Eulogizing President Obote, Prof. Mazrui noted that “Obote was a great leader who made great mistakes.”
Now that he has passed on, it’s tempting to paraphrase him and eulogize him thus; “Prof. Mazrui was a great thinker who caused great discomfort to many a great leader.”
He was a political theorist par excellence, but one who never formed any particular identity around his political belief that would outlast him. I think that’s why there is no major body of work that we can reference back to him.
Given that he came to prominence during the heyday of African Liberation struggle, Prof. Mazrui touched many future leaders, including some in governments and corporate world today. So, to judge Prof. Mazrui’s impact in the academic world, I think it’s imperative that we recognize the era during which his influence was at its peak. And that was over 40 years ago.
Personally, I think Mazrui was a mediocre intellectual who came around when he had few contemporaries. He leveraged his Arab/Swahili background to get to high class parties and make acquaintances of the high and mighty of the day.
Mazrui’s star started to fade as more black Africans graduated into university lecturers. With increasing competition and rising doubts about his own theory, Mazrui found refuge in the West, and remained there to his last day.
Can you honestly rate Mazrui as an equal to Prof. Bethwel Allan Ogot? Or our own Okot P’Bitek? Or even James Aryada, the Ugandan mathematician?
Among Mazrui’s contemporaries in Uganda’s political intellectualism would folks like Prof. Edward Rugumayo minister, Tarsis Kabwegyere and the late Dan Wadada Nabudere.
I would wait for Rugumayo or Kabwegyere to tell us how they remember Mazrui. One of his celebrated student, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o issued a brief statement that had no meat about the legacy of this departed scholar.
I only had the opportunity to listen to the Late Prof Ali Mazrui
live on one encounter when he offered us a lecture that included
his own personal analysis / assessment of the political climate
at Makerere and Uganda before the Idi Amin coup.
I was bewildered then how this otherwise great man suddenly exhibited so ordinary human layman attitude.
And when asked by one student (Opolot),why and how, with all the
expert knowledge of what went on and his pronounced close association with the then President Obote, he could not offer remedy?
The late merely answered, “….me I am just but, a theoretician…”.
For myself, I was wondering, “but you are a theoretician in
a position to advice the President and even impact the then negative political development at Makerere?!?!?
I thought he were so African.Upon second thought and while at it, needless to say that the among the group of students he was referring to as having politicized Makerere campus and were acting as agents were the likes of Mbabazi, Olara-Otunu, Rugunda etc!