars continued to grow. In 1971, a military coup brought Idi Amin to power in Uganda. For a while, Mazrui was one of Amins favorite intellectuals. Within a year, however, the notoriously unpredictable dictator had changed his opinion, and Mazrui prudently opted to leave the country. In spite of this turmoil, Mazrui remained very productive during this period, publishing three books between 1970 and 1972, including his only novel, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, published in 1971, is a utopian tale taking place in heaven that addresses the question of the artists role in politics.

In 1973 Mazrui accepted a position at the University of Michigan. He remained there for the next 18 years, serving as director of the universitys Center for Afroamer-ican and African Studies from 1978 to 1981. At Michigan, Mazrui solidified his position as one of the most important writers on African politics in the world. He continued to write prolifically, and in 1979 he was selected to give the prestigious Reith Lectures, delivered annually in England over the BBC. The lectures were subsequently published in book form as The African Condition.

Sparked Controversy with The Africans

Mazrui became a well-known figure outside of academia in 1986, when he wrote and hosted the nine-part television series The Africans: A Triple Heritage, broadcast in England on the BBC and in the United States on PBS. The shows subtitle refers to the three legaciesIslamic, indigenous, and Westernthat have been most apparent in the formation of modern African identity. The controversy that surrounded the series brought Mazrui a degree of fame far beyond what his appearance on the screen could have accomplished alone. Conservatives, led by National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) chairperson Lynne Cheney, con Western bias. Among their complaints were that Mazrui spoke favorably of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi. The NEH went so far as to demand that its name be removed from the shows credits.

In reality, colonialization and the West shared the blame for Africas ills with a number of other culprits in Mazruis analysis. Rather than presenting an unbalanced view of African issues, Mazrui insisted that part of the intent of The Africans was to restore balance to the overwhelmingly pro-Western coverage of African matters generally seen in America, by presenting a purely African perspective. In spite of the wrath it incurred, the series was widely acclaimed in many other circles, and the accompanying book of the same title was a best-seller in England.

Left Michigan for SUNY

The criticism that Mazrui received from conservatives as a result of The Africans did not hurt is career a bit. While the controversy was still raging, Mazrui was named Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. In 1989 he was lured away from Michigan by the State University of New York, Binghamton, after receiving a call from New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Having divorced his first wife in 1982, after 20 years of marriage, Mazrui married Pauline Uti, a teacher from Nigeria, in 1991. That year, he was named director of Binghamtons Institute of Global Cultural Studies. During his time at Binghamton, Mazrui has continued to serve in an advisory capacity on numerous issues to numerous organizations, including the United Nations, and has served on the editorial boards of several academic journals.

In his writing, Mazrui has frequently referred to his own backgrounda combination of Islamic law, Kenyan culture, and a Western educationas a reflection of the triple heritage that has shaped modern Africa. Like the range of influences that produced his thinking, the range of subject areas that Mazrui has chosen to study over the course of his career is also extremely broad. In fact, some critics believe that Mazrui writes about so many different topics that none of them ever receive the thorough treatment that they deserve. That criticism does not bother Mazrui. His role, as he sees it, is to provoke debate. There is no doubt that he has succeeded in achieving that goal.

Selected writings


The Anglo-African Commonwealth, Pergamon, 1967.

On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship, Longmans, 1967.

Towards a Pax Africana, Weidenfeld&Nicolson, 1967; University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Violence and Thought, Longmans, 1969; Humanities, 1969.

(Co-editor, with Robert I. Rotberg) Protest and Power in Black Africa, Oxford University Press, 1970.

The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, Heinemann, 1971;Third Press, 1972.

Cultural Engineering and Nation-Building in East Africa, Northwestern University Press, 1972.

(Co-editor, with Hasu H. Patel) Aficia in World Affairs: The Next Thirty Years, Third Press, 1973.

World Culture and the Black Experience, Universityof Washington Press, 1974.

Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy, Sage, 1975.

The Political Sociology of the English Language: An African Perspective, Mouton, 1975.

A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective, Free Press, 1976.

Africas International Relations: The Diplomacy of Dependancy and Change, Westview, 1977.

(Editor) The Warrior Tradition in Modern Africa, Brill, 1977.

Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa, Heinemann, 1978; University of California Press, 1978.

The African Condition: A Political Diagnosis, Heinemann,1980; Cambridge University Press, 1980.

(With Michael Tidy) Nationalism and New States in Africa, Heinemann, 1984.

The Africans: A Triple Heritage, Little, Brown, 1986;BBC, 1986.

(Co-editor, with T.K. Levine) The Africans: A Reader, Praeger, 1986.

Cultural Forces in World Politics, Heinemann, 1990.

(Editor) Africa Since 1935, Volume VIII of the UNESCO General History of Africa, 1993.


(Writer and host) The Africans: A Triple Heritage, BBC and PBS, 1986

Contributor to numerous scholarly journals.



Nyang, Sulayman S., Ali A. Mazrui: The Man and His Works, Brunswick Publishing Company, 1981.


International Social Science Journal, no. 1-2, 1973, p. 101.

New York Times, October 5, 1986, sec. 2, p. 27.

People Weekly, November 24, 1986, p. 145.

Philadelphia Tribune, November 1, 1994, p. 3D.

Washington Post, October 5, 1986, p. Y7.

Robert R. Jacobson