Dr. Ali Mazrui was 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 earned a B.A. with Distinction from Manchester University in Great Britain in 1960, an M.A. from Columbia University in New York in 1961 and finally, a doctorate from Oxford University in 1966. It is a reflection of his effective role as a public intellectual that he irritated the dictatorial military regime of Uganda’s Idi Amin well enough to earn himself a forced exile from his teaching position at Makerere University in Kampala in 1973.
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.
Dr. Mazrui’s writings, though embedded in history, still resonate partly because they give insight into some of the greatest concerns currently facing the world around 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.
Dr. Mazrui then joined Uganda’s famous Makerere University as head of the Department of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.
Throughout his career, he wrote numerous books and expressed strong opinions in widely published papers.
In the 1970s, Mr Mazrui’s sharp criticism of the then-Kenyan and Ugandan regimes – led by Daniel arap Moi and Idi Amin respectively – displeased the ruling class, leading to his exile in the US.
At the time of his death, he was an Albert Schweitzer professor in the humanities and the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University in New York.
Leading tributes to Mr Mazrui, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta described him as “towering” academic whose “intellectual contributions played a major role in shaping African scholarship…Indeed, death has robbed us of one of Kenya’s greatest scholars,” Mr Kenyatta said.
Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Communication, Science and Technology, January Makamba, paid a more personal tribute, saying Mr Mazrui “taught me to appreciate and value Africa’s complex identity and multiple heritages”.
Dr. 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.
One of his most well-known productions is his celebrated 1980s television documentary series The Africans- A Triple Heritage, which was a joint production of the BBC and the Public Broadcasting Service (WETA, Washington) in partnership with the Nigerian Television Authority. A book by the same title was also published, which underlined the significance of the subject.
He will be buried, in accordance with his wishes at the historical monument of Fort Jesus in Mombasa, his birthplace.