On the floor of the US Senate, Kerry thus summed up his view about the documentary: “It is a series that has sparked a great deal of discussion and controversy. While I cannot endorse all of the conclusions…its showing has provided the American people with an-all-too-rare look at Africa from an African perspective”.
If Mazrui saw himself as primarily a voice of Africa in the first half of his career, he became a sort of defender of Islam, or Islamic values, in the second. But Mazrui approached Islam from a cultural rather than theological angle.
Mazrui’s Islamic sensitivity seemed to have reached an acute level in the last decade after America invaded and occupied two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. His public position on this issue also drew sharp critiques.
In 2005, an article in a student newspaper at Binghamton University titled “Terror in the Ivory Tower” claimed that Mazrui had links with terrorist organisations. In his “The Younger Face of Bigotry: The New 87 (8) McCarthyites,” Mazrui thus responded: “I have no connection with any ‘terrorist organisation’—unless you regard the present government of the United States [led by George W. Bush] as such [an] organisation”.
But how did Mazrui, the champion of Pax Africana, become a spokesperson for Islam in the West?
The shift in Mazrui’s emphasis was neither unexpected nor sudden. Mazrui’s TV documentary had played a part in his transformation from an Africanist to Islamicist. He had said: “In the TV series I drew attention to Islam as a major part of the African condition. This became a major turning point in my career. Instead of my being viewed exclusively as an Africanist and political scientist, I began to be viewed also as someone who had important and distinctive things to say about Islam”.
Mazrui explored a wide range of issues with uncommon verve and flair; in his contributions to scholarship and policy debates, it is safe to say, he had simply no peers in Africa.
One thing is therefore certain: Mazrui’s stimulating and substantial intellectual outputs would be put in the limelight of greater scholarly scrutiny in the future. And that is a good thing for Kenya, for Africa, and for the world.
Kimani Njogu is director, Twaweza Communications in Kenya. Seifudein Adem is associate director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University in the US and associate research professor of political science at the same university.