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Pambazuka News 699: Celebrating Ali Mazrui, 1933-2014

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Family obituary of Ali Mazrui

Renowned pan-Africanist, scholar and teacher dies at 81


cc UM
A renowned scholar, teacher and public intellectual with expertise in African politics, international political culture, political Islam and North-South relations, Mazrui’s prolific writing over the past half century has shaped ideas about Africa and Islam among scholars and the general public, earning him both international acclaim and controversy.

Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, 81, died peacefully on October 12, 2014 of natural causes at his home in Vestal, New York, surrounded by family. A political scientist, Mazrui was the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York, until his retirement on September 1, 2014. He had also been serving as the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University and as the Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large at the University of Jos, Nigeria. He was a renowned scholar, teacher and public intellectual with expertise in African politics, international political culture, political Islam, and North-South relations. His prolific writing over the past half century has shaped ideas about Africa and Islam among scholars and the general public, earning him both international acclaim and controversy. He authored over forty books and hundreds of scholarly articles and book chapters. His political analyses appeared frequently in news media around the world. He is best known for the nine-part television series he wrote and narrated, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” A joint production of BBC and PBS, the series originally aired in numerous countries in 1986. The series, and the book on which it is based, reveals and analyzes the complex ways in which African communities exhibit a blend of three cultures: indigenous, Muslim and Western.

Mazrui’s own upbringing reflects this triple heritage. He was born on February 24, 1933, in Mombasa, Kenya, to Swafia Suleiman Mazrui and Sheikh Al-Amin Mazrui, an eminent Muslim scholar and the Chief Qadi (Islamic judge) of Kenya. Immersed in Swahili culture, Islamic law, and Western education, he grew up speaking or reading Swahili, Arabic and English. He pursued his higher education in the West, obtaining his B.A. from Manchester University in England (1960); his M.A. from Columbia University in New York (1961); and his doctorate (D.Phil.) from Oxford University in England (1966). While studying in England, he married his first wife, Molly Vickerman, and they began a family in Kampala, Uganda, where he launched his academic career at Makerere University. He taught at Makerere for ten years, during which his first three sons were born: Jamal (1963), Alamin (1967) and Kim Abubakar (1968). At Makerere, he served as head of the Department of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Dean of the Faculty of Law. During his tenure at Makerere, dictator Idi Amin became increasingly repressive toward critics, ultimately forcing Mazrui into exile with his family to the United States.

Mazrui’s career in the US began at Stanford University, where he visited for two years (1972–74). He then joined the Political Science Department at the University of Michigan for seventeen years (1974–91), where he also served as Director of the Center for Afro-American and African Studies (1978–81). In 1989, the State of New York recruited him to Binghamton University to assume the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, previously occupied by Toni Morrison. At Binghamton, he founded the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and regularized his at-large affiliation with Cornell University. In 1991, he married Pauline Uti of Jos, Nigeria. They had two sons, Farid (1992) and Harith (1993), and adopted a daughter Grace (b. 2004) in 2012.

Mazrui’s publications are influential and voluminous. He made his mark early in his career, before completing his doctoral studies, when in 1963 he published articles in the most prestigious political science journals in the United States and Britain: “On the Concept of ‘We Are All Africans,’” The American Political Science Review (Mar. 1963) and “Consent, Colonialism and Sovereignty,” Political Studies (UK) (Feb. 1963). His many books began with the publication of three in 1967 alone: Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition (1967); On Heroes and Uhuru-Worship: Essays on Independent Africa (1967); and The Anglo-African Commonwealth: Political Friction and Cultural Fusion (1967).

Other Mazrui books include A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective (1976); The African Condition: A Political Diagnosis (1980); Cultural Forces in World Politics (1990); Islam Between Globalization and Counterterrorism (2006); and African Thought in Comparative Perspective (Seifudein Adem, Ramzi Badran & Patrick Dikirr, (eds.), 2014). The African Condition also formed the basis of the prestigious annual Reith lectures that Mazrui delivered in 1979 for the BBC. His book, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in Africa’s Experience (co-authored with nephew Alamin M. Mazrui) (1998) was launched in the British House of Lords at a ceremony honoring Mazrui’s work. He and Alamin M. Mazrui also published Black Reparations in the Era of Globalization (2002). The project stemmed from his appointment in 1992 as one of twelve Eminent Persons by the Organization of African Unity Presidential Summit in order to explore the modalities and logistics of reparations for enslavement and colonization. He also published a novel, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971), which was inspired by his anguish over the Nigerian Civil War and the tragic death of a childhood friend, Mohamed Salim Said (nicknamed “Giraffe”). For an annotated bibliography of Mazrui’s work, comprehensive to date of press, see The Mazruiana Collection Revisited (Abdul S. Bemath, (ed.), 2005). Books containing scholarly papers about Mazrui’s work include The Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui (Omari H. Kokole, (ed.), 1998) and the Politics of Global Africa (Seifudein Adem, (ed.), 2011).

Mazrui served in numerous capacities in addition to his primary professorships. He was a visiting scholar at Australia, Baghdad, Bridgewater, Cairo, Chicago, Colgate, Denver, Guyana, Harvard, Leeds, London, Malaysia, McGill, Nairobi, Ohio State, Oxford, Pennsylvania, Singapore, Sussex, Teheran, UCLA and Washington. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki appointed him Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi, Kenya, a position he held for six years (2003–09). He was awarded honorary doctorates by several universities in such varied disciplines as Divinity, Sciences of Human Development, Humane Letters, and Political Economy. He also served in leadership roles in several organizations, including as President of the Muslim Social Scientists of North America and President of the African Studies Association of the United States. He also served as Chair of the Board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and as Special Advisor to the World Bank. Mazrui was a principal contributor to several United Nations projects on matters of global significance, such as human rights and nuclear proliferation. He served as editor, for example, of Volume VIII (Africa since 1935) of the UNESCO General History of Africa (1993), and as Expert Advisor to the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations.

Mazrui’s honors are numerous. For example, he won the Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award of the University of Michigan in 1988 and the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the US in 1995. The President of Kenya awarded him the National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Burning Spear and the President of South Africa made him Grand Companion of Oliver Tambo. Morgan State University awarded him the DuBois-Garvey Award for Pan-African Unity. In 2005, the American journal Foreign Policy and the British journal Prospect ranked Mazrui among the top 100 public intellectuals in the world. He was also featured in the “500 Most Influential Muslims,” (a.k.a. the “Muslim 500”), a publication by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in cooperation with the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Mazrui was elected an Icon of the Twentieth Century by Lincoln University. For a more complete list of Mazrui’s achievements, see the Institute of Global Cultural Studies website,

Mazrui was also a gifted teacher and orator. His passion, eloquence, and charisma as a lecturer filled classes throughout his teaching career. Similarly, his reputation for insightful analysis and moving oratory created standing-room only audiences at public speaking events throughout the world. Indeed, his “Millennium Harvard lectures” drew large, engaged audiences for three consecutive days. (The lectures were subsequently published as The African Predicament and the American Experience: A Tale of Two Edens (2004).) Mazrui was, moreover, deeply dedicated to his students. One of the things he regretted most about his declining health was the inability to meet his teaching responsibilities. He was grateful to be able to video-record an apology to his students. He was so adored and revered as a teacher and mentor that family and friends referred to him as “Mwalimu” (Swahili for teacher).

Defining features of Mazrui’s intellectual legacy include courage and controversy. A principal theme of his work was to identify and criticize abuses of political, economic and military power, whether by colonial or imperial nations, including the United States, or by leaders of developing countries, including African nations. His original and bold ideas generated passionate debate on African and Islamic issues. Expressing those ideas took professional and moral courage, especially when his personal security was put at risk. While he was still living in Uganda in 1972, for example, he released a widely circulated essay entitled “When Spain Expelled the Jews and the Moors,” an unmistakable criticism of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandans of South Asian origin. In fact, during Mazrui’s tenure at Makerere, he gave several public lectures that criticized Presidents Milton Obote and successor Idi Amin for violations of human rights and the rule of law. Additionally, while he was critical of Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, Mazrui was one of the few famous Muslims to publically oppose the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. These public stances could have cost him his life.

Mazrui also risked his reputation, even when not his life, by taking positions of principle that generated sharp criticism and condemnation. For example, his long-standing criticism of Israel (not Judaism or Jewish people) for its treatment of Palestinians provoked some pro-Israeli critics to challenge Mazrui’s character; label him (falsely) as anti-Semitic; impersonate him as the author of hateful communiqués; subject him to leaflets that used racial epithets while demanding the termination of his employment; and shut down, through concerted e-mail traffic, the ability of his institute to access the internet. His argument in favor of nuclear proliferation, whereby all countries could obtain nuclear weapons so long as any country could, was denounced by some as irresponsible and dangerous. He insisted, however, that the most effective way to persuade the current members of the “nuclear club” to agree to universal disarmament was to allow other countries they did not control to pursue the power of nuclear threat. His 1986 television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, won praise around the world, including by members of the US Congress in statements published in the Congressional Record. It also generated strong criticism, however, such as by other members of Congress and by the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who condemned the series as an “anti-Western diatribe” and withdrew the agency’s name from the program’s credits. Ironically, the series was also banned for many years in Mazrui’s native country of Kenya, not for being too anti-Western, but for being too anti-African. Arthur Unger, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, wrote during the airing of The Africans that when he told Mazrui that he disagreed with many of his opinions but found the ideas challenging, Mazrui replied, with a smile, “Good, … Many people disagree with me. My life is one long debate.” For an account of some of Mazrui’s most prominent and controversial debates, see the multi-volume series, Debating the African Condition: Ali Mazrui and His Critics (2003, Vol. I), (2004, Vol. II), (2013, Vol. III).

Those close to Mazrui loved him for his character and personal qualities. His warmth was enveloping and his laughter was infectious. He was endlessly generous toward family, close and extended, and to people in less fortunate circumstances. He was gracious to all, including strangers and intellectual adversaries. The hospitality of Mazrui and his beloved wife, Pauline, drew hundreds of visitors to their Vestal, New York home from across town and the world. He also kept in touch with relatives, friends and colleagues in far off places with a personal newsletter that he wrote annually for nearly forty years. He enjoyed learning from people from all walks of life and cultures. An egalitarian and humanitarian, he endeavored to treat all people with respect, dignity and fairness. At the same time, he valued spirited debate about political, economic and philosophical ideas. Mazrui modeled integrity and decency.

Mazrui’s personal interests included reading murder mysteries by Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. He enjoyed watching films with his family, especially Hollywood classics, James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and comedies, such as I Love Lucy, Airplane and Young Frankenstein. He also enjoyed television dramas, such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Mission Impossible. He was a fan of boxing great Muhammad Ali and Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. An avid consumer of daily news through print, radio and television, he especially enjoyed the radio broadcasts of the BBC World Service and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as the PBS NewsHour and the Rachel Maddow shows on evening television. He loved travelling the globe to speak to audiences of all kinds, enjoying meeting people of different religions and ethnicities, sampling their cuisine, and taking in the natural beauty that different regions offer. A man of faith, he prayed to return Home. As his Mombasa family says, “We are from God and to Him we shall return.”

Mazrui is preceded in death by his parents Sheikh Al-Amin and Swafia Suleiman, his brothers Muhammad and Harith, and his sisters Salma, Nafisa and Aisha. He is survived by his wife, Pauline Uti Mazrui; five sons: Jamal Ali Mazrui (and wife Susan) of Takoma Park, Maryland, Alamin Ali Mazrui (and companion Rosalind Holden) of Binghamton, New York, Kim Abubakar Ali Forde-Mazrui (and wife Kay) of Charlottesville, Virginia, Farid Chinedu Ali Mazrui of Vestal, New York, and Harith Ekenechukwu Ali Mazrui of Vestal, New York; and by his daughter, Grace Jennifer Adaobi Ali Egbo-Mazrui. He is survived by three grandchildren: Will Nielsen Forde-Mazrui of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ali Alamin Mazrui of Vestal, New York, and Nicole Molly Mazrui of Takoma Park, Maryland. He is also survived by the close and long-time members of his Vestal home family: “Mama” Alice Uti, Goretti Mugambwa, and Maria Liverpool. He is survived by his sister Alya of Mombasa, Kenya, and by numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

Mazrui will was buried during a private service in the Mazrui Cemetery near Fort Jesus, Mombasa, Kenya on Sunday, 19 October. For information about open events that will celebrate his life and work, see the memorial website [URL]. The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.



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The humanism of Ali Mazrui: His journey to the vision of openness

Horace G. Campbell


cc WN
Mazrui’s humanism was based on the dignity of all human beings regardless of race, religion, region or gender. It was a humanism linked to the quest for reparative justice, peace, self-determination, the rights of women, secularism and prosperity for all.

Ali A. Mazrui the great humanist joined the ancestors on Sunday, 12 October, 2014 in Binghamton, New York, where he had lived since 1989. He had been living with his family and working as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Mazrui led a life that was controversial for the establishment and the boldness of his outlook was reflected at the prayers that were held for him at the Mosque in Binghamton on Monday afternoon at 5pm.

The controversy for some was that at the prayers held over the mortal remains of Ali Mazrui, three women were speakers at this mosque. After the performance of the Salat al-Janazah by the imam and the men in front standing in three rows, the three women were called forward to speak. The speakers were Professors Betty Wambui, Ousseina Alido and Florence Margai. After the second female speaker paid tribute to Mazrui and his contribution to the struggles of women, the host, Professor Ricardo Laremont, had to comment that although there were many in the prayer who were raising eyebrows about the departure from the ‘tradition,’ this mixed gender prayer was consistent with what Ali Mazrui stood for.

There are now many tributes pouring in from all over the world for Professor Ali Mazrui whose mortal remains were interred at the historical monument of Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya, last weekend. Ali Mazrui was born in Mombasa, on 24 February, 1933. Ali was a prodigious writer who was the author or coauthor of more than 35 books, numerous book chapters, and hundreds of scholarly articles, magazine and newspaper commentaries and the host of the TV series the Triple Heritage. Mazrui toiled as an international scholar in every continent and he can be claimed to be a great pan-Africanist, a great African, and a great East African. But in this tribute I want to hail Ali Mazrui as a great humanist.

In my recollection of him over the past 42 years from the period at Makerere University in 1972, one could say a lot about his dedication to the cause of Africa and his service as one of the eminent persons of the OAU making the reparative claims. I want to remember Mazrui as unflinching in his support for justice for Walter Rodney and his service with the International Commemoration Committee for Walter Rodney and our trip to Georgetown, Guyana, in June 2005. Many older East Africans will remember that great debate between Rodney and Mazrui at the Main Hall of Makerere University in 1970. The fact was that then, Rodney and Mazrui were on different sides of the political divide about the nature of imperialism. By the time Mazrui relocated to North America in 1972 and began his service at Stanford University, the University of Michigan and then at Binghamton University, there was no doubt where he stood on the crucial issues of the fight for social justice and the anti-imperialist struggles. For this, those who justified the oppression of the Palestinian peoples vilified him and sought to diminish him, but Mazrui was not afraid of these forces that stood against academic freedom in the United States.

I want to salute the courage and humanism of Ali Mazrui. By humanism, I mean the philosophical and ethical stance that he took which emphasized the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. Importantly, this humanism of Mazrui was based on the dignity of all human beings regardless of race, religion, region, sexuality or gender. The humanism of Mazrui was linked to the quest for reparative justice, peace, self-determination, the rights of women, secularism and prosperity for all. As the son of the Kadhi of Mombasa, Mazrui was a scholar of Islam and yet he got married twice, both times to women who followed a different faith. In this tribute I want to highlight the support of Mazrui for Amina Wadud and Ingrid Mattson and the question of the equality of women in the Mosque. In his newsletter of 2005, Mazrui wrote of his difference with the conservatives in the Mosque in Cape Town South Africa in 2004 when the religious leaders were opposed to Amina Wadud leading the prayers. Then Mazrui said that, “In post-apartheid South Africa, Amina Wadud and I witnessed the historic dialectic of Islam between the veiled face and the vision of openness.”


The books and articles on Ali Mazrui will trace his life from his birth in Kenya and much of the biographical details can be found in books such as “Africanity Redefined: Collected Essays of Ali A. Mazrui “,edited by Ricardo René Laremont, Tracia Leacock Seghatolislami & Michael Toler. The other major source of the biographical details can also be found in the annual newsletters that were published by the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton and the Annual Mazrui Newsletter which he published for over 40 years. Nearly every writer in East Africa will remember the place of Mazrui in Makerere University where he became the Head of the Department of Political Science and the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The fertile intellectual climate of East Africa in the years of the transition to independence meant that universities were a magnet for scholars from all parts of the world. Makerere University had been opened in 1922 and as a youth Mazrui yearned to be part of this institution. He was recruited from Oxford University after he completed his doctorate. Both he and Rajat Neogy, the Ugandan-born founder of ‘Transition’, worked to make the magazine the flagship for independent thinking and academic freedom. The magazine became influential in Africa, and was read quite widely beyond the university. It was in this period that Mazrui could be termed a liberal in his outlook in so far as he gravitated to the principles of the market, private property, individualism and the other shibboleths of western democracy. It should be remembered that Mazrui had studied western political science at the height of the Cold War when Lockean principles of liberty and Rostow’s ideas of modernization were in vogue. It was in this intellectual milieu that Mazrui described Kwame Nkrumah as “the Leninist Czar” and wrote about Tanzaphalia, in reference to the experimentation with another form of economy in Tanzania under Julius Nyerere. Kwame Nkrumah who was then still alive and had read the essay on himself dismissed it as being penned by one with a colonial mind. Later in his life Mazrui became one of the most steadfast proponents of the Nkramahist vision of African Unity and liberation.

The fact that Mazrui was cut off from the principal struggles for self-determination that were then raging in Kenya can be grasped from his own self portrait, “Growing Up in a Shrinking World: A Private Vantage Point” and “The Making of An African Political Scientist” (International Social Science Journal No 25, 1973). There is scarcely any mention of the struggles of the land and freedom army and the ideals of independence. In those days, Ali Mazrui wanted his name to be associated with US realist scholars such as David Apter, Hans Morgenthau, Aristide Zolberg, David Easton and the other leading lights of the US political science establishment. The courses at Makerere University reflected this orientation and hundreds of students passed through the halls of Makerere learning about the merits of western investments and the European Enlightenment. This was when Mazrui was writing about the “Left and the super left in Africa.” Mahmood Mamdani who was exposed to Ali Mazrui in East Africa in that period did point out that in the liberal traditions that Mazrui sought to associate himself with, “the young Ali stood for a tradition of free speech and critical inquiry.”

For ten years while he was at Makerere University, the social questions of the paths towards independence and transformation could not be kept out of the university. Mazrui was supposed to be a master of the English language and was hailed as the best debater in East Africa. In the face of the intellectual and political choices that were then placed before the society by the liberation struggles in Africa, there was a grand debate between him and Walter Rodney. In the book edited by Al Amin Mazrui and Willy Mutunga, they say that, “the debate between Walter Rodney and Ali Mazrui pitted two giants of the intellectual divide.” The debate was televised live in Uganda, and caused a stir among both academics and politicians on and off campus in the East African country and beyond.

For many, this would have placed Rodney and Mazrui as ideological opponents, but as we will see as Mazrui matured on his journey to the vision of openness, he became one of the most unflinching supporters of Rodney and spoke out against the government of Guyana when they refused Rodney employment there. When Mazrui later travelled to Guyana in 1988 as a guest of President Desmond Hoyte, he made a public appeal for the restoration of Walter Rodney’s name to “national legitimacy.” The appeal was made in the President’s presence and was broadcast live. Walter Rodney had been assassinated in 1980 and Mazrui was always at the forefront of the call for an inquiry into the death.


Of the fifty years of Ali Mazrui as a public intellectual, more than forty of those years were spent in the terrain of the North America academy and it was in the face of the day to day racism and chauvinism that Mazrui became clearer politically and most outspoken against all forms of oppression. Mazrui left Uganda after Idi Amin acceded to power in 1971 and taught at Stanford, Michigan and in 1989 was appointed to the faculty of Binghamton University, State University of New York as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS). Prior to taking up the appointment at Binghamton there were demonstrations by those supporters of the state of Israel who believed that Mazrui was unworthy of being chosen as a distinguished professor. Mazrui was not afraid to speak out about the degrading conditions of the occupation of Palestine. In his book ‘Cultural Forces in World Politics’, he compared the logic of Zionism with the logic of apartheid. He wrote very early about the racism and discrimination that existed in the capitalist world and was one of the first to write on global apartheid.

If Ali Mazrui was the darling of western liberals when he was in Uganda, by the time he became active in the African Studies Association (ASA) in the USA as a supporter of the anti-apartheid struggles, Mazrui was no longer held up and he was no longer gracing the pages of the mainstream political science journals. In fact, in the academic world, his status as a political scientist was being questioned by the mainstream Departments of Political Science. This questioning of his scholarship intensified after Mazrui became a clear advocate of reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.


At a the height of the struggle against apartheid, there was the international struggle to declare slavery a crime against humanity. The mobilization in the Pan African world had reached such a level by the end of the eighties that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) appointed an Eminent Persons Group to mobilise and organize about educating Africans at home and abroad on reparations and reparative justice. The original Chair of the Group was the Nigerian politician cum businessman, Chief Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola, who was later elected President of Nigeria. Other members were the Nigerian historian J. F. Ade Ajayi; Professor Samir Amin of Egypt; US Congressman R. Dellums; Professor Josef Ki-Zerbo of Burkina Faso; Mme Graca Machel, formerly First Lady of Mozambique later wife of Nelson Mandela; Miriam Makeba, Professor M. M’Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO; former President A. Pereira of Cape Verde; Ambassador Alex Quaison-Sackey, former foreign minister of Ghana; and the Jamaican lawyer /diplomat Dudley S. Thompson. Of these twelve eminent persons, the three who were the most active and attended international meetings and conférences such as the World Conference against Racism were J. F. Ade Ajayi, Ali A. Mazrui, and Dudley Thompson. Earlier this year in August, J. F. Ade Ajayi joined the ancestors. He was one of the pioneers of the modern discipline of the study of Africa. This reparations campaign was so feared by the international powers to the extent that when the chairperson of this group, M. K. O. Abiola was elected President of Nigeria in 1993, he was prevented from taking office. He was to die in custody in Nigeria five years later in 1998.


Ali Mazrui was a public intellectual who travelled extensively and supped with presidents and prime ministers all over the world - but the Mazrui that stood out for us of the International Walter Rodney Commemoration Committee was one who dedicate himself to service and support when we were working to memorialize Walter Rodney in 2005, twenty five years after his assassination .

Reference has already been made to the public statements of Ali Mazrui before President Hoyte in Guyana in 1988. Ten years later Mazrui accepted the position of Walter Rodney Professor Chair at the University of Guyana. Mazrui was a humanist in the tradition of Walter Rodney who wanted to transcend racial boundaries. Rodney had been a foremost Pan African scholar and activist and he dedicated the last years of his life fighting for the rights of the Indian and African workers of Guyana and the Caribbean.

Ali Mazrui had been recruited to serve as a patron of the Walter Rodney Committee and he gave generously of his time and resources to the work to remember Rodney. He travelled with many of us to Guyana to these commemoration events. Members of this commemoration activities included Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, Professor Micere Githae Mugo, Patricia Rodney, Asha Rodney, Kanini Rodney, Raffique Shah, Selma James, Humberto Brown, Michael West, Nigel Westmaas, David Johnson, Sara Abraham, Alissa Trotz, Cecelia Greene, David Hinds, Wazir Mohammed, Lincoln Von Sluytman, Rodney Worrell, David Abdullah, Nalini Persram, George Lamming and others who worked hard to keep the name of Rodney alive. What is significant about the names of the persons mentioned was that Mazrui would have been the one not considered on the Left, but the principled position of Mazrui and his leadership was evident throughout the events in Guyana. Mazrui was one of the main speakers at the opening event on 10 June 2005 and was at every activity, including the early morning pilgrimage to the graveside of Walter Rodney on the morning of June 13. This stood out in my mind because when many could not wake up or were tiring of the intense activities, Mazrui the elder was always there.


When Mazrui reached Guyana, he went to Friday prayers in Georgetown with Wazir Mohammed and Tajudeen Abdul Raheem. At the mosque, the leaders, knowing of his fame asked Mazrui to come to speak. As was his practice, Mazrui had travelled with copies of the Annual Mazrui Newsletter. In this 2005 newsletter, Ali Mazrui had written a statement in support Professor Amina Wadud, an African American Muslim scholar, and author of a book on The Qur’an and Woman. She took a major initiative in March 2005 to lead prayers in New York City. This initiative had caused such a stir in Islamic circles that Ali Mazrui had issued a clear statement supporting the right of Amina Wadud to lead in prayers. In his statement of support, Mazrui said inter alia,

“Is Amina Wadud the Rosa Parks of modern Islam? On the bus of Islamic destiny, is Amina refusing to take a back seat as a female passenger? Rosa Parks' defiance helped to ignite the Montgomery bus boycott and the civil rights movement in the United States! Is Amina Wadud's defiance the first shot in a Muslim Reformation on the gender question? She led a gender-mixed congregation in Friday prayers in defiance of traditions of male leadership. It is too early to assess the historical significance of a Jum'a prayer, in New York City on March 18, 2005, led by a single Muslim woman in a Christian Protestant Church. But we know this is not the first time that Amina Wadud has shaken a Friday Muslim congregation.”

Mazrui then recounted in the newsletter, his visit to South Africa in 2004 and the struggles between the conservatives in Cape Town over Amina Wadud’s right to lead prayers. In his statement Mazrui stated, “In post-apartheid South Africa, Amina Wadud and I witnessed the historic dialectic of Islam between the veiled face and the vision of openness.”

When Mazrui was invited to speak to followers of the Islamic faith in Georgetown, the driver who was sent to fetch him was instructed to tell him that he should not speak about the efforts of Amina Wadud. Mazrui then told them that it had not been his intention to speak on Amina Wadud and mixed gender prayers, but since they specifically requested him not to speak about the rights of women in Georgetown, Mazrui then informed them that he would be speaking about the struggles of Amina Wadud and her quest to lead mixed gender prayers!


Ali Mazrui was reared as a follower of the Islamic faith and he was a spiritual person. Yet, he was a secular person who as a believer wanted all people to have their rights and dignity. Mazrui was not a proselytizer. He, like most followers of Islam, felt the deep persecution and harassment of the USA after the Islamophobia craze was fuelled by the neo-conservative forces. Mazrui himself was stopped and held at the airport in Miami and questioned about his connections to international terrorism. It was at this point where he was carving out a space for decent humans everywhere. Mazrui was an outspoken critic of extremism and fundamentalism of all sorts and he was critical of both the US imperial war on terror and those extremists such as Boko Haram and other Jihadists. Because of his challenge to the conservatives his writings were not liked in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf where the Wahabists were using their billions of dollars to foment hatred and divisions.

From his struggles to affirm the voices of women in Islam such as Ingrid Mattson and Amina Wadud, Ali Mazrui supported the view that, “The issue of gender equality is a very important one in Islam, and Muslims have unfortunately used highly restrictive interpretations of history to move backward.” When she was seeking to make history in New York Amina Wadud stated, “The voices of women have been silenced by centuries of man-made traditions, and we're saying, 'No more.' ….We're going to move from the back of the mosque to the front of the mosque."

Within the Global Pan African movement, Ali Mazrui became one of the champions of the full unification of the peoples of Africa and of the transformation of the conditions of the peoples of Africa. Even while he was failing in health Mazrui joined in meetings and conferences to oppose the NATO destruction of Libya and the assassination of Gaddafi. Ali Mazrui opposed extremism of all sorts and in the USA. His writings became clearer and clearer as he opposed war and militarism. He was a foremost critic of the wars against the peoples of Iraq and vociferously opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He became an activist scholar among followers of Islam in the USA and at the prayers for Mazrui on Monday one of the Imams leading the prayers described Ali as someone whose support for diversity was also his support for unity. It is this ability to work across all peoples that will distinguish Ali Mazrui for generations to come.

From the newsletters of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies there will be a treasure trove of the writings and thinking of Ali Mazrui. On the part of this writer, I want to pay tribute to the generosity of spirit of Mazrui and his willingness to support and nurture those younger scholars of all races, genders and social backgrounds. In this, Ali Mazrui left his mark as someone who stood for fairness and who believed that everyone deserved an opportunity. He worked hard in upstate New York in the African and Islamic communities and was never too proud to go to community meetings all over the region, when invited. As he is now with the ancestors, Mazrui has left a solid tradition of decency. I share the view that was posted in the official obituary by the family,

“Those close to Mazrui loved him for his character and personal qualities. His warmth was enveloping and his laughter was infectious. He was endlessly generous toward family, close and extended, and to people in less fortunate circumstances. He was gracious to all, including strangers and intellectual adversaries. The hospitality of Mazrui and his beloved wife, Pauline, drew hundreds of visitors to their Vestal, New York home from across town and the world. He also kept in touch with relatives, friends and colleagues in far off places with a personal newsletter that he wrote annually for nearly forty years. He enjoyed learning from people from all walks of life and cultures. An egalitarian and humanitarian, he endeavored to treat all people with respect, dignity and fairness. At the same time, he valued spirited debate about political, economic and philosophical ideas. Mazrui modeled integrity and decency.”

Ali Mazrui was 81 years old when he passed on to the other world. To Pauline and the family we extend our deepest condolences. I will agree that Ali Mazrui has left a vision of openness and peace for us to follow in these challenging times.

* Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2013.



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Ali Mazrui (1933-2014): An intellectual giant whom I met in Kericho

Kamran Mofid


cc AO
Prof Mazrui was widely published and here we reproduce his keynote speech in 2005 at the Fourth Annual Conference organised by the Globalization for the Common Good Initiative. GCGI Founder Prof. Kamran Mofid shared this speech with Pambazuka News in memory of his friend.

Renowned Pan-Africanist, scholar and teacher, Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, 81, died peacefully on October 12, 2014 of natural causes at his home in Vestal, New York.

I was blessed and honoured to meet Prof. Mazrui at our Fourth Globalization for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) Annual International Conference, which was held in Nairobi and Kericho in 2005. Prof. Mazrui gave the Keynote Address: ‘Can Africa Tame Globalization? Moral Lessons from Cultural Experience’ (see below for the text).

During the Conference I was able to spend some precious moments with him. We were able to talk and debate, both in public and private. I found him endlessly warm, generous, kind and gracious. I value and cherish those moments and memories.

I can only say that Africa and the world have lost a great intellect, teacher and ambassador of peace for the common good. I am praying in my own way for Ali Mazrui. May God grant him eternal rest; he was, in the old idiom, a lovely man, who if required may still be a peacemaker in heaven.

And now I very much wish to share with you the text of his speech at our GCGI Kenya Conference.


Prof. Ali A. Mazrui

Keynote Address

“Africa and Globalisation for the Common Good: The Quest for Justice and Peace”

Nishkam St. Puran Institute and Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Complex, Kericho, Kenya, April 18-28-2005

Africa in the twenty first century is likely to be one of the final battlegrounds of the forces of globalization – for better or for worse. This phenomenon called GLOBALIZATION has its winners and losers. In the initial phases, Africa has been among the losers as it has been increasingly marginalized. There are universities in the United States which have more computers than the computers available in an African country of twenty million people. This has been the great digital divide. The distinction between the haves and have-nots has now coincided with the distinction between digitized and the “digi-prived”.

Let us begin with the challenge of a definition. What is globalization? It consists of processes that lead toward global interdependence and the increasing rapidity of exchange across vast distances. The word globalization is itself quite new, but the actual processes toward global interdependence and exchange started centuries ago.

Five forces have been major engines of globalization across time: religion, technology, warfare, economy, and empire. These have not necessarily acted separately, but often have reinforced each other. For example, the globalization of Christianity started with the conversion of Emperor Constantine I of Rome in 313. The religious conversion of an emperor started the process under which Christianity became the dominant religion not only of Europe but also of many other societies later ruled or settled by Europeans. The globalization of Islam began not with converting a ready-made empire, but with building an empire almost from scratch. The Umayyads and Abbasids put together bits of other people’s empires (e.g., former Byzantine Egypt and former Zoroastrian Persia) and created a whole new civilization. The forces of Christianity and Islam sometimes clashed. In Africa the two religions have competed for the soul of a continent.

In Africa today both Christianity and Islam have over 300 million followers each. There are more Muslims in Nigeria than there are in any Arab country – including Egypt.

In North Africa Christianity arrived in the first century C.E. In Black Africa it arrived in the fourth century – earlier than in many parts of Europe.

Islam arrived in Ethiopia before it arrived in Egypt or Syria or Iraq or Iran. It arrived in Ethiopia with Muslim refugees on the run from anti-Muslim Arabs in the Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad was still trying to preach in pre-Islamic Mecca.

Today Africa is so much part of the Muslim world that it has sometimes chaired the 50 member Organization of the Islamic Conference. Today Africa is so much part of the Christian world that when Pope John Paul II died there was open speculation as to whether the next Pope, or the next Pope but one, would be an African. This would be the miracle of having a Black African at the top of one billion Roman Catholics in the world. Cardinal Francis Arinzi of Nigeria did not become Pope in 2005. But some other African Catholic may make it before the 21st century comes to an end.

The second and third major engines of globalization are technology and the economy, often in alliance. In recent decades globalization has been envisaged in three different ways:

I. Forces transforming the global market and creating new economic interdependencies. This is economic globalization. Africa is caught up in these forces, for better or for worse.

II. Forces which have exploded into the information superhighway – expanding access to data and mobilizing the computer and the internet into global service. This is the informational side of globalization.

Africa is way behind in this informational globalization. My two universities in the U.S.A. (State University of New York and Cornell) may have more computers than my country, Kenya, with a population of over 30 million people.

In addition to economic and informational globalization, there is comprehensive globalization. The comprehensive scale consists of the following:

III. All forces which are turning the world into a global village compressing distance, homogenizing culture, accelerating mobility, and reducing the relevance of political borders. Under this comprehensive definition, globalization is the gradual villagization of the world. These forces have been at work in Africa long before the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

One of these comprehensive globalizing forces is warfare itself. The twentieth century was the only century which had world wars - 1914 to 1918, and 1939 to 1945. This was the only century which created world diplomatic institutions - the League of Nations and the United Nations. World War II helped Africa’s decolonization by weakening the European imperial powers.

This was also the only century which created a World Bank - the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) with the International Development Association. The twentieth century also issued a Universal Declaration of Human Rights - adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Globalization was getting institutionalized. This was the only century which established a global university - the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan. Some of these have affected Africa more deeply than others.

This was also the only century which had a world health institution - the World Health Organization (WHO). The twentieth century also created a global mechanism to moderate trade relations - the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Seattle meeting of WTO at the end of the millennium illustrated the depth of feelings about the organization.

This was the only century which had a part-time global policeman - the United States of America. And, of course, this was the only century which developed a genuine world economy - or at least a close approximation to it.

But this conference is not merely about globalization. It is about globalization for the common good in the context of the African condition. And where does religion fit into this equation?

I see Africa’s religious experience as a product of three religious traditions – indigenous, Islamic and Western. If I have any criticism of the agenda of this Kericho conference, it is the apparent neglect of Africa’s indigenous religions as an explicit item in the global agenda.

Nor is this omission unique to this Kericho conference. Neglecting African indigenous religions is a sin committed by many conferences organized by African intellectuals themselves.

In my own humble attempt to correct this omission, I have characterized Africa’s religious experience as a Triple Heritage. I have not only written a book entitled The Africans: A Triple Heritage. I have also done a nine-part television series of the same title for the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Public Broadcasting Service, in association with the Nigerian Television Authority (1986).

But in this presentation today I am addressing not only how Africa has been affected by globalization, but in what ways globalization should learn from Africa if globalization is to be for the common good.

What are the positive elements in Africa’s triple heritage which should inform globalization if it is to be for the good?


Each of the three African legacies – indigenous, Islamic and Western – has something to teach globalization. When indigenous African culture join hands with Islam, it can produce a level of ecumenical tolerance unequalled anywhere else in the world. One of the most striking examples is Senegal in West Africa. The population of Senegal is 94% Muslim – a higher percentage than the Muslim population of Egypt. And yet this overwhelmingly Muslim West African society had a Roman Catholic President -- not briefly as a happy accident but for 20 years without cries in the streets of Dakar demanding “Jihad fi sabili’Llah”! President Leopold Senghor maintained a relatively transparent Senegal. His critics denounced him as a lackey of the French, a cultural hypocrite and worse. But they almost never denounced him as infidel (kaffir).

Senghor was succeeded as President by Diouf, who was indeed a Muslim. But Diouf’s First Lady was a Roman Catholic. Imagine a presidential candidate in the United States suddenly confessing on Larry King Live that his wife is a Shia Muslim! His candidacy is likely to collapse.

Indeed, the U.S. has been a secular state for two hundred years – and yet the United States has only once strayed from the Protestant fraternity. The Jews have never captured the White House, although they have captured almost every other arena of American excellence outside the sporting experience.

African indigenous culture in Senegal has reinforced Islam in the direction of greater political ecumenicalism. I say “reinforced” because Islam has an independent record of allowing non-Muslims to rise high in status or power.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali would never have become Secretary-General of the United Nations had Egypt not permitted him to rise as high as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Boutros-Ghali was a Coptic Christian married to a Jew.

Even Saddam Hussein was ecumenical enough to let Tariq Aziz, a Christian, rise to become Foreign Minister, and then Deputy Prime Minister. No Christian country in the Western world has ever permitted a Muslim to rise to a comparable political rank. The percentage of Christians in Iraq is no greater than of Muslims in France or Britain. Perhaps globalization should learn and improve upon the ecumenical spirit of Senegal and of political Islam.

When African culture interacts with Christianity, it helps produce Africa’s short memory of hate. Cultures differ in degrees of hate-retention. For example, Armenians have a long memory of grievance. The Armenian massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 have been so vividly remembered by generations of Armenians that Turkish diplomats have been assassinated long after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The Irish have retained a basic resentment of the English again generation after generation. The Jews have a profound distrust of the Germans more than half a century after the Nazi Holocaust. A Jewish sense of having been violated by the Nazis may last for hundreds of years.

But African culture combined with a Christian background has produced Nelson Mandela who lost 27 of the best years of his life – and emerged ready to have afternoon tea with the racists who had stolen his youth. Post-apartheid South Africa is a remarkable illustration of a short memory of hate – a lesson for the forces of globalization. South Africans have won four Nobel Prizes for Peace.

Jomo Kenyatta was condemned by the British as a “leader unto darkness and death” and was imprisoned in a desolate part of Kenya. He emerged from jail and turned Kenya’s diplomatic orientation in the direction of friendship with Britain and the Western world. He even published a book about what he called Suffering Without Bitterness. Here is another lesson for globalization if it is to become for the common good.

When Africans are fighting each other, they can be as ferocious and unremitting as any combatants anywhere else in the world. The real difference is what happens after the peace accords have been signed. African culture, especially when reinforced by a Christian spirit, has repeatedly demonstrated a short memory of hate.

After their brutal civil war of 1967 to 1970, Nigerians were expected to be cruelly triumphalist against the losers in Igboland. Rivers of blood were expected in the wake of Biafra’s defeat. But the Nigerian leader, General Yakubu Gowon, who led the Federal side, managed to combine Christian compassion with Africa’s own short memory of hate. There were no reprisals against the losers; there were no triumphalist trials like Nuremberg.


On the issue of gender, the story is more complicated within the three strands of the Triple Heritage. All the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have been slow in accepting women as equals in church leadership. All the fifteen Cardinals who elected the new Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005 were, of course, men. Nor is it conceivable that there will be a female Pope for at least two centuries, if not longer. The whole vocabulary and nomenclature of Pope, Papa, Papacy would have to change. The vocabulary of the Papacy is largely patriarchal.

The Church of England has at last resigned itself to the ordination of women – but a female Archbishop of Canterbury is unlikely to inhabit Lambeth Palace in the foreseeable future.

In Christian doctrine as a whole, the Trinity consists of two males and one neuter – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

In both Christianity and Islam it is almost a sin to characterize the Almighty as a “Queen” instead of “King of Kings”. Islam had caliphs [khulafaa] from the seventh century of our common era to the 1923-24 abolition of the Caliphate under Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. Not a single Caliph from 1632 to 1923-24 was a woman.

This tradition of male religious leadership in Islam is now being challenged by the Black world. Especially noteworthy is an activist from the African Diaspora, Sister Amina Wadud from the United States.

In the 1990s she tried to give the Friday sermon at a mosque in South Africa. Liberal Muslims in South Africa were on her side. After all, she was highly educated in Islamic studies, with a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a book already published entitled The Qur’an and Woman. But the Muslim conservatives in Cape Town were against her being admitted to the mosque at all. In the end a compromise was reached – Professor Amina Wadud gave a pre-sermon sermon at the mosque in Cape Town.

In March 2005 Amina Wadud took the challenge further. She wanted to set a precedent not only of a Friday sermon by a woman, but a woman Imam leading a gender-mixed congregation, shoulder to shoulder. No mosque in New York City would let her violate those historically sanctioned male traditions.

In the end, she led the Friday prayers in a Protestant church in New York – with a gender-mixed congregation and a Friday sermon by herself. Of course, they faced Mecca (the Qibla) in the church, rather than the altar and the cross.

Does Sister Amina Wadud embody globalization for the good? Does she also manifest the old indigenous African traditions of female religious leadership? In this domain of gender in religion, Africa’s indigenous traditions have empowered women centuries before Christianity started debating the ordination of women or Sister Amina Wadud attempted to shake the principles of the Imamate.

Africa has had female warrior priests right into our own era. President Yoweri Museveni had to fight Alice Lakwena in Uganda – a warrior priestess leading an army of tough male Acholis in the 1990s. The Acholi had been regarded by both the British and the first postcolonial governments in Uganda as a “martial tribe”. Yet Acholi macho warriors were ready to follow a woman religio-martial leader into battle against Museveni.

In Zambia in the 1960s President Kenneth Kaunda had to fight another sacred Alice – Alice Lakwena of the Lumpa Church. Tough Zambian males followed a woman priestess in challenging a postcolonial African government. African traditional practices were far ahead of mainstream Abrahamic religions in recognizing women as religious leaders.

While indigenous African culture leads the way in empowering women as religious leaders, Islam has been struggling to accept women as political leaders. A particularly interesting phenomenon is what might be called female succession to male martyrdom. This is a situation in which a woman relative rises to political power upon the martyrdom or death of a male hero.

It started with the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite wife – Ayesha. The Prophet Muhammad himself died a natural death, but three out of four immediate political successors [Caliphs] were assassinated.

In the middle of the tensions of this early Islam, Ayesha rose as a political arbiter and a wheeler and dealer. She almost became a warrior priestess when she participated as a combatant in the Battle of the Camel. She was trying to be a king-maker rather than a queen herself.

The principle of female succession to male martyrdom reemerged in Asian Islam in the twentieth century. Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan, partly under the credentials of her martyred father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979.

In Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in 1975. Eventually one of his surviving daughters became the leader of the Awami League and rose to be Prime Minister. Also in Bangladesh, President Ziaur Haq was killed in May 1981. Ten years later his widow became Prime Minister. Since then Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Begum Khaleda Zia have alternated in political power for a couple of decades. The Ayesha tradition of female succession to male heroism has reasserted itself in South Asia.

In South-East Asia the largest Muslim country in population had a female President in this new millennium. Megawati Sukarno Putri, daughter of Founder-President Sukarno, rose to supreme power in Indonesia long after her Dad’s martyrdom. She left office in 2004.

All these Muslim women were heads of government or state long before the United States has had a female President, or France had a woman President, or Italy a female Prime Minister, or Germany a woman Chancellor or Russia a female President.

On the other hand, the Ayesha tradition has not triumphed in Africa either. The assassination of Anwar Sadat did not result in his wife rising to political supremacy. Neither did female relatives of Murtala Muhammad rise to power in Nigeria after he was assassinated in 1976.


One of the most memorable verses of the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book, is a celebration of human diversity. Through the Qur’an God addresses the human species as a whole. He says:

“O humankind! We have created you from a single pair of male and female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that you may know each other [respectfully]. Verily the most honoured among you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you. God is the most knowledgeable, the best informed.” [Sura Hujurat, 49 verse 13]

Yaa ayuha Nasu! Innaa khalaqnakum min dhakarin wa unthaa wa jaalnaa kum shu’uban wa qabaila li-taarafu. Inna akramakum i’nda ‘llahi atqaakum. Inna ‘Allaha alimun khabir.

At the core of this Qur’anic verse is a celebration of human differentiation.

“We have created you from a male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other.” [Qur’an: Chapter 49, Verse 13]

Note the plurality of “nations and tribes” and the singularity of purpose – that “you may get to know each other.” The idea is for human beings to seek to know each other across tribal and national divides. What about across the religious divide?

The Qur’an is explicit on that also. It says emphatically that coercion and confession do not go together. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion” [Laa ikrahu fi’din]. The God of diversity approves of diversity of the religious experience also.

“ We created…you nations and tribes that you may know one another.”

But as the population of the human race grew and grew, it seemed unlikely that people would get to know each other as God planned. This is when history set in motion the process of human amalgamation. The number of individuals continued to grow almost endlessly (population growth)…but over time the number of tribes and nations decreased. Through conquest, spread of languages, expansion of religions, and empire-building, human clans amalgamated into larger tribes, and small societies merged with bigger nations.

The history of human kind is, on the whole, a history of changing boundaries and expanding societal scale.

He had created us...nations and tribes that we may know each other.

Then God created America and permitted the United States to become the first universal nation in history. No country on earth encompasses as many races, religious faiths, national and tribal origins, as the United States of America does.

Within its own boundaries, the United States has been a human laboratory. It has been experimenting with God’s imperative of diversity – “we have created you…nations and tribes that you may know each other.”

Today the population of the United States is descended from a thousand tribes and many dozens of nations. Within its own borders the United States has begun to facilitate God’s imperative of diversity. Progress in America’s political and social history has consisted of two steps forward, one step backward, advance and retreat. But the total American balance-sheet is a record of human achievement, however imperfect and sometimes painful.

In 2004 the United States celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown versus the Board of Education, which came down way back in May 1954. The decision struck down any constitutional basis of racial segregation. It was a major step forward towards rapid integration in God’s laboratory of diversity.

The United States is indeed a democracy at home, but is now also an empire abroad. As a democracy at home, the United States has done more than any other nation in history to create a political system increasingly respectful of racial, ethnic and religious diversity. “We have created you…nations and tribes that you may ‘know each other.”

But abroad the United States and Israel in recent years have generated more rage, hate and hostility than almost any other country in the last fifty years. Within America the United States is fulfilling God’s purpose of promoting the ideal of creative diversity. In its actions abroad, the United States is making it harder for nations and tribes to love each other. The African Diaspora has gained from America as a democracy – two Black Secretaries of State consecutively (Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice). Africa is beginning to suffer from America as Empire. Even earlier than that the U.S. Supreme Court has had two successive Black Justices – Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. These great African Americans have differed greatly in values, but they were all descended from enslaved Africans.

If the United States wants to be the ultimate architect of democratic diversity, it should focus less on exporting democracy abroad and more on making its own democracy in America work better. Upward political mobility for disadvantaged groups is an aspect of democratization.

The United States is more pluralistic demographically than any other in the world, but that does not mean it is adequately pluralistic democratically. The population demographically consists of almost every group in the world; but the political system does not democratically represent those groups equitably.

Why is it so rare to have a Black person elected to the Senate of the United States? Why have we never had a woman of any race for Vice President, let alone President? How many Muslim Ambassadors are there representing the United States abroad? On the other hand, a Kenyan American – Barrack Obama of Illinois – has become only the fifth Black Senator of the United States for over 200 years.

Africa’s sons and daughters are beginning to influence new trends of globalization. And Africa’s three legacies of the indigenous, the Islamic and Christian may have further lessons to help globalization respond to the common good.

“O human kind! We have created you from a single pair of made and female,

And made you into Nations and tribes that you may know each other.

Verily in the eyes of God the best among you are the most virtuous and righteous.”

Inna Akramakun Inda Llah atqaakum.

Listen, Globalization!

Listen and learn, Globalization.

For the list of selected papers presented at GCGI Kenya Conference 2005 see: Journal of Globalization for the Common Good

Ali A. Mazrui, the futurologist

Seifudein Adem


cc EOJ
Ali Mazrui in his ability to comprehend present complexities, anticipated some major scientific theories and predicted a number of dynamics and events in international affairs.

Was Ali A. Mazrui a latter-day Nostradamus? I seek to demonstrate below that Mazrui had done well in predicting some of the major global events of the last half a century or so. True, Mazrui’s style of intellectual discourse attaches less value to the predictive power of social scientific theories. Indeed, Mazrui had said in 1969: “…only a thin dividing line separates scientific prediction from fortune telling.” He uttered those words at least twenty years before “empirical” political scientists were humbled by two major international events of our time, the “sudden” collapse of communism and the rise of China as an aspiring global hegemon. Let us briefly review a few of Mazrui’s specific “predictions” and show how, retrospectively, he seemed to have been substantially vindicated.

Mazrui wrote in 1972: “When the hold of the white minority in Rhodesia is one day broken, we will almost certainly have a country called Zimbabwe.” Rhodesia gained independence in 1980 and was renamed Zimbabwe.

In 1973, Mazrui maintained that “before long the question was bound to be asked whether China belonged to the ranks of the weak and underprivileged, or was about to join the ranks of the powerful.” This was at least half a decade before Deng Xiaoping opened up China for business and people began to debate about, for instance, whether China was a partner or a neo-colonial power in the making in Africa.

Mazrui lamented in 1975 that “we are nowhere near an international police force strong enough to keep the Russians out of another Czechoslovakia”. Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

In 1986, in his TV series, The Africans, Mazrui asserted: “South Africa will be free from the white minority rule in the 1990s.” In 1994, the white minority rule came to an end in South Africa.

Mazrui predicted in 1989: “If Islam gets nuclearized before the end of the century, two regional rivalries are likely to have played an important part in it. One is the rivalry between India and Pakistan; the other is the rivalry between Israel and the Arabs.” Pakistan exploded the nuclear device and joined the nuclear club in 1998.

Mazrui wrote also in 1989: “Islam in despair could be pushed to a nuclear terrorism as a version of jihad…And a future case of Islamic nuclear terrorism—aimed probably against either Israel or the United States or both—may well be the outcome of the present Israeli-American insensitivity to the sense of honor of Islamic civilization.” Mazrui made those observations more than a decade before the issue of “terrorism” and “clash of civilizations” became principal categories of discourse in the West. In 1994, Mazrui rhetorically asked: “Will Islam replace communism as the West’s perceived adversary?” This was long before the “war on terror” entered the political vocabulary.

In 1998, Mazrui wrote: “While the first industrial revolution of capitalist production and the Christian reformation became allied to the new forces of nationalism in the new Western world, the third industrial revolution and any Islamic reformation will be increasingly hostile to the insularity of nationalism of the state…Islam and the information revolution will be allies in breaking down the barriers of competing national sovereignties. The new technology will give Islam a chance to realize its original aim of transnational universalism.” Does this in any way relate to what is going on in Iraq and Syria in the year 2014?

In 2000, Mazrui wrote: “Behind the Western fear of the spread of nuclear expertise to Third World countries is the fear of nuclear weapons proliferation. There is anxiety in Western capitals that what begins as the peaceful use of nuclear energy may become something more ominous—thus the repeated attempts by the United States to pull back Russia from any kind of nuclear cooperation (however peaceful) with a country like Iran.” This passage could have as well been written in 2014.

Mazrui said in May 2001: “If Americans are going to spend money only to listen to views which they regard as “balanced”, they had better brace themselves for international shocks in the future at least as “bewildering” as the Iranian and Cuban Revolution!” Three months later, it was 11 September 2001, or 9-11 as it more commonly known in the United States.

As he told us in 1980, Mazrui’s predictions are not limited to international affairs. He said: “In 1967, in a lecture at Makerere, I predicted that the future of Swahili in Uganda depended on the decline of the Baganda and the rise of the military. The Baganda had been the greatest opponents of Swahili; the soldiers (mainly from Northern Uganda) were the greatest champions of the language. It turned out to be true that one of the very few cultural gains brought about by Idi Amin’s rule was the greater use of Swahili in national affairs in Uganda”.

In 2004, Mazrui wrote: “The United States stands the best chance of achieving before the end of the twenty-first century a historic compromise on race, ethnicity, and religious differences. The struggle for this historic compromise is likely to be led by African Americans, joined by other Americans of good will”. Four years later, the United States elected its first African American president: Barack Obama.

In 2007, Mazrui wrote: “There is a possibility that the South of Sudan would secede from the North by the end of this decade.” As it turned out, in January 2011, South Sudan officially seceded, becoming the newest independent state in Africa.

Mazrui wrote in July 2011, just after Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned and when the dominant discourse centered around the quite optimistic theme of the “Arab Spring”: “I think because Egypt is a very ancient civilization, it may have to overcome a lot of older traditions, if you like, the pharaonic impediments to democratization. Egypt has had five thousand years of bureaucracy.” Mazrui added: “I’m worried that these ancient tendencies of accepting power at the center which go back in Egypt thousands of years and not just centuries, may themselves prove an impediment to rapid democratization. Egypt’s ancient political culture of deference to authority is dying, but not fast enough. I hope I am wrong. If Egyptians become democratic within the next fifty years, I hope my children will celebrate, because that will be faster than I was expecting it to happen due to that built-in lethargy of pharaonic traditions.”

Now let us turn to some of Mazrui’s broader generalizations. His first major scholarly work was about collective identity formation, published in 1963, decades before this topic captured the attention of many political scientists.

In his 1980 essay, “Technology, International Stratification, and the Politics of Growth,” Mazrui seemed to have anticipated some of the arguments Jared Diamond brilliantly articulated more recently in his ground-breaking 1998 book, Guns, Germs and Steel. The question both Mazrui and Diamond asked was: why did industrial revolution begin in Europe and not in Africa or Latin America? In formulating the tentative answers, Jared Taylor, of course, also had the benefit of new insights on the subject in various disciplines.

Did Mazrui also anticipate some of the elements of Susan Strange’s theory of structural power? In her well-known book, States and Markets published in 1988, Strange introduced what she called the four structures of power in global political economy—namely, the security structure, the production structure, the financial structure, and the knowledge structure, which she defined respectively as: the framework of power created by the provision of security by some human beings for others; the sum of all the arrangements determining what is produced, by whom and for whom, by what method and on what terms; the sum of all the arrangements governing the availability of credit plus all the factors determining the terms on which currencies are exchanged for one another; what is believed (and the moral implications and principles derived from those beliefs); what is known and perceived as understood; and the channels by which beliefs, ideas and knowledge are communicated—including some people and excluding others.

Mazrui laid down the elements of his theory of structural dependency in 1985: production, consumption, currency or liquidity, technology and (the English) language. Apparently, this was an elaboration of what he had articulated in 1976: “structural dependency concerns the organizational aspects of political, economic and technological imbalance. A lack of symmetry in power relations, captured in institutional framework, lies at the heart of structural dependency. The phenomenon of multinational corporations constitutes one of the latest structures of dominance emanating from the Western world and operating elsewhere. Financial institutions, certain types of technological transfers, as well as large-scale military alliances involving major powers, are all forms of dependency structurally defined.” Mazrui’s theory was concerned more with North-South relations or, specifically, the relationship between the United States and the Third World.

Does Mazrui’s theory of “mature interdependence” which he formulated in 1980 have an affinity with what international relations scholars Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye called in 1989 the theory of “complex interdependence”? Mazrui defines “mature interdependence” as a form of interdependence between groups which combines sophistication with symmetry. The sophistication comes from enhanced technological capabilities and expanded intellectual awareness; the symmetry emerges out of a few egalitarian morality combined with a more balanced capacity for mutual harm. The other forms of interdependence in Mazrui’s arsenal of categories are primitive interdependence and feudo-imperial interdependence.

Mazrui had elaborated some of the major social constructivist postulates as well in a language strikingly similar to that of contemporary social constructivists. Was he a social constructivist before social constructivism emerged as a formidable paradigm of thought in the discipline of International Relations? Consider the following examples. Alexander Wendt, a well-known social constructivist scholar today, thus wrote in 1999 about the role of ideas versus distribution of capabilities in the international system: “US military power means one thing to Canada, another to Communist China.” One decade earlier, in 1989, Mazrui put the same idea in this way: “Although Brazil is much larger than Iraq, Brazil’s nuclear capability would be less of a global shock than Iraqi nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s explosion of nuclear device would carry with it greater fears than a successful explosion by China.” In 1999, Wendt also unveiled his concept of “ontological security,” defining it as “the human predisposition for a relatively stable expectation about the world around them.” Wendt clarified the concept thus: “…along with the need for physical security, this [predisposition] pushes human beings in a conservative homeostatic direction, and to seek out recognition of their standing from their society.” In a very different context, Mazrui elaborated a roughly similar idea in 1971, calling it “the sense of security afforded by the familiar.”

Mazrui had advocated at least since the 1970s what he called “horizontal nuclear proliferation” which is designed to shock the original nuclear powers to ban nuclear weapons for all. At the time, his idea was either ignored by the mainstream discourse, or was generally criticized and rejected by his peers. One prominent scholar who had rejected Mazrui’s idea was J. David Singer. Methodologically, Mazrui and Singer were also in opposing camps even though, paradoxically, the two scholars were colleague on the same campus at the University of Michigan for a number of years. Singer, in his 1969 essay titled “The Incompleat Theorist: Insight without Evidence”, challenged Mazrui’s method which Mazrui espoused and shared with his contemporary Hedley Bull, or the other way round. Singer came out in 2008 and suggested, somewhat reluctantly, that it was worth seriously considering Mazrui’s old idea that “the vaccination of horizontal nuclear proliferation might be needed to cure the world of this nuclear malaise, a dose of the disease becomes part of the necessary cure.”

Ali A. Mazrui is indeed the ultimate futurologist in my view, the man who saw the future. The question is: how did he do it?

* Seifudein Adem (PhD, Binghamton University) was a colleague of the late Ali Mazrui.

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Appreciating Ali Mazrui

Peter Anyang' Nyong'o


cc JC
What was unique about Ali was that he was always bubbling with new ideas, which he tested on the students, his colleagues and the public in general whether in the lecture halls, academic journals or the columns of newspapers

It is often said a prophet is not appreciated in his own home. For quite a long time this was true of Ali Mazrui. Though a Kenyan, and the first to become a professor of Political Science in the then prestigious Makerere University, he rarely gave lectures in his own country.

When the political climate deteriorated in Uganda after Idi Amin’s coup in 1971, one would have thought that the University of Nairobi could have gone out of its way to seek out Mazrui “to come home” and help build that institution.

This is how successful universities operate in the US. But that did not happen. Mazrui headed to the University of Michigan from where he was eventually snatched by the State University of New York at Binghamton. And the rest, as they say, is now history.

I first met Ali when I entered Makerere University College, Kampala, in June 1968. He was then the chairman of the Department of Political Science, Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

In the department were young and dynamic lecturers and senior lecturers like Yash Tandon, Locksley Edmondson, Tony Ginyera Pincwa, Ahmed Mohiddin and Apollo Nsibambi. But there was also the ever omnipresent tutorial fellow Okello Oculli, a man of the people.

What was unique about Ali was that he was always bubbling with new ideas which he tested on the students, his colleagues and the public in general whether in the lecture hall, the Main Hall, academic journals or the columns of the Ugandan newspapers. A week never passed without some cyclostyled papers making their rounds in the halls of residence with Ali’s latest essay or speech given somewhere.

Every now and again the Makerere Main Hall would be full of people waiting to listen to Ali yodelling away with some new controversial idea. Mazrui was never afraid to rub the powers that be on the wrong side.

In 1966, Milton Obote had abolished the kingdoms in Uganda. This was never taken well by the Baganda as the Buganda Kingdom had actually threatened Obote’s government with expulsion from Buganda soil after the UPC government showed hostility to royalism.

In essence, the Baganda royalists argued that there were two levels of government in Uganda then: the national one, led by Obote, and the local one led by Kabaka. Both governments needed to mutually respect each other: that, indeed, was their interpretation of what they regarded as the “social contract” at independence.

Mazrui always gave this example in teaching us social contract theories in his lectures on political theory. Those loyal to the UPC party or government did not take this kindly and argued that Mazrui was being partisan in the controversy that ensued from the abolition of the kingdoms.

Picho Owiny and Akena Adoko, two of UPC’s most outspoken state intellectuals, very often took on Mazrui on such matters, and their debates in the Makerere Main Hall always attracted overflowing attendance.

Those were also the days of the famous journal Transition edited by Rajat Neogy with an editorial board comprising such literary giants like Amos Tutuola, Christopher Okigbo and Ali Mazrui. It was in the columns of Transition that Mazrui’s two controversial essays on Ghana and Tanzania were first fiercely debated: “Tanzaphilia” and “Nkrumah the Leninist Tsar.”

In the latter essay Mazrui discussed the “monarchical tendencies in African politics” pointing out that, notwithstanding his socialist radicalism (like Lenin), in his style of leadership (with chiefly symbols and a search for legitimacy in a royalist past) Nkrumah was much more like a Russian Tsar than a Marxist radical.

For pan- Africanists like us who believed fervently in Nkrumah’s almost saintly leadership of the African revolution, we did not take kindly to Mazrui’s exercise in comparative political theory. Some even branded Mazrui as “an imperialist agent”.

But one of the most memorable debates at Makerere which still remains engrained in the minds of many who were there in those days was the Mazrui, Rodney and Ouma Muga debate on “The Written Word and Mass Mobilisation in Uganda” in May 1970. Milton Obote’s government had just decided “to move to the left” in its national policies and adopt socialism as enshrined in the then famous “Common Man’s Charter”.

Obote then decided to use university students to go to the country side and teach the “common man” about the move to the left. The question was: where literary levels were not high enough to enable the common man to read the Charter, how would they be mobilised by the students?

I was then president of the Makerere Students’ Guild, and my vice president was Joshua Mugyenyi and my minister for national and pan-African affairs was Daudi Mulabya Taliwaku, both now deceased. With the help of Okello Oculli we invited Prof Walter Rodney from the University of Dar es Salaam to debate this issue in the Main Hall with Mazrui and Prof J.P.B.M. Ouma, then professor of alluvial geomorphology in the department of geography.

Mazrui began the debate by tracing the colonial origins of the written word in Africa, pointing out that although colonialism on the one hand oppressed and exploited Africans, on the other hand it brought such good things as education and the written word which were used positively for national liberation.

Prof Ouma gave the comparative statistics on literacy in East Africa. When Rodney came to speak, he went for the jugular in Mazrui’s speech with words that were recited on campus for quite some time after that. Said Rodney: “Professor Mazrui has argued that colonialism was good; that on the one hand this and on the one hand that. Colonialism had only one hand: the hand of oppression, the hand of exploitation. Education was mainly a means to oppress and exploit African brothers and sisters!”

When Mazrui came back to reply, he played down the controversy on his usual swerve and Oxfordian--and almost aristocratic--manner. “Professor Rodney and I are not really in conflict over this issue: it is an issue where I am being faithful to historical facts while Walter is filial to the Marxist interpretation of history.”

When his chance to reply came up, in his characteristic shrill voice, Walter Rodney rebutted: “Professor Mazrui and I are not in conflict: we are not even in contact!”

The debate was televised live by Uganda Television whose director then was Aggrey Awori. I was moderating the debate and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Not too long ago, Mazrui invited me and my wife Dorothy for a visit to Binghamton. I was giving a lecture on recent developments in Kenyan politics and the democratisation process. We had a good time with him, his wife Pauline, the students and faculty. More recently we were together at the University of Nairobi at what was to be his last lecture in a University where he never sat on any professorial chair.

Seifudein Adem, his very able assistant, recently approached some of us to contribute to a book in appreciation of Ali’s work. The last date of submitting the chapters was September 30. I decided to write my chapter on “Literature and Politics in Africa: Ali Mazrui and Christopher Okigbo”.

Very few people know Ali as a novelist. In 1971, Ali published a novel on “The Trial of Christopher Okigbo” in which he charged his friend, in the Hereafter, of having betrayed his role as an artist by becoming a Major in the Biafra Army during the Nigerian Civil War.

The novel was prophetic, and perhaps Ali will now confront Okigbo in the Hereafter to sort out the matters arising in that novel. Rest in eternal peace Mwalimu.

* Peter Anyang' Nyong’o is a professor of Political Science and current Kisumu County senator in Kenya.



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Prof Ali Mazrui was a true Kenyan hero

Yash Pal Ghai


cc AM
He was a scholar in the finest traditions of great scholars: devoted completely to his vocation; searching analysis of broad relationships between religions, ideologies, and state systems.

Last Sunday Ali Mazrui, the greatest scholar Kenya has produced, was buried in Mombasa. He died in the US, which became his home after he was effectively exiled from Kenya by the government in the early seventies.

He was born in Mombasa and loved it dearly, and had expressed his wish to be buried there. So hundreds of Kenyans gathered to say farewell to him and to celebrate his achievements and recognise his love of and dedication to Africa. I was among those who were invited by the Mazrui family to say a few words of our friendship, which now wish to share with other Kenyans.

I first met Ali in October 1961 when we both enrolled for our graduate studies at the prestigious Nuffield College at Oxford. We lived in the College, in adjoining rooms, ate most meals together, talked a great deal about our country, then on the verge of independence—and our hopes for it.

Even as a graduate student, he published some interesting and provocative articles; I remember one such article published in the op-ed page of the then highly regarded London Times which prompted much discussion and controversy—a sign of times to come.

Our careers were not dissimilar. He got a lectureship at Makerere, I at the newly established college at Dar es Salaam, about the same time. The two colleges were part of the University of East Africa.

He was, I am told, the first East African professor at Makerere, and I believe I was the first East African professor at Dar. We had several opportunities to meet at University occasions, which included exchange of teachers and gathering at academic conferences.

Annual social science conferences were exciting and provocative, especially as ideological differences emerged—one symbolised by Nyerere’s Ujamma policies and the other by Kenya’s incipient capitalism (soon to be perceived as ethno-capitalism). These were heady days, especially for young scholars like myself, as I tried to make sense of post-independence developments.

The University College of Nairobi wanted Ali to come to Nairobi as the University of East Africa was collapsing, the result of the breakup of the East African Community.

I was under considerable pressure from the Principal and Registrar of the Nairobi College to return to Nairobi to set up its Law School (I was by then the Dean at Dar). We were both happy where we were but also anxious to return home to contribute to the development of higher education.

I did indeed accept the Nairobi offer, retired from Dar, and was told a few weeks before returning to Nairobi that my contract was cancelled (I learnt on pressure from a senior minister).

Ali too was not acceptable to some powerful political groups. Thus began our exiles for many years, he in the US, I in Europe and Hong Kong. I did return home when quite unexpectedly Moi called me from exile to chair the constitution making process, but Ali continued to teach in the US—he by now a world figure, greatly admired and revered.

We did see each other occasionally after that. I nominated him for the annual Distinguished Scholar Lecture at Hong Kong University. Until then it seemed that only Nobel Prize winners were invited.

Ali did not seem to qualify, until the Committee saw his cv and read some of his books, concluding that if there were a Nobel Prize for social sciences, Ali would have won it long time ago. As expected, Ali’s brief sojourn in Hong Kong was a huge success.

When, some years later, the CKRC’s work started, I proposed that we invite two leading Kenyan thinkers to tell us what the orientation of the new constitution—we asked Bethwell Ogot, the great historian, and Ali Mzrui.

Speaking to a packed audience in the KICC, Ali reminded us that Kenya’s multi-religious and multiethnic character, and urged us to device a constitution which recognised this diversity but at the same time promoting a strong and united Kenya nation—a people with a common identity. That is what we did.

Ali’s achievement as a scholar was remarkable; he was a giant in his field. The range of his interests was wide; his knowledge of theory and practice was remarkable; and his ability to weave insights from many disciplines into new perspectives was unusual.

He was a scholar in the finest traditions of great scholars: devoted completely to his vocation; searching analysis of broad relationships between religions, ideologies, and state systems.

Early on in his work, before the subject became popular, he drew attention to the impact of globalisation on developing countries and their relationship with the more economically advanced west. Starting as a liberal, he saw the discrimination against and suffering of the people in the US and other places, and became a champion of social justice.

Ali never lost sight of the relevance of scholarship to policy, with forays into public debates. He was welcomed by numerous heads of state who sought his advice—though he did not have to be asked, as Obote, Idi Amin and Mugabe learnt to their cost!

He considered that as a scholar it was his duty to share his perceptions and prescriptions with the public. He reached out to many different audiences, and made very effective use of new communications technology—his famous, captivating TV programme on Africa’s Triple Heritage is an outstanding example.

But he showed little aptitude for public office; I am sure he would have greatly missed university environment—books, discourses, differences, but no fistfights!

And we would have been the poorer. His rich and abundant scholarship is a remarkable legacy to us; it will be read and closely analysed for generations to come.

* Prof Yash Pal Ghai is a director of the Katiba Institute in Kenya.



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Ali Mazrui, the controversial titan of academia

John Otim


cc DY
Ali Mazrui had many followers around the globe but he also had many detractors. His BBC series “The Africans”, watched by millions around the world, won him many admirers in Nigeria, but they also won him enemies who accused him of being nothing more than a propagandist for a religious cause.

Kenyan-born Ali Mazrui of the University of Binghamton in the United States of America who died last week at the age of 81 was one of those academics every campus could do with. At every campus in which he taught Mazrui was the glue that held together at the level of intellect and intellectual life the diverse and divergent community typical of academia. Whatever your research area was and in whichever discipline, you found a certain commonalty in something the professor just wrote, just said or did.

This was nowhere more evident than in the public lectures he often gave to packed audiences from diverse backgrounds. In this regard he traveled the world lecturing and debating in whatever venue he could find. And wherever he went he was generally well received for he had a touch of the magician. No matter his theme for the day, Mazrui was bound to thrill just as he was also bound to irritate. There were those who walked away from his lectures convinced that they had just witnessed the performance of a master mind. There were others who scoffed at the fool they had just endured while they could have done something worthwhile.

Regardless, Mazrui had the flair for words and he had within him the gift to find meaning in seemingly the most absurd or the most abstract of topics. He once wrote a novel set in what he called the “African Afterlife”, about the poet and Biafran war hero, Christopher Okigbo. In the novel Mazrui had the poet put on trial and condemned to death for betraying his poetic calling and wasting his talents in something as mundane as ethnic warfare. For those who may not be familiar with the history, Christopher Okigbo was, alongside Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, a brilliant young and rising star of postcolonial literature, who died in battle in 1967 in the bloody Nigerian civil war while fighting on the Biafrian side.

At public lectures the more outlandish his topic was the more Mazrui warmed to his theme. At such moments Mazrui was never so much at ease as when under fire. Those who followed his career and knew him well remember that the only occasion he ever lost his cool was at a debate with Walter Rodney, the famous author of “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. On that occasion, Rodney refused to swallow Mazrui’s customary bait, which was to lure his interlocutor into a frontal engagement with him before an audience he had already softened through the magic of his oratory. That time, however, Rodney side stepped the bait. In the process he skillfully implied that, concerning the colonial issue which was the topic of their debate, Mazrui was at best a daydreamer and at worst a collaborator. There was no commonality of interests between the colonizer and the colonized, Rodney said. Mazrui who prided himself on his African and nationalist credentials was suddenly stung. Worst of all, it was before his home audience at Makerere University.

Over his long career as a top intellectual, Mazrui ranged across disciplines, roamed the entire world, and was not afraid to walk where Angels fear to dread. Colorful and flamboyant, always courting controversy, he refused to accept the difference between fiction and reality that most men might take for granted. To him Cesar of Julius Cesar was just as alive and breathing as the next political leader. He saw in many living political leaders, especially Africans, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Milton’s Satan. His animation of these literary heroes and literary villains enriched his political and philosophical theorizing. At Makerere in Kampala he often dared Milton Obote to arrest him. Obote was the president of Uganda.

Ali Mazrui had many followers around the Globe but he also had many detractors who found his works verbose and lightweight based as most of them were on secondary sources. His BBC series The Africans, watched by millions around the world, won him many admirers in Nigeria where I was teaching at the time, but they also won him enemies who accused him of being nothing more than a propagandist for a religious cause.

Perhaps it is inevitable or even fitting that such a versatile and creative mind should have provoked such contrasting responses to his works. Witness his many quarrels with other big names in academia, not least of which was Wole Soyinka the literature Nobel, and professor Gates of Harvard University. But now that Ali Mazrui is dead, one thing is certain; this irrepressible and charismatic man of academia will be greatly missed throughout the world. At Makerere where Mazrui taught for ten years, they turned the brick house where he once lived into a museum.

*John Otim is the Editor of Nile Journal, the Out of Africa online Magazine.



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Special Issue: Transition Justice in Africa - Challenging contemporary knowledge, narratives and praxis


Pambazuka News invites articles on the question of Transitional Justice in Africa to help readers make sense of the debate in order to effectively play their roles as citizens of Africa.

Much debate in the recent past among scholarly spaces has revealed that Transitional Justice as an emerging field of study and practice is still finding its conceptual and political feet. It is worth noting that there has been increased traction in certain regions of the world, Africa included, to address legacies of past abuses by the international community.

Whereas the tendency towards finding solutions to mass atrocities that occurred during civil wars and other political violence in African countries such as Burundi, Kenya, DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Uganda - just to name a few - has been to call upon the international community to intervene, such a model has proved to be not the most effective one. Much talk and interventions in responding to mass atrocities have claimed and hoped to deter future violations of human dignity and rights.

In responding to collective violence in Africa various mechanisms have been suggested, and indeed tried, such as truth-seeking about human violations or violence, prosecution of individuals bearing the greatest responsibility for a conflict, reparations for victims of violence and institutional reform.

Critics have indeed questioned these Transitional Justice mechanisms in their ability to resolve the underlying root causes of violence and conflicts in Africa or to bring about justice for the victims, reconciling communities and securing stable democratic societies.

Debates in Africa have moved further to raise critical questions on the assumptions that have shaped Transitional Justice based on the realities and context of the continent. The definitions of Transitional Justice and its operative concepts have been highly disputed. Commentators on Africa have observed the increasing growth of Transitional Justice as an industry attracting a lot of funding and a proliferation of many local and international NGOs championing implementation of various sets of mechanisms to resolve past abuses.

This trend shows that many hard questions need to be asked by the citizens of Africa to analyse the various complexities and realities of the current Transitional Justice processes and practices in addressing concerns of post-conflict societies. There is a need for a new thinking towards producing self-sustaining and future-looking approaches in addressing legacies of past abuses and reconstructing affected societies.


• When talking about Transitional Justice, Transition from what? Whose Justice are we focusing on?
• How can Transitional Justice processes happen in the absence of a regime or democratic change?
• Why has there been a lot of focus on purely juridical mechanisms and processes without factoring in the significant relevance and role of socio-economic and political contexts that might better explain the origins and other factors in the conflict continuum?
• Why has there been a lot of power imbalance globally in the discussions on Transitional Justice?
• The world is witnessing a decline in political and economic power by the West especially USA, could this be an opportunity for the global south to model new visions on Transition Justice for the future?
• To what extent have Transitional Justice processes been able to transform the role of women beyond victims of violations?
• How can Transitional Justice mechanisms be cautions not to entrench already existing gender hierarchies and discrimination?
• Have Transitional Justice mechanisms been fully conscious of the emerging issues in Africa with a link to violence such as natural resource exploitation?
• Why have Africans not fully supported and funded the economy of Transitional Justice?
• What is the role of the international community and donors in influencing transitional justice discourse and processes in Africa?
• Can there be self-sustaining Afro-centric transi¬tional justice processes?

Pambazuka News Editorial Team invites articles on these and related questions for a special issue on Transitional Justice in Africa planned for November 2014.


LENGTH OF ARTICLES: Articles should be written in Microsoft Word, Font: Times, size 12 and be between 1000-3000 words

Please submit a biography of two lines at the end of your article and send it

Comment & analysis

South Sudan peace talks: Possibility of re-locating to South Sudan?

Josephine Chandiru Drama


The South Sudan peace talks which are currently taking place in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are inadequate and badly suited to the task at hand. Citizens are completely absent from the process, warring groups feel no pressure to halt the violence and huge sums of money are being wasted. The peace process should be taken back home.


It has been almost eleven months since the South Sudan peace negotiations began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So far, huge sums of money amounting to over 17 million dollars (12 million euros) [1] have been spent on per diem and hotel bills, with little progress made towards ending the ongoing armed conflict. Previous rounds of talks have reached four settlements, including the January 23, 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement, the May 9, 2014 recommitment agreement, the June 10, 2014 agreed road map for Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU) and the August 25 meeting where no commitments were made.

The South Sudanese people already made extraordinary sacrifices to achieve independence two and a half years ago [2], only to be paralysed by fighting that started on 15 December 2013 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The fighting later spread to three other states, namely, Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity, with immense consequences for human security. According to the United Nations (UN), thousands of people have been killed, about 1.5 million displaced and at least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages [3]. The UN also estimates that aid agencies will need $1.8bn (£1.08bn) to reach 3.8 million people before the end of this year. So far, they have raised just over half.

This appalling human security situation in South Sudan could get worse if other strategies to get the warring parties to come to an agreement are not proactively sought. It may require a multi-faceted approach that allows for the engagement of a wider spectrum of individuals, groups and communities at national and local levels, so as to exert more pressure on the warring factions to urgently end the conflict. This article seeks to mobilise a national solution to the crisis by drawing the attention of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to the possibility of re-locating the ongoing talks in Addis Ababa back home to South Sudan.


With at least four agreements already breached and deadlines passing, the people of South Sudan are increasingly loosing hope in the IGAD-led mediation process unless a new strategy is quickly developed including mandating the IGAD Special Envoys with powers to decide on certain substantive matters [4]. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the IGAD-led mediation process in Addis Ababa will not lead to a definitive resolution to the conflict in South Sudan in the near future [5]. The failure of IGAD to sustain decisions on the South Sudan crisis has been viewed by many as a sign that it is ‘part of the problem rather than part of the solution’ [6].

There is now a worrying trend of events that it is feared may escalate to yet another form of rebellion in the country. And by the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control [7], as seen in the statements of Professor David de Chand [8].

‘Let the world and the IGAD know that because it has failed to address the issues at hand, the Nuer nation and its resilient people shall pretty soon declare war on the Dinka in Bahr-el-Ghazel … Assuredly, nothing would deter us to declare war against the Dinka nationality at any time, at any place and at anywhere until Salva Kiir is be defeated sooner rather than later, whether he likes it or not, he will be defeated’. He continued to say that ‘Unless the IGAD mediators spin or turn the clock backward to adequately and sufficiently address the root causes of genocide against the targeted Nuer nationality or ethnicity, the roadmap to peace and the TGONU would be imperatively impractical, if not impossible, to attain in South Sudan’.

Such messages of frustration should already be a clue for IGAD to change its engagements. Echoing such threats again and again will easily mobilise ethnic nationalism in an already volatile situation if appropriate and fast measures are not employed. It will be the only way those who feel marginalised in the peace and conflict processes are able to find ways of getting involved in addressing their plight.


Societies around the world know intuitively of the role citizens can play in bridging differences, large and small, and harmonising individuals and groups. Yet mediation in national conflicts has tended to be seen as the preserve of external actors. The wisdom of engaging citizens in making decisions affecting their future has long been recognised, but understanding the positive role that Insider Mediators play in reducing tensions and in developing non-violent responses to political crisis is relatively new [9].

In recent years, peace mediation has become a field where more flexible methods and diverse actors are needed to complement the efforts of official state actors [10]. This is because conflicts have over the years changed in contexts, drivers and actors, and citizens are increasingly the disproportionate victims. The craft and approach to bringing peace must also change to include a broader participation of people, because the agreements reached are repeatedly breached even before the ink dries, giving war a chance instead of peace.

Evidence suggests that successful peace processes in Africa have involved significant levels of public participation and minimal external mediation [11]. For instance, during the 2008 post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya, a peace movement that tried to mobilise Kenya’s citizens for a non-violent peace-process at a time when the public space was highly critical was successful. This created a forum to transform the violent conflict and reconstruct the social fabric that initially held the country together.

Citizens can be a driving force to achieve a desired goal if conditions such as proximity to venues of peace talks and an open platform are set to allow citizen participation in whichever form. For instance, during the Liberia peace talks in the neighbouring Ghana, women were a driving force for peace through their pressure groups and actions. At one point they demanded the doors of the building where the negotiations were taking place be closed until a settlement was made [12]. This created a lot of pressure on the negotiating parties to reach a decision. Such groups and many others who have non-violent capabilities should be encouraged to offer their free time and service to end violence against the people.


The proposal for a change of venue from Addis Ababa to South Sudan is to allow for broader conversations to take place among the people. For almost eleven months now, the people in South Sudan have been living with anxiety and uncertainty as to when their deteriorating situation will return to normalcy. Re-locating the talks to South Sudan would help provide an avenue for citizens to get their concerns included in the agenda of the negotiations, and influence public support for them. This is because broader participation brings more voices to the negotiations and thus enhances the quality and sustainability of the agreement [13]. It also allows them to closely monitor the implementation of the outcomes and commit to longer term peace process.

Experience has shown that local resources, if properly mobilised, do improve the overall peacebuilding efforts [14]. Of course the question of venue and safety of mediators may arise in this case, considering that the country is still at war. But the talks can be organised in one of the other states in the country that is relatively peaceful. Of the ten states in South Sudan, the conflict is visible in four states, including part of Central Equatoria State where Juba is located, the Jonglei State, the Unity State and the Uppernile State. This offers an opportunity for community leaders in relatively safer states to mobilise their people to lay down arms as a call for peace and give feedback to their warring allies. For example, as far as I know, it is only these community leaders who can avert threats such as Prof. Chand’s.

In the past, community leaders such as chiefs and religious leaders have played vital roles as intermediaries in South Sudan. For instance during the Wunlit peace process in 1999, the chiefs led a series of community meetings to mobilise support for a wider peace process, culminating in the construction of a temporary village to house over 1,200 participants at Wunlit [15]. On the other hand, the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) facilitated peace and reconciliation, and provided logistical and financial support for people-to-people dialogue [16] . This has been said to be one of the most successful talks in the history of the country.

Historically, ethnic, religious and women’s groups have been excluded from offering their efforts towards negotiated conflict resolution, despite being experts in mediation among their communities and homes. In South Sudan for instance, one of the functions and duties of the traditional authorities as provided for in Section 121(1) (c) of the Local Government Act, 2009 is to foster peace building and resolution of conflicts through mediation and other conciliatory mechanisms, as noted by Juliana Bol. Dialogues involving such people, as opposed to military interventions, improve political power negotiations with political commitments.

It would therefore be imperative to make use of such statutory bodies to arrest the situation in South Sudan. The challenge in this case is that there is little or no tolerance for open political debate, thus the use of Insider Mediators such as traditional authorities will be less useful [17]. Further, if peace talks are brokered in locations that are tens and thousand kilo meters away, only accessible by air, how can the capabilities of such people be utilised? Peace does not come by plane or car; peace is rather in the hearts and hands of the people affected. If round table talks to broker peace were initiated in South Sudan, ordinary citizens would participate, the negotiators would become messengers of the people, costs of hotels and other facilities would be minimal, there would be immense pressure on warring parties by the citizens to cease hostilities and begin meaningful dialogue [18]. IFurthermore,, the brokers and representatives of both parties would be in a position to feel what it means to be at the actual scene of the conflict, thereby encouraging them to reach durable peace agreements and also enforce them. This would make negotiations achieve more.

Addressing the grievances of communities who are for the most part excluded from the process is an incomplete process. People who are affected by the conditions of violence should be allowed to tell their stories and name their perpetrators. Meeting of minds as opposed to meeting of weapons should be a strategy employed to resolve issues. This is the road map to achieve sustainable peace. This can only be viable such agendas are devolved to the people as soon as they materialise.

Well aware that foreign countries offer neutral, quiet and peaceful grounds for peace talks, there is usually a total disconnect between foreign venues with what exactly happens on ground in conflict affected spaces. Agreements may happen with limited contextualisation of situations. It also limits participation of other stakeholders who have a say in the matter. It further complicates consultations with the people. A peace agreement would require mediators to convince combatants to sacrifice the luxuries associated with the negotiation process provided by international actors, free of charge [19]. Instead of foreign countries offering comfort zones, displaying traits of people on holiday [20], they should instead offer influence and support in other ways such as supporting national initiatives and hosting refugees, among others.

Of course the neutral role of the external mediators during peace talks cannot be ignored. External mediators have played significant roles in brokering peace between warring parties in many parts of Africa. In the case of South Sudan, it will take a lot of courage and sacrifice to volunteer to broker peace if the talks re-locate to the conflict zone. The government on its part should be able to offer a secure ground to ensure deliberate safety of its external actors/friends. However, experience has also shown that a neutral mediator is not the only precondition for a successful mediation. It is the acceptance of the parties concerned, rather than neutrality, that matters.


Considering the worrying trends outlined above, IGAD should consider the said option of relocating the peace talks to South Sudan so as to encourage full participation and monitoring of the implementation of the agreements. This would also minimise costs and guarantee its presence in South Sudan for a longer period, ensuring conscious implementation and making it easier to hold accountable those who fault their own agreements, including issuance of sanctions and enforcing the same. At the same time, the more communities participate in the mediation, the more pressure is exerted on the warring parties to end the conflict and create a safe space for all citizens. As it is currently, the representatives from both sides seem not to be in a hurry. After all, the costs are not on them.

Creation of an opportunity to re-build relations between citizens and their governments can only be achieved by opening spaces that are accessible to the citizens. This makes citizens have confidence in their leaders, attracts those in the diaspora to return, and allows external actors to faithfully contribute to positive state building and peace building. It makes leaders exchange influence with the citizens. It makes people negotiate what is best for them. The leaders cannot do it alone. Negotiations held at home are national projects. Homemade decisions end up building institutions that are internal as opposed to external. These projects such as agreements reached can be reviewed periodically depending on the availability of resources. The periodic reviews should bring people together to affirm their commitments and discuss emerging issues, and draw the arts and science towards lasting peace. Let IGAD give peace a real chance by allowing peace talks to re-locate to South Sudan.

* Josephine Chandiru Drama is a Women Fellow at the African Leadership Centre/Kings College London. She is currently a Peace and Security Intern at the African Union, Addis Ababa. An earlier version of this paper is available on


[1] Warring S. Sudan leaders agree deadline for new government. Available on
[2] Waal, 2014
[4] The dilemma of IGAD-led peace process for South Sudan. Available on http://www.sudantribune.con/spip.php?article51558 accessed on 8.7.14.
[5] Bol, 2014
[6] Odong, 2014
[8] Chand, 2014
[9] Hislaire, 2011
[10] Artisaari, 2013
[11] Bol, 2014
[12] Olanisakin, 2011
[13] Paffenholz, 2014
[14] Einstein
[15]Bol, 2014
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Bol, 2014
[19] Helms, 2011
[20] Delegates for Kiir and Machar have been meeting in luxury hotels in the Ethiopian capital since January, with both sides bickering over the agenda and even the venue of discussions. Available on
[21] Frazer, 2014


Artisaari, M. (2013). Mapping of Africa non state actors active in the field of mediation and conflcit resolution. CMI.
Bol, J. (2014, 4 5). Community-led peace process, an alternative to IGAD.
Chand, D. d. (2014). A critique of the IGAD protocol on the agreed principles.
Einstein, A. (n.d.). National ownership is essential for peace building in CAR. Retrieved 7 4, 2014, from
Frazer, O. (2014). Mediation Perspectives: the Tunisian National Dialogue. ISN. Retrieved 9 8, 2014, from
Helms, E. (2011). Women in Society, Women as Society: Lessons in Peace building from Liberia. USIP.
Hislaire, P. (2011). Insider Mediators in Africa: Understanding and enhancing the contribution of Insider Mediators to the peaceful resolution of Conflicts in Africa.
Nieuwhof, J. H. (n.d.). Lessons learnt from South Africa peace process. Retrieved 8 22, 2014, from .
Odong, J. (2014, August 29). IGAD failure to delivering peace for South Sudan. Retrieved 9 1, 2014, from
Olanisakin & Okech. (2011). Women and Security Governance in Africa. 1-92.
Paffenholz, T. (2014). Broadening participation in peace processes: Dilemmas and options for mediators. Mediation Practice series, Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Madiation for Peace.
Waal & Abdul. (2014). Breakdown in South Sudan: What went wrong and How to fix it. Retrieved 9 1, 2014, from

Libya war continues three years after Gaddafi assassination

Abayomi Azikiwe


Libya is still in turmoil. The present situation is the direct result of the war of regime-change led by the CIA, the Pentagon and NATO during 2011. U.S. policy is designed to overthrow all of the sovereign and anti-imperialist governments throughout Africa and the Middle East.

On October 20, 2011, the leader of the North African state of Libya was brutally assassinated in the city of Sirte. Col. Muammar Gaddafi had been leading a struggle to defend his country from a war of regime-change coordinated and financed by the United States and NATO.

Since the overthrow of the Jamahiriya system of government in Libya, the social conditions prevailing inside the country are by no means stable. Various factions, most of which were utilized as ground troops in the Pentagon-NATO aerial war between March 19 and October 31 of 2011, remained locked in a mortal conflict for control over the oil-rich state.

Conflicting sources of political power backed up by armed militias exist in the two largest cities of Tripoli, the capital, and Benghazi in the east where the counter-revolution against Gaddafi began. Areas in the south of the country have armed themselves against the U.S.-installed regimes in Tripoli and Benghazi often in sympathy with the previous system under the Jamahiriya.

Two regional states which participated in the imperialist-engineered war against Libya, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have been carrying out periodic airstrikes against alleged “Islamist” strongholds in various locations in the east and west. Also the former renegade Gen. Khalifa Hefter, a longtime Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset, has mounted a bid for power utilizing sophisticated weapons and air strikes.


For several months during 2014 oil production in Libya was down considerably. Conflicts between various labor organizations in addition to clashes among the militias resulted in the decline of barrels-per-day extraction to almost nil.

A dispute over who could actually sell Libyan oil on the international market was eventually addressed by the U.S. when it sent a naval warship to reclaim cargo traded by interests inside the country who were not endorsed by Washington. Subsequent efforts aimed at resolution of the disagreements have still not cleared the way for a consistent boost in production.

Unrest has erupted again surrounding which political group claiming authority in Libya would control the proceeds from oil sales. Both the parties controlling the capital of Tripoli who are often labelled as “Islamists” and the “government in exile” in the eastern city of Tobruk, say they are entitled to the revenue generated from the trade in oil.

With the decline in prices on the global market during October the situation involving the struggle over the control of oil in Libya prompted the attention of the Wall Street Journal. Efforts by five western countries designated by the United Nations to reach a political settlement in the Libyan quagmire have failed, and consequently, the major imperialist powers are concerned about the supply of oil and the role of Libya in the process.

“In a joint statement late Saturday, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. said they supported the U.N.-sponsored peace talks and a cessation of hostilities, “noted the Wall Street Journal. “The five governments condemned the violence by Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah, voiced concern about the attacks of the renegade general and said they were ready to sanction those threatening Libya’s security.” (Oct. 19)

This same article went on to point out that “Libya is normally one of Europe’s largest oil suppliers, but disruptions since the fall of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 have reduced its contribution to the continent’s oil supply.” Therefore, even the publication of the international finance capital has to openly acknowledge that the Pentagon-NATO policy of regime-change in Libya has disrupted oil supplies to the European continent.

The Libya Dawn group which is contesting control of the state with the ostensible moderate group led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who called themselves the House of Representatives, sent their own oil minister, Mashallah al-Zawie, to Turkey to participate in an industry conference held in Istanbul. The rival group headed by al-Thani based in Tobruk dismissed the Central Bank director Sadiq Kabir and claims they have control of the revenue from oil sales.

Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports that “officials at NOC (the state-owned National Oil Co.) and at the central bank subsidiary which receives payments from oil buyers said revenues had continued to flow to its Tripoli-based accounts. Mr. al-Kabir also remains in office, they said.”

Such confusion over which entity controls Libyan oil could very well hamper the country’s future production and exports projections. Libyan oil officials say production is at 850,000 barrels a day, marking an increase of 40,000 barrels compared with earlier in Oct., suggesting that some facilities have boosted their output. In contrast operations at oil fields in eastern Libya have been interrupted by labor unrest led by workers seeking jobs at the facilities.


The present situation in Libya is the direct result of the war of regime-change led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Pentagon and NATO during 2011. U.S. policy is designed to overthrow all of the sovereign and anti-imperialist governments throughout Africa and the Middle East.

Consequently, the outcome of the current situation in the regions of North Africa and the Middle East will be critical in the future course of imperialist militarism worldwide. Obviously, these policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Libya have prompted massive destabilization of these societies including the vast increase in internally displaced persons and refugees.

Libya, which under the years of the Jamahiriya-Gaddafi rule was the most prosperous state in Africa, now is a major source of instability in the region. The response of aerial bombardments from Egypt and the UAE will only further the generalized sense of lawlessness and terror.

Only the Libyan people themselves united around a political program of national unity and genuine sovereignty will be able to reverse the current malaise. The plans suggested involving the direct intervention of thousands of NATO troops to Libya under the rubric of the United Nations would eventually result in greater anti-western sentiments already prevalent throughout the country.

What the role of the U.S. in Libya has proven is that Washington and Wall Street has no rational policy towards Africa and the Middle East. Its interventionist posture will only breed more anti-U.S. consciousness and mass resistance to imperialist control.

* Abayomi Azikiwe is editor of Pan African News Wire.



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Deductions from a BBC documentary

Probably only 5 percent of the human skulls at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre are Tutsi. The rest are Hutu and Congolese

Antoine Roger Lokongo


A new BBC documentary has sparked international debate about the facts of the Rwandan genocide. This week legislators in Kigali voted to ban the BBC in Rwanda, outraged by the documentary, which deconstructs the official narrative. But the documentary actually tells the truth the Kagame regime suppresses.

In my masters thesis at City University, London, titled: ‘NGOs and the Media: Friends or Enemies? An Investigation into the Relationship Between NGOs and the Media in Trouble Spots’, I analyzed the critical importance of the media in preventing conflicts precisely because, taken together, the diverse mass media technologies, institutions, professionals, norms and practices constitute one of the most powerful forces shaping the lives of individuals and the fate of entire peoples and nations. I argue that, regarding the genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent outpouring of refugees into eastern Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), which later became the scene of another genocide committed by the Tutsi against all other ethnic groups in the region, the Tutsi continue to say they are victims of the genocide.

Throughout these events, a BBC team broadcasted in African languages, particularly in Swahili, to explain to the local people what was going on throughout what was then known as ‘the Great Lakes crisis’. Hence the name of the documentary, ‘Great Lakes Life Line’, part of the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

As time went on, I realized that the BBC turned out to be the lifeline, if not the sounding board, of Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), whose hope for gaining power faded alongside the Arusha Peace Agreement, when the ‘final solution’ was adopted: Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was killed, together with his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, when his plane was shot down while landing at Kanombe International Airport. His government was overthrown, and a civil war that plunged the entire region into a spree of mass killing, rapes and looting ensued.

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the BBC and other powerful Western media outlets, the United Nations, Western powers, the African Union, NGOs and the current Rwandan Tutsi government keep feeding us the same one-sided story since 1994, repeating the mantra, ‘The Hutus killed the Tutsis in Rwanda, period!’ And Western geo-strategic interests in the region (to include those with ties to Congo’s mineral wealth) oblige!

On 1 October 2014, as part of its Panorama program, the BBC broadcast ‘Rwanda: The Untold Story’, a one-hour documentary in which star journalist Jane Corbin and producer John Conroy demythologize the ‘Hutus killed Tutsis in Rwanda’ official line. We learn from this documentary that there was no planned genocide. In the program, American scholar Allan Stam points out that the massacres of Tutsis were spontaneous, and ended well before the RPF seized power. As explained in the documentary, war and occupation by RPF starting in September 1990 had led to mass killings of the Hutu civilian population. Thousands of mainly Hutu refugees, driven from their land, were clustered around Kigali, trapped in death camps where a hundred bodies a day were buried due to disease and hunger. In addition, a large number of refugees from Burundi had flocked to Rwanda in 1993 to escape the massacres of Hutus carried out by the army and Tutsi civilians there. To see their Burundian brothers persecuted this way did nothing to reassure the Hutus of Rwanda in the face of the advancing RPF Tutsi army.

When the plane carrying the two presidents was shot down, the already-martyred Hutus came to the conclusion that the RPF and its supporters did not want democracy. Some, desperate and enraged, took machetes and decided to kill those they perceived to be responsible for their suffering. This is confirmed by the BBC documentary and by many other testimonies.

On 8 October, Canadian writer Bernard Desgagné provided a very detailed commentary of this BBC documentary in his website, His writing there clarified many things. According to Desgagné, the fact that Corbin called on two heavyweight witnesses, Ksagame’s former chief of staff Theogene Rudasingwa and former chief of the Rwandan Patriotic Army Kayumba Nyamwasa, makes the documentary even more credible because both had seen mass crimes orchestrated by their boss from the inside.

In the documentary, Nyamwasa does not mince words: ‘Kagame has never had the intention to stop the genocide. Never!’ he says. ‘His intention was to win the war to gain power. The fact that people died in the genocide or were killed was the least of his worries ... Without a shadow of a doubt, Paul Kagame is [the one who shot down the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on 6 April 1994]. I am well placed to know, and he knows that I am.’

Nyamwasa had himself participated in the conspiracy to commit the attack of 6 April 1994. He also led Kagame’s troops at the time when they were committing huge massacres, and later when the same troops invaded Congo. He claims that Kagame was fully aware of the dramatic consequences that would result after the attack. ‘If we are in the dry season and you throw a match in the grass, will you come to the idea to think that the grass will not burn?’ he asked.

Nyamwasa, who is under protection in South Africa, has been the subject of three recent assassination attempts, all committed by Kagame's henchmen. His friend Patrick Karegeya, another RPF military defector, has not been as lucky as him, according to Desgagné. He was killed on the night of 31 December 2013.

In fact, on 10 September 2014, the BBC reported that a South African court has sentenced four Rwandans to eight years in prison after being sent by Kagame to attempt to kill Nyamwasa. He was shot in the stomach in Johannesburg in June 2010, and soon after he fled Rwanda. The magistrate said the ‘main culprits’ (in Kigali) had not been arrested. The BBC observed that several attacks on Rwandan exiles in South Africa have caused diplomatic tensions between Pretoria and Kigali.

Describe it as genocide or not, argues Desgagné, but the massacre of Tutsis in April 1994 was not the result of a diabolical plan by the Hutu power. It was horrible, but it lasted only a few days, essentially stopping by the end of the month. By comparison, the massacres of Hutu political opponents, however, are systematic and well organized by the RPF. They have stretched over 24 years, and continue today under the indifferent eyes or complicity of Kagame’s sycophants and fooled national and international opinion.

Furthermore, according to Desgagné, those who still assume that there was a planned genocide against the Tutsis should rather look to the RPF, especially when it is well known that Robert Kajuga, the leader of the Hutu paramilitary organization Interahamwe, was a Tutsi and an agent of the RPF, as revealed by former Kagame bodyguard Aloys Ruyenzi in the documentary. It is possible that a minority of young Hutu rebels were driven to kill Tutsis by manipulators in the pay of Kagame who just wanted to provide their boss with an alibi for the massacres of Hutus. This hypothesis remains to be seen, but it is plausible, concludes Desgagné.

According to British journalist Gerard O’Donovan, what the BBC has conducted is a forensic deconstruction of both the official history of the genocide (which puts the blame entirely on the Hutus) and previous scholarly research on the complexity of the genocide in Rwanda.

American scholars Christian Davenport and Allan Stam worked for both the prosecution and the defense at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR), trying to perform the same task—to find data that demonstrate what actually happened during the 100 days of killing. They concluded that the accepted story of the mass killings of 1994 is incomplete, and that the full truth—inconvenient as it may be to the Rwandan government—needs to come out.

The current Rwandan regime considers such allegations outrageous. Scholars such as Brian Martin share its indignation.

However, Charles Kambanda, Rwandan American legal scholar, professor at St. John’s University in New York City, former professor at several East African universities and once a member of the ruling RPF, argued that there must be a difference between the ‘Rwandan genocide’ and the ‘Tutsi genocide’ because the latter tends to exclude the Hutu victims of the genocide.

According to Kambanda, people who call it the ‘Rwandan genocide’ are subject to prosecution in Rwanda. In fact, Victoire Ingabire, a Rwandan Hutu opposition leader, has been sentenced to 17 years in jail (she was initially sentenced to eight years) for saying that Hutus were also massacred in 1994. She was found guilty of ‘terrorism and denying the country’s genocide’. Her lawyer, an American attorney named Peter Erlinder, serving as Defense Counsel for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), was also arrested in Rwanda in November 2010.

Surprisingly, in 2011 US President Obama, in his statement honoring those who died, did refer to the ‘Rwanda genocide’, not to the ‘Tutsi genocide’.

In 1994 the United Nations released the Gersony Report, detailing mass killings by the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, after their military victory in the civil war in post-genocide Rwanda. The report was allegedly suppressed for geo-political and strategic reasons. Kagame, the ‘most important war criminals still in office today’, according to Belgian historian Prof. Filip Reyntjens, is also a key player in Rwanda’s role in the deaths of eight million people in Congo.

Yes, Congo! The deconstruction of the official history of the genocide shows that the inter-ethnic killings in Rwanda were just a means to an end: Rwanda and Uganda invaded resource-rich Congo from 1998 onward under the pretext of fighting the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which is made up of the rival Hutu ethnic group, according to the BBC. But in fact their true aim was to occupy Congo and loot strategic and precious minerals, to deliver them to American and other Western markets. It was a war by proxy waged by Western powers to cheaply exploit Congo’s abundant mineral wealth without putting white troops on the ground, notwithstanding the facts that eight million Congolese were killed, land was occupied and rape used as a weapon of war. It was this action that was planned for a long time, not the mass killings in 1994 in Rwanda.

Indeed, ‘what the world thinks and what really happened are two different things,’ Allan Stam states in the documentary. In fact, as Peter Erlinder wrote in October 2014, UN and State Department documents confirm that the US and UK sponsor impunity for Kagame’s brutal dictatorship and the RPF’s crimes in Rwanda and Congo from 1993 to the present.

If you consider even just the year 1994, and parse though the data provided by the UN and the government in Kigali, you will find that the number of Hutus killed is four times higher than the number of Tutsis killed. And if you calculate the number of people over the age of 24 years who between 1990 and today were massacred by exterminators under the orders of Paul Kagame or died of starvation or disease while trying to flee, you arrive at a toll higher than that of the Holocaust. Of that number, the vast majority are Hutus and Congolese. Tutsi deaths do not even reach 5% of the total, as Desgagné observes.

This means that perhaps only 5% of the human skulls in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre are Tutsi, the rest being Hutu and Congolese. With this in mind, one must remember that these two memorial centres are the highest symbols of ‘Rwanda’s untold truth’, and have attracted huge funds for Kagame from his Western sponsors. The UK alone is the largest contributor, with annual foreign aid nearing £500 million—or $800 million—to help keep Kagame in power.

In December 2004, a mortality study by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) found that 31,000 people were dying monthly, and 3,800,000 people had already died of hunger, diseases or wild animal attacks in the bush after fleeing conflict in Congo during the previous six years, making it one of the deadliest since World War II. Today the toll has climbed to eight million. If occurring in occupied territory, Rwandan and Uganda troops, along with the various Tutsi rebels that are still reigning havoc in eastern Congo, collected the skulls of these dead Congolese and put them in the ‘memorial centres’ throughout Rwanda. Yet the question remains, who on earth will be able to verify these remains? Who can distinguish a Tutsi skull from a Hutu skull, or that of a Congolese? Perhaps only Museveni and Kagame can.

In short, to say the skulls exposed in ‘memorial centres’ throughout Rwanda are only Tutsi is to tell the biggest lie nobody with a right mind can ever accept.

Further, it is important to remember that 80 Congolese youth were rounded up in Uvira, South Kivu and taken to Rwanda in January 2001; these children are still unaccounted for today, according to a report by the Missionary News Agency (MISNA). Is there a connection between this event and the source of many of the skulls? This is just one example of many events that should be investigated for ties to the ‘memorial centres’.

In late 2007, French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere indicted the assassins of Presidents Habyarimana and Ntwagiramira, both Hutus, and personally recommended to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that Kagame be prosecuted by the UNICTR, as reported by Peter Erlinder.

In February 2008, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu issued a 180-page indictment specifically charging Kagame and 40 other Rwandan military officers with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The document referred to the massacres of more than 300,000 civilians, as well as nine Spanish citizens, including six missionaries during the ‘genocide’. Kagame rounded up unarmed Hutu civilians by the thousands and machine-gunned them. Seasoned UN investigator Robert Gersony estimated that as many as 35,000 Hutu were killed in this manner between April and September 1994, just in the 28% of the country that his team surveyed alone.

Given that the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda, occupying half of the country, who will believe that the RPF did not kill a single Hutu in the territory they controlled? Nicholas Gordon, a BBC reporter, investigated and reported that the Kagame regime had built crematoriums at Bugasira, Ruhengeri, Byumba, Kibungo, Inyungwe and other locations where thousands of Hutus were killed daily, and that their bodies were incinerated under a program called ‘Manpower Duties’ as US military officers on the scene looked the other way. The aim was to reduce the Hutu majority to the level of the Tutsi.

In addition to these events, RPF soldiers systematically massacred Hutu refugees in Congo when they accompanied Laurent Kabila on his way to power.

In his article, Peter Erlinder recapped the documentary as follows:

“Former Chief Prosecutor del Ponte in this documentary confirms she had the evidence to prosecute Paul Kagame and his RPF military for the assassinations and war crimes as early as 2002, but was removed from her UN office by the US and UK in 2003 when she tried;

Former FBI Special Agent James Lyons explained that he was a member of the elite UN investigative team in early 1997 that recommended then-Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour prosecute Kagame for the assassinations and other war crimes. Arbour fired the investigative team including Lyons;

Col. Marchal, second-in-command to Gen. Dallaire in the UN Mission to Rwanda, explained how the assassination of President Habyarimana was part of the military strategy of the aggressive and militarily superior RPF army to de-stabilize the defending Habyarimana forces; and

RPF Lt. Ruyenzi, formerly of Kagame’s personal Headquarters detail now in exile, explained Kagame’s elated reactions with other military leaders on the night of the assassination, when the orders for the final assault for power were given.

The September 1994 Memo to President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher confirms the Clinton Whitehouse was informed of mass RPF crimes two months before the US voted to establish the UN Tribunal for Rwanda.

Another former Chief of Staff, Dr. Theogene Rudesingwa admitted to his role in the cover-up in a voice-over while the visual showed his meetings with President Clinton during Rudesingwa’s term as Rwandan Ambassador to the US.”
The so-called ‘Rwandan economic miracle’ just benefits Kagame and his entourage who have become very rich from predatory wars in Congo. Still, half of Rwanda’s state budget comes from foreign aid, and its GDP was $633 per capita in 2013. Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and even the world, Desgagné confirms.

What we still have in Rwanda is a sham ‘mono-ethnic democracy’. In fact, the United States is exerting pressure on Congolese President Joseph Kabila NOT to seek a third term and to abide by the constitution. Both the Catholic Church and the Congolese opposition have joined in the call. Time Magazine reported on 4 May 2014 that US Secretary of State John Kerry even pledged to give the Democratic Republic of Congo $30 million worth of aid for the next elections, expected in 2016, but only ‘on condition that President Joseph Kabila does not seek a third term’ (Western aid always comes with conditionalities). Yet the United States said nothing when Museveni stood for a third term. Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza are both poised to stand for a third term, and there has been no hint on the part of United States towards ‘forbidding’ them to do so.

Surprisingly, Kigali did not brand the BBC a ‘genocide negationist’ following the broadcast of ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story’. However, in a letter addressed to the Director General of the BBC, IBUKA, an association of genocide survivors close to the government, claimed the documentary denies the reality of the 1994 genocide and called on the BBC to stop broadcasting the documentary. ‘We, the survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, are outraged by the blatant denial of the genocide against the Tutsis carried by your documentary ...’ begins the letter. In October 2014, Radio France International (RFI) reported that according to IBUKA, the documentary gave a platform to parties ‘politicizing the genocide’ and denying the reality and the systematic character of the planned massacres.

If the BBC were to heed the call to halt future broadcasts of the documentary, it would make headlines, as an African country such as Rwanda would be able to muffle the voice of the BBC. In reality, the Tutsi regime in Rwanda has been able to do that since 1994!

At last, as Peter Erlinder argues, the BBC has ‘broken the spell’ of organized denial regarding the role of Paul Kagame and his US and UK allies in sponsoring and covering-up their own role in the Rwanda genocide, as well as the resulting 20 years of massive human misery in central Africa. It’s time for other mainstream media outlets to experience a similar awakening from their quiescent slumber that permits monstrous crimes of US-supported criminals to continue unchecked by public opinion, much less the rule of law.
* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a Congolese journalist and Phd student in China


Conroy, John (2014), ‘The making of...Rwanda’s Untold Story’, This Word, BBC 2, October,, accessed 9 October 2014

Davenport, Christian and Stam, Allan (2009) ‘What Really Happened in Rwanda?’, Pacific Standard: The Science of Society, 6 October,, accessed 9 October 2014

Desgagné, Bernard (2014) ‘La BBC confirme la macabre supercherie’, Vigile, 8 October,, accessed 11 October 2014

Erlinder, Peter (2014) ‘The Rwanda War Crimes Cover up’, Global Research, 7 April,, accessed 19 April 2014.

Erlinder, Peter (2014) ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story: Who Was Behind the Genocide? BBC Documentary offers compelling case of Kagame as a War Criminal’, Global Research, 8 October,, accessed 11 October 2014

French, Howard (2014) ‘How Rwanda's Paul Kagame Exploits U.S. Guilt’, The Wall Street Journal, 18 April,, accessed 19 April 2014

Gibson, Kate (2010) ‘The Arrest of ICTR Defense Counsel Peter Erlinder in Rwanda’, American Society of International Law, vol. 14, no. 26

Gordon, Nick (1996) ‘Return to Hell’, Sunday Express, 21 April

Kambanda, Charles and Garrison, Ann (2011) ‘The Rwanda Genocide: Who Killed the Hutus?’, Global Research, 17 April,, accessed 9 October 2014

Martin, Brian (2009) ‘Managing outrage over genocide: case study Rwanda’, Peace & Security, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 275-290

O’Donovan, Gerard (2014) ‘This World: Rwanda's Untold Story, BBC Two, review – “intense”’, The Telegraph, 1 October



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Deadly economic violence of the big banks

Vanessa Burger


Parasitic banks, unscrupulous credit providers and their leech-like attorneys, spawned by an obscenely bloated capitalist system, suck the life-blood from increasingly impoverished lower classes in South Africa with utter impunity. Some 11 million over-indebted people are victims of this economic violence

I first met - let’s call her Rosie - in 2010. She had an 18-year-old daughter, we will call her Zoe, who had been raped repeatedly by her biological father from the age of four, the trauma of which had left her with uncontrolled seizures, severe depression, other serious psychological disorders and HIV infection. Zoe lived far away from her mom so she could be close to a school and clinic. Every month, Rosie would send home most of her R1200 weekly salary to support Zoe and her grandmother who was at the time receiving treatment for MDR TB and was also HIV positive. After Zoe was diagnosed and began antiretroviral treatment, her mental and physical health improved significantly as did her school marks.

Life was very difficult for Rosie who also supported two other children and her salary did not keep pace with basic living expenses. The cost of commuting most weekends to check on Zoe and her granny became unaffordable and over time, Rosie ended up taking three small loans, totaling just under R40,000 from Standard Bank in order to feed her family.

At first, Rosie managed the monthly repayments by working extra shifts at the small factory where she was employed. But when the factory put most workers on ‘short time’, life for Rosie and her family quickly unraveled.

Rosie is the second wife of a factory worker. Although he did his best to support Rosie and her children, who were not biologically his, money was also needed to support his rural family. When Rosie’s husband was also put on ‘short time’, the wheels fell off.

No longer able to afford the interest-bloated monthly loan repayments, Rosie quickly fell into arrears. Standard Bank added to the family’s rapidly escalating socioeconomic misery by attaching debit orders to Rosie’s account for the full amount of her weekly salary. Standard Bank did not approach Rosie for authorization or even consult her when activating the debit orders; they merely cleared her account like a 419 scammer.

Rosie was unaware the Consumer Protection Act and other legislation that deems such practices illegal and for six months was unable to feed, clothe, visit, or even telephone her daughter. Zoe and her granny’s health deteriorated rapidly. As everyone knows, good nutrition is vital for HIV-positive people, especially when on ARV treatment. Zoe’s weight dropped to 35 kg and she was hospitalized twice.

Rosie says things are improving as she has repaid the bulk of her debt and is relieved Standard Bank now only takes around 60 percent of her weekly salary instead of everything. She hopes Zoe and her granny will make it. Her brother is also trying to help the family although he is unemployed.

Rosie cannot take this matter to court because her employer will not pay her for time taken off to seek legal aid. So she must simply accept her family is just another of the 11 million over-indebted South Africans who are victims of economic violence. If Zoe dies, Standard Bank will, in effect, have her blood on their hands, but few will connect the dots between current economic and political systems that entrench such murderous exploitation.

Parasitic banks, unscrupulous credit providers and their leech-like attorneys, spawned by an obscenely bloated capitalist system, suck the life-blood from increasingly impoverished lower classes. The extreme distress induced by these practices was manifested most spectacularly in 2012, when thousands of desperate, poorly paid, over-indebted Marikana mineworkers, while striking for a R12 500 per month living wage, refused to back down and chose to face cop bullets in a last stand bid to escape the suffocating squeeze of the omashonisa (money lenders). Debt for the Marikana mineworkers, indeed for an increasing number of South Africans, has literally become life threatening.

Reckless lending, irrational interest rates that, over time, fantastically inflate the sum of the original loan, strong-arm debt recovery tactics such as threats of legal action and telephone harassment, and general disregard for the law – as can be seen in Rosie’s case - indicate the criminal predisposition of Big Banking. These practices and their results, threaten to undermine every level of society and aspect of our lives – from environmental health, as seen in the World Bank’s continued finance for dirty energy projects such as the Medupi power plant; to furthering gender inequality, in Swaziland’s recent loan for a ‘virginity stipend’ supposedly to fight HIV infections among young girls; to the proliferation of crime and social decay – the dirty hands of Big Banking may be found lurking in the background.

Many of the 11 million affected South Africans can confirm that the big banks’ well-documented avoidance of consumer protection legislation such as the National Credit Act, the Just Administration Act and Consumer Protection Act, often leads to gross constitutional and human rights violations. In worst-case scenarios such as the Marikana tragedy and Zoe’s instance, these violations would appear to constitute, if not attempted murder, then at least extreme economic violence.

Despite South African Communist Party's head comrade Blade Nzimande's tired rhetoric at the recent "Red October" 2014 launch, parliamentary posturing of the as yet unproven Economic Freedom Fighters' fancy dressers, and the breathless promises made on mainly middle-class (mainly white) NGO websites such as the New Era, real challengers to South Africa's abusive economic regime have yet to emerge.

Is it not time such abuse of financial power was combated in the manner best suited to those who value human life as secondary to the enrichment of the already rich – by hitting them in their pockets? Is it not time to pit the power of the people against the pull of the rand and implement economic sanctions against big banking by calling for mass debt default? The financial sector would do well to consider its tenuous hold over the rage, frustration and desperation of the masses it currently enslaves. Its power cannot last. We cannot afford to let it.

* Vanessa Burger is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the Centre for Civil Society based at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, a provincial member of the Democratic Left Front and Right2Know Campaign and works closely with organisations such as the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, uBunye Bamahostel, the Poor Flat Dwellers Movement and the KZN Violence Monitor.



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The (Socialist) Malala Yousafzai the US media doesn’t quote

Ben Norton


The Pakistani teenage girl won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. US corporate media is engaged in a sinister plot to deliberately silence her in the way it doesn’t report her criticism of US. Even more insidious is the media’s complete disregard for her clearly socialist politics.

Now that Malala Yousafzai has won her hard-earned and well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, she and her amazing, tragic story is back in the spotlight. Per usual, nevertheless, the corporate media has taken this positive development and exploited it, in the service of US imperialism.

The US corporate media loves talking about the remarkable bravery and strength of Malala and the brutality of the Taliban forces that almost killed her. Such coverage fuels its racist, orientalist, neocolonialist narrative about “backward,” violent, misogynist Muslims and their need for “white saviors,” thereby legitimizing Western imperialist interests in South and West Asia. Malala’s victory can be appropriated and whitewashed by the US political establishment to “prove” that its (internationally illegal) invasion, occupation, and destruction of Afghanistan has “helped” its people (as for the hundreds of thousands killed and injured in the process, well, those inconvenient exceptions aren’t part of this narrative).

While most people who win the Nobel “Peace” Prize do so, as Michael Parenti points out, for war-mongering and crimes against humanity (for a prime example, consider that none other than Henry Kissinger boasts one, along with of course Obomba himself), Malala actually deserves hers. This makes the exploitation even more despicable and grotesque.

Malala has devoted her life to fighting for education for children—indeed a most noble and important cause. When she implored, before the UN, “let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world. Education is the only solution,” the Western intelligentsia ate it up, like a voracious canine gobbling up its kibbles (on second thought, perhaps a vulture would have been a more apt choice for this simile). Everyone can agree that education for children is a positive goal. By emphasizing that “Education is the only solution,” the West can draw attention from the very real material concerns the vast preponderance of the world endures—that is to say, horrific poverty.

This oversight is by no means the fault of Malala. She herself, in that same speech, just before the above excerpt, spoke of “a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism.” Two of these three things can be found endlessly emphasized throughout the corporate press. You can guess which one is excluded.

Roughly half of the world still lives on less than $2.50 per day. Around one quarter of people live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day. UNICEF estimates 24,000 children under the age of five die each and every day because of poverty. “Every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of 5.” And, in many countries, poverty is getting worse.

Education certainly has a role in the fight against poverty, and it’s important that one learns, say, basic chemistry. (Malala was sitting in chemistry class when she was informed she had won the Nobel Prize.) But learning basic chemistry does not provide billions of impoverished people with food, clean water, and healthcare. That takes material, collective action.

Malala understands how poverty creates and perpetuates the very social and political ills against which she is fighting. She continuously stresses the importance of not just spreading education, but of directly combating poverty. Yet these calls fall on the selectively deaf ears of the Western media.

The press picks and chooses which of Malala’s messages are amplified—and which are silenced. It can hardly get enough of the activist’s insistence on the importance of “the philosophy of nonviolence … learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.” The Western intelligentsia positively salivates upon hearing such messages. It matters not that Gandhi was a virulent racist who defended Hitler and imperial Japan, or that Mother Teresa had ties to Central and South American dictators. Citing the [url= “Saint]]“Saint of the Status Quo”[/url] and the “Mirror of Bourgeois Guilt” as influences is a surefire way to reach (that void in) the Western ruling class’ heart.

Interestingly, many of the same people lauding the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her advocacy of nonviolence also happily cheered on the obscene violence of the bloody US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The utter antinomy (and hypocrisy) does not strike them. After all, it has always been much more useful to advocate that individuals and small groups (particularly oppressed ones) adopt a philosophy of nonviolence, not hegemons and states.

As much as it accentuates Malala’s thoughts on education and nonviolence, nonetheless, what the US corporate media never mentions is the side of Malala it doesn’t like, the side of Malala that doesn’t serve but rather challenges Western imperialist interests, the side of Malala that overtly opposes not just US drone strikes but capitalism itself.


On 11 October 2013, Malala met with Obama in the Oval office. The press could hardly have lauded the president more for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet the 16-year-old activist, and for bringing his family with him. What went much less reported was that, at this meeting, Malala warned that US drone strikes are “fueling terrorism.” Obama ignored her (presumably mumbling something like “Sorry, but I have to drone strike your home/neighbors/friends cuz freedom”), and the White House left the comment out of its official statement.

In recalling the incident Malala said she “expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.” Again, no peep from the Obama administration—who, presumably, given its supposed investment in fighting terrorism, would not be interested in spreading it further.

Just a few weeks after this meeting, Nabila Rehman visited the White House to testify before Congress. Her story did not inundate the US media—it is much less favorable. The eight-year-old Pakistani was out in a field picking okra when her grandmother was eviscerated, right before her eyes, by a US drone strike. Seven children were also wounded, including family members. Given such a horrific report, you’d think the US government would express interest in learning from it, as to make sure random civilians are not again slaughtered by bombs falling from microscopic dots in the sky. Yet only five (out of 430) Congressional representatives attended the hearing.

Nabila’s brother Zubair, a 13-year-old who was injured in the US drone attack, told the five congress people decent enough to face the truth, “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey.” The echoes of the teen’s heart-wrenching words in that almost-empty chamber still resonate loudly today, while Obama’s drone war rages on.

Murtaza Hussein exposed the obvious duplicity of the US exploiting one Pakistani tragedy and ignoring another, writing “Unlike Malala Yousafzai, Nabila Rehman did not receive a welcoming greeting in Washington DC.” He notes that the Rehman family’s story was so dreadful that the translator burst into tears. The US government, however, “made it a point to snub this family and ignore the tragedy it had caused to them.”

“Symbolic of the utter contempt in which the government holds the people it claims to be liberating,” Hussein adds, “while the Rehmans recounted their plight, Barack Obama was spending the same time meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.” Clearly stoking the very same military-industrial complex that creates the predator drones that have murdered and injured thousands of innocent civilians is, for the President of the United States, a much higher priority than meeting the actual victims of what can only correctly be referred to as state terrorism.


At this time last year, while the story of Malala frequented US newspapers (and while that of Rehman was almost nowhere to be found), I wrote a brief piece titled “Malala Yousafzai, Spivak, Abu-Lughod, and the White Savior Complex.” It remains just as accurate today as it was then.

I noted that, Gayatri Spivak, in her classic article “Can The Subaltern Speak?“, explained that colonialist powers justify their draconian, parasitic rule with the belief that their “White men are saving brown women from brown men.” In her well-known essay [url= “Do]]“Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,”[/url] Lila Abu-Lughod situated Spivak’s thesis in a contemporary setting, explaining how the US’ imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was justified with the exact same argument–Bush and his overwhelmingly white administration, far-right leaders who had consistently worked against women’s rights in their own country, now desperate to “save” Afghan women from Afghan men.

Journalist Assed Baig published a column in the Huffington Post, titled “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex,” in which he explored how this racist phenomenon is still alive and well, detailing the repugnant ways in which the West, continuing in this paternalist, colonialist “white man’s burden” tradition, has exploited Malala Yousafzai’s amazing strength and bravery to support its interests.

One of the things that has consistently been absent of even these discussions, however, as countless parties shape the heroine’s story to serve their respective interests, is that Malala herself is well aware of this manipulation. In a statement released on 13 October 2013, she defiantly declared that she is not a “Western puppet.”

When discussing the way in which the neocolonialist West exploits and manipulates the trials and tribulations of those working against oppressor groups and forces, for justice and liberation, one should be careful to establish that this is not done to them unwittingly. We are dealing with agents, with individuals who understand the implications of their actions and change them accordingly. To forget this fact is, in a less overt way, to uphold the very paternalist, neocolonialist strictures we seek to destroy.

As Spivak reminds us, the subaltern indeed speaks—and not only speaks but resists oppressors. Articulated a bit differently, Arundhati Roy insisted “There’s really no such thing as ‘the voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

The attempt to deliberately silence Malala is not only evident in the way the US corporate media ignores her criticism of US drones; even more insidious is its complete disregard for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s politics.

In March 2013, Malala sent a message to the 32nd congress of Pakistani Marxists (the biggest of such meetings in the country’s history). Her statement read:

“First of all I’d like to thank The Struggle and the IMT [International Marxist Tendency] for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism. I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It’s important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren’t we doing it ourselves?

“I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”

This is the Malala the Western corporate media doesn’t like to quote. This is the Malala whose politics do not fit neatly into the US’ neocolonialist, cookie-cutter frame of presentation. This is the Malala who recognizes that true liberation will take more than just education, that it will take the establishment of not just bourgeois political “democracy,” but of economic democracy, of socialism.

Malala does not hide her socialist sympathies. “Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation,” she counsels.

When the courageous activist speaks of the importance of education and nonviolence, the West shouts her words loudly from the media mountaintops. When that same activist criticizes predator drones and, that most sacrosanct entity of all, capitalism, the silence is deafening.

Only the distinctive buzzing of US killer drones can be heard, watching overhead, bombing over heads, protecting empire and “freedom.”

Ben Norton is an artist and activist. His website can be found at This article was previously published by [url=]]Counterpunch[/url].



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The naked class politics of Ebola

James Robb


Imperialist responses to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa have featured high rhetoric and fear-mongering. It is these same forces that are responsible for the plunder of Africa that exposes the continent to epidemics. In contrast, Cuba has shown outstanding internationalist solidarity.

Just as a glass prism differentiates sunlight into its component colours, corresponding to the different wavelengths, the Ebola crisis ravaging three West African countries has produced three distinct responses, corresponding to the three principal classes of capitalist society.

Ebola is a disease caused by a virus, that is to say, a natural phenomenon. But that is only a small part of the story. Ebola is also an epidemic, and the causes and conditions of the epidemic are social, economic, and political rather than natural. Outside of these social and economic conditions, the disease would have been contained or even eliminated long before now. The Ebola catastrophe is as much a product of the global capitalist crisis as are the carnage in Syria and Iraq, the housing shortage in New Zealand, and racist cop murders in the United States, and the solution to it is just as much a question of the class struggle.

For four centuries West Africa was plundered of its human resources, in the form of the slave trade. Entire kingdoms and cultures were shackled to the hunger of the European powers for slaves, others were ground to dust by the incessant slave raiding. Alongside this came the plunder of the region’s natural resources. The lands along the Gulf of Guinea were called the Grain Coast, Ivory Coast, Gold Coast and Slave Coast – countries named not for the peoples who inhabited them but the commodities which they supplied to the conquering powers. (Côte d’Ivoire retains the name to this day, though its great elephant herds have been reduced to a tiny remnant). Whatever railways, roads and infrastructure the colonial powers built were for the purpose of speeding the extraction of these commodities.

Through the surge of freedom struggles following the Second World War, these countries threw off the shackles of colonial political rule – and in the process produced some of the finest thinkers and fighters the world has ever known. But the economic exploitation didn’t let up for a minute. Nigerian oil, Liberian rubber, Ivorian cocoa, Guinean bauxite still flowed to markets in the former colonial powers, principally France, Britain, and the United States* (and more recently, to China and India) at rock-bottom prices dictated by the buyer.

To the extent that modern industry has developed, such as the oil industry in Nigeria, it has been at a colossal environmental and human cost. The Niger River delta, a rainforest, wetland and mangrove area with exceptionally high biodiversity, where Nigeria’s oil industry is centred, has been degraded by decades of easily preventable oil spills, the drinking water, farmland, fisheries of its thirty million people poisoned.

The three countries at the centre of the Ebola epidemic are among the most impoverished in the world. The permanent legacy of centuries of uninterrupted plunder is chronic and widespread malnutrition, dirt roads, poor or non-existent sanitation, unreliable or non-existent electric power, and one doctor per 100,000 inhabitants. These are the conditions in which an Ebola outbreak becomes an epidemic. ‘Before the outbreak, Liberia’s only lab capable of testing blood for highly infectious diseases was the Liberian Institute on Biomedical Research—a compound of World War II-era buildings and rusted cages that used to house chimpanzee test subjects. The bat-infested facility could only process 40 blood specimens a day and the electricity only worked intermittently,’ the Wall Street Journal reported. ‘Bomi’s Liberia Government Hospital hasn’t had a working X-ray machine since the machine’s processor ‘blew up’ two years ago. The hospital had to shut for a month after its first Ebola case appeared in June.’

However, Ebola does not present a major threat to the continued extraction of Africa’s natural wealth. Thus, the bourgeois response to the epidemic has been notable for its numb indifference to the death and suffering, and its consequent economic dislocations.

For several months after the existence of Ebola was confirmed in the three countries of West Africa, the world bourgeoisie did nothing to assist them to combat the disease and prevent it from spreading. On the contrary, their first actions were to withdraw such minimal assistance schemes that were operating. In July the United States withdrew all its Peace Corps volunteers from the three countries, including those engaged in health education programmes - at the very time when health education programmes were urgently needed.

The burden of providing trained medical personnel was left to a handful of charities, especially Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).

The Australian government publicly announced their refusal to send medical personnel into the region. ‘We aren’t going to send Australian doctors and nurses into harm’s way without being absolutely confident that all of the risks are being properly managed. And at the moment we cannot be confident that that is the case,’ Prime Minister Tony Abbot said. The government of Israel took a similar stance.

In August British Airways suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone against the protests of those governments. Christopher Stokes, director of Médecins Sans Frontières in Brussels, added: ‘Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.’

The bourgeois response became a lot noisier when the first cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the imperialist countries, but the isolationist character of the response remained the same: protecting those unaffected at the expense of those most affected or directly threatened by the epidemic.

Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who developed symptoms in the US six days after arriving from Liberia, was treated as a hostile vector of contagion rather than a human being in need of treatment. Dallas County prosecutor publicly discussed laying criminal charges against Duncan if he should survive. The prosecutor’s spokesperson Debbie Denmon said, ‘If he ends up being on his deathbed, it would be inhumane to file charges,’ she said. ‘It’s a delicate situation.’ Duncan later died.

Under increasing pressure to be seen to be doing something, some imperialist governments began announcing aid packages, mostly limited to money and equipment, and chiding each other for not doing enough. US President Barack Obama declared it to be a ‘security crisis’ – not a health crisis – and promised troops, making it clear they would stay well away from any person who might be infected with the disease. One month later, not one of the 17 special tent-based treatment centres promised by the US is yet operational.

By mid-October, with the crisis growing daily, only a tiny proportion of the money and equipment promised had been delivered. Médecins Sans Frontières spokesperson Christopher Stokes said it was ‘ridiculous’ that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries. MSF runs about 700 out of the 1,000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the BBC. Above all, it was trained medical personnel that was needed – labour – and the bourgeoisie, while it commands vast resources of labour in capitalist industry, came up well short of the need in that regard. ‘Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,’ Dr Margaret Chan, director-general at the World Health Organization, said last month. ‘Human resources are clearly our most important need.’

If the bourgeois response to the Ebola crisis has been one of indifference, the response of the petty-bourgeoisie has been marked by panic and unscientific speculation. The petty-bourgeoisie is a dependent class, beholden to the big bourgeoisie for its privileges, yet in constant fear of being cast down into the working class, and hence wracked by insecurities.

Panic in the face of this threat has been consciously whipped up in big-business press coverage and statements by the authorities. For example, Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN's Ebola mission, said in early October that ‘there is a chance the deadly virus could mutate to become infectious through the air.’

Such claims have no scientific foundation. While viruses do evolve and mutate, no human virus has ever been known to change its mode of transmission. Alarmist predictions and speculations such as this are an attempt to frighten the bourgeoisie into taking action on the epidemic.

Having lost any connection to verifiable fact, the natural extension of such speculations is into the realm of conspiracy theories. The Liberian Daily Observer newspaper ran an article by Liberian-American academic Dr Cyril Broderick claiming that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was deliberately initiated by US military medical researchers who were experimenting on the virus as a possible biological weapon.

In another speculation that wraps several fears into one, Forbes Magazine reported Al Shimkus, a Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, as saying that ‘the Islamic State may already be thinking of using Ebola as a low-tech weapon of bio-terror’, raising the fear that IS members might infect themselves and then deliberately spread the disease to others.

Broderick’s speculation is not totally implausible. The US military and public health authorities, including the Centre for Disease Control which is prominently involved in the Ebola response, have a proven record of carrying out clinical trials and medical experiments on unknowing human subjects, especially Black people, including one where people in Guatemala were deliberately infected with syphilis without their knowledge. The poisonous legacy of these government crimes has not been forgotten, nor should it ever be. Broderick’s conspiracy theory rests on the fully justified distrust of these institutions, which runs deepest among people of African descent.

But none of these speculations and conspiracy theories is backed up by any verifiable evidence; they remain purely speculative and, like all speculations, essentially idle. By focusing attention on the question ‘what if,’ they become yet another obstacle to facing the known facts of the situation, the urgent question of what is.

The meeting-point of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois responses to the Ebola crisis, where inaction masquerading as ‘taking action’ combines with anti-scientific irrationalism, must undoubtedly be the policies adopted by the US and UK to carry out body-temperature screening at the airport for passengers arriving from West Africa. Given the nature of the Ebola condition, the fact that symptoms can take up to 21 days after the date of infection to appear, and then strike rapidly and severely, such border checks could not possibly prevent more than a tiny fraction of infected travellers from crossing a border. At the same time, they will inevitably ‘catch’ great numbers of people with body temperatures raised for other reasons, thereby diverting resources further from where they are needed. David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the screening was a complete waste of time.”

The working class has only its labour to contribute, yet that labour is the key to solving the crisis. The proletarian response to the Ebola crisis is exemplified by the unselfish actions of the West African health workers, who are carrying out the socially necessary tasks of caring for the patients, collecting and burying bodies, and educating the population in prevention and containment measures. They do this despite inadequate safety equipment, serious threats to their own health, inadequate pay, and despite sometimes being ostracised in their own communities. The shortages of medical personnel are being overcome by dozens of volunteers.

A Guardian report on the ‘Ebola burial boys’ of Sierra Leone describes the situation: ‘One morning, residents in Kailahun [Sierra Leone] woke up to find their only bank closed. Those with cars fled. Life did slowly pick up again, but a state of emergency in July shut down schools. Soldiers poured in to quarantine entire communities and, in these lush farming hills, trade slowed to a trickle’.

In desperation, 20 young men signed up for the burial teams, each paid $100 (£61) a month for the task. ‘Hunger is killing more people than Ebola,’ said Abraham Kamara, 21, a fellow digger. They work to rigorous standards enforced by the Red Cross, but pay a heavy price.

‘When I'm passing, people I know say, 'don't come near me'!’ Jusson said. He looked skyward for a moment before continuing: ‘I try to explain to them. If we don't volunteer to do this, there'll be nobody to bury the dead bodies because all of us will be infected.’

The proletariat is an international class; its watchword is solidarity. Solidarity differs from aid. Solidarity means tying one’s fate to that of the people you are aiding. Given the real personal dangers to the health of those caring for Ebola patients, no matter how careful they are, this distinction is crucial to understanding the different international responses. Solidarity and isolationism are opposites.

In stark contrast to the response of the imperialist world has been the outstanding solidarity offered by the one country where the working class hold state power: Cuba. When the call went out for volunteer health workers to go to West Africa, fifteen thousand experienced health workers stepped forward, living proof of Che Guevara’s statement: ‘to be a revolutionary doctor, there must first be a revolution.’ This is in a country of 11 million people, under extreme economic pressure from the US blockade, a country which already has 50,000 health workers serving overseas in 66 countries.

103 nurses and 62 doctors selected from among the 15,000 arrived in Sierra Leone in early October, a further 296 will go to Guinea and Liberia shortly. The Cuban government has indicated its willingness to send still more personnel, provided there is enough funding and infrastructure to support them.

This commitment has many precedents. The Cuban people – a large proportion of who are descended from African slaves – made a similar commitment to Africa by sending volunteers to defend newly-independent Angola from attack by apartheid South Africa in 1975. (Recently declassified documents have revealed that the US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, was so incensed by this that he drew up plans to ‘smash Cuba’ with airstrikes in response.)

Nelson Mandela said of Cuba’s action in Angola, ‘It was in prison when I first heard of the massive assistance that the Cuban internationalist forces provided to the people of Angola, on such a scale that one hesitated to believe; when the Angolans came under combined attack of South African, CIA-financed FNLA, mercenary, UNITA, and Zairean troops in 1975.’

‘We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.’

‘We know also that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind.’

Asked about the dangers involved in volunteering to join the medical mission in Sierra Leone, Julio César Gómez Ramírez, a nurse who is going to West Africa with the brigade said, ‘I’m not afraid. We’ve been taught to help others. Like many of my compañeros, I participated in the war in Angola, and we risked our lives there. This isn’t more difficult.’

On several occasions during this crisis the health workers in Liberia, Nigeria, and elsewhere have engaged in strikes to demand adequate safety protection while they carry out their perilous tasks, and to demand payment of unpaid wages and adequate compensation for the dangers involved in their work. These struggles are an essential part of advancing the fight against the disease.

A lesson from history is relevant here. A hundred years ago and more, tuberculosis was a killer disease afflicting workers in the advanced capitalist countries in Europe and elsewhere. It is commonly believed that the scourge of tuberculosis was overcome (at least in the imperialist countries) by the development of antibiotic vaccines and cures. This is false. Long before the antibiotics were widely used, death rates from tuberculosis had been steadily decreasing. By the time the antibiotics were widely used in the post-World-War-2 world, 90% of the decline in tuberculosis mortality had already been achieved. The reduction had taken place as a consequence of working class struggles for decent housing and higher wages – and consequently, better nutrition.

Today the working class is rapidly growing and strengthening in West Africa. Powered chiefly by oil exploitation in Nigeria, Ghana, and offshore developments in several regions along the Gulf of Guinea including Liberia, a process of social transformation is underway. This is bringing into being the class that has the power to drive back Ebola and all the social and economic conditions that gave rise to it.

* Footnote: The United States is a former colonial power in West Africa. The state of Liberia was founded as a settler-colony for former slaves who wanted to return to Africa. The ‘Americos’ in Liberia formed a distinct social layer in Liberia, who held, up to 1980, a monopoly on political power. Liberia still has strong commercial ties with the United States today.

* James Robb, a communist at large living in New Zealand, blogs at convincing reasons.

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Tourism, white privilege and colonial mentality in East Africa

Samira Sawlani


White persons are revered in East Africa. Local black people go to ridiculous lengths to please whites, thereby promoting the baseless concept of white supremacy. It is a practice deeply rooted in colonialism.

We walked into the police station in Uganda. My white British friend who wanted to file a complaint had asked me to accompany her. The three officers behind the desk stood up immediately, one giving her his chair, the other rushing to take notes and the third, with a great deal of concern on his face asked her what had happened.

Sat in the waiting area were a pregnant woman and an elderly gentleman, both were black Ugandans. The lady had been waiting over two hours for the police to attend to her while the gentleman had spoken to them regarding his issue and been told to wait. He’d been waiting for almost three hours. My friend on the other hand was dealt with immediately and within thirty minutes all procedures had been carried out and her complaint both logged and addressed.

Two years prior to this I was stood in a queue at a bank in Uganda, ahead of me was a white gentleman and in front of him was an elderly Ugandan lady. The Bank Manager came out and bypassed the lady at the front and made a beeline to the white man. I stood, absolutely baffled by both her actions and the collective silence of everyone in the bank as if this was a normal occurrence. As I called out to the manager and pointed out that the Ugandan lady was first, she ignored me and continued on with her tasks.

This was to be the first of many situations I witnessed of what I believe can be defined as ‘white privilege’ in East Africa, a right earned through the continued domination of white supremacy.

Two weeks ago the media reported that the Kenyan Government have offered a free holiday to the family of a 15 year old American tourist who was ‘harassed by a police officer’ because he mistook her for terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite. If it was a Somali family holidaying in Kenya and their son had been mistaken for Abu Ubaidah the new leader of Al-Shabaab would the same courtesy have been offered? I highly doubt it.

Why is this? Because the American tourist was white and thus she along with numerous others enjoy a certain privilege earned by the colour of her skin.

The concept of white privilege is associated with predominantly white societies such as the United States of America and Great Britain. In these parts of the world it manifests in a variety of ways, from being as simple as wanting to buy a pair of ‘nude shoes’ and finding that ‘nude‘ in the fashion industry equates to that which matches white skin, to forming the foundation of a society where young black men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown can be killed based upon appearance and justice to their loved ones denied.

These examples may not always apply to countries like Kenya and Uganda where the population is predominantly black. However borne in this part of the world are types of phenomena which fall into this category, particularly as they often create some form of disadvantage for the local population.

Like the example of the bank mentioned above, it is in shops, restaurants, bars and other social spaces where white privilege often instigated by people of colour can be seen. Almost every person in Kenya that I interviewed cited the example of how security guards at shopping centres will often not frisk or search through the belongings of white mall goers yet non white visitors are always subject to a thorough check. Is this in itself not reinforcing the view that white people cannot be involved in criminal activity or terror and are therefore exempt from the process? This difference in attitude and perception adds to the dehumanising narrative, which has for centuries formed the basis of how black people have been viewed. This stance which assumes the black individual is inherently prone to partake in crime is then juxtaposed with the inherent civility and innocence associated with the white population.

In Uganda 29-year-old lawyer Lisa Mbabazi complains about staff at food courts, restaurants and bars choosing to serve white customers first, leaving people like her feeling like a second class citizen. In her opinion this practice upholds a system inherited from colonialism which “characterises black people as being inferior and thus not worthy of the same level of services and rights enjoyed by their white counterparts.”

A waitress in Kampala argued against this accusation telling me “It is just us being hospitable to our foreign guests”. I challenged her on this asking if the same treatment was given to black tourists from other parts of Africa or visitors from Asia and her response was a baffled silence. Nationality may bring some form of privileges however it comes second to race. A friend who is a Black British passport holder and her two children were stood in the immigration queue at Julius Nyerere International Airport, Tanzania. As she stepped forward to the counter she was stopped as the immigration officer pointed to the white couple behind her to come forward first, this illustrated that ultimately ‘passport privilege’ is beaten by that which is earned through skin colour.

A bar owner in Nairobi states that his reasoning for prioritising white guests is because they tip better and spend more than their black counterparts. He argued that white people in East Africa enjoy a certain level of privilege because they as foreigners or descendants of foreigners are considered to have money which provides them with multiple benefits as a result of race and wealth. Thus leading me to conclude that the benefits gained by the white population be they expats, tourists or residents is a result of the way they are perceived, a concept inherited from our colonial past.

The continued dominance of white superiority in this part of the world or indeed other former colonies such as India and Pakistan is not only evident in the treatment of the white population but also in the covert and overt ways in which we aspire to replicate and meet standards of the white western world. We want our buildings and cities to look like New York and London, a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken opens in Kampala and it becomes cause for celebration despite the fact that local chicken and chips shops have been around for decades.

Similarly eurocentric ideals of beauty, foreign products and all that is approved by those Western Countries where a white population is dominant, continue to be held in high esteem. As said by a Ugandan branding expert “We love Japanese electronics, however this is also due to the fact that these brands have obtained Western approval.”

In her novel ‘Looking for Transwonderland’ Noo Saro Wiwa speaks to a young Nigerian student who tells her “People don’t want to read books by Nigerians living in Nigeria. If Kaine Agary had published ‘yellow-yellow’ in the US, Nigerians would have taken an interest in it.” This is largely because of the power of Western validation which has also resulted in not enough value being given by society to local products, services and talent. In an interview Nigerian musician Femi Kuti said; “An African will prefer to be called John-Philip. If you said your name was Chukwu Emeka Afongkudong they will say you are from the village. You are backward. How can you have such a name? We really look down on our culture and heritage instead of being proud of it.”

The elite in East Africa often choose to travel to Europe or America for healthcare services. For example in 2003 President Museveni of Uganda spent thousands of pounds to fly his daughter to Germany where she gave birth. 2013 World Bank figures show the infant mortality rate (no. of infants dying before the age of 1) per 1000 live births stood at 3 in Germany while in the same year the figure was 44 in Uganda. Though President Museveni cited ‘security reasons’ for his decision we see once again that for the rich and the famous only healthcare facilities in the white western world will do.

The greatest irony in this matter is the fact that in recent times leaders in both Kenya and Uganda have partaken in Anti-Western rhetoric and gained much support from the populace for this. In Kenya, where both the President and Deputy President are facing trial at the International Criminal Court many have called for the case to be terminated and accused the ICC of being racist and a puppet of the West. While in Uganda strong support for the Anti-Homosexuality law was seen as making a statement to Europe and America.

So why over 50 years after decolonisation does white supremacy and white privilege continue to manifest in East Africa? Why are phrases such as ‘African timing’ or ‘African standards’ used in a derogatory fashion?

Some would choose to take a historical perspective on this, and quote the likes of theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi for who ‘a salient effect of colonization is the internalization of the inferior perception that is imposed on him/her by the colonizer.’ In Black Skin, White Mask Fanon writes “If there is an inferiority complex, it is the outcome of a double process; -primarily, economic; -subsequently, the internalization – or, better, the epidermalization – of this inferiority.”

These incidents, that way of thinking, that perception many possess fall under the heading of ‘colonial mentality’ which Kwame Gyekye describes; ‘Colonial rule infects the subjected people with a certain mental outlook, a certain pattern of thinking. This pattern of thinking has come to be dubbed “colonial mentality” and to be regarded as a negative intellectual attribute…. resulting in the tendency to regard foreign cultural products as of much greater worth than those of the indigenous culture.’ (Gyekye 1997:234)

IIMG_3185f we are to go with this school of thought then the argument is that part of the hangover from colonialism is the belief both enforced and internalised that white people and culture continue to hold some form of superiority. In her paper ‘Skin Bleaching, Self Hatred and Colonial Mentality’ Dr Yaba Blay attributes part of the responsibility for this to the media and society as a whole “to have light skin means that you may have White (or other) ancestry. And if in this context, Whiteness has been historically projected as inherently better than Blackness, to have White blood automatically renders one better than average. While at the surface level, this type of thinking can absolutely be plugged into the “colonial mentality” definition, we cannot treat skin bleachers as if they exist within an ahistoric, apolitical vacuum. They are members of a larger society that has, and continues to privilege Whiteness.”

And so we frequently witness and experience in parts of East Africa, as in many other parts of the world this internalised colonial mentality which crossed from an appreciation of all that is white and western to becoming an aspiration, a standard on and by which judgements are made.

The colonialists were known to oppress their subjects and in exercising this mentality we ourselves give birth to an internalised oppression, one which many do not even realise they are partaking in.

* Samira Sawlani is a writer and journalist specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa, in particular Kenya, Uganda and Somalia. She also writes fiction and human interest stories. A holder of an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London she has previously worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat and as an International Election Observer for the Kenyan elections in 2013. Aside from journalism she has also worked in the emergency humanitarian relief and refugee care sector. This article was first published by Media Diversified.



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The pain - and surprising triumphs - of being transgender in Africa: A moving Kenyan story

Audrey Mbugua


Early this month, a young Kenyan man who has been fighting for the right to be a woman, won an important victory. A court ordered the national examinations council to issue her with a new certificate with a female name and without a male gender marker. Here is her incredible story, in her own words:

My name is Audrey Mbugua.

I was born thirty years ago in Kenya and assigned the male gender. After birth, I was named Andrew Mbugua. I was then named Eddy, though the name Eddy was never entered into my official documents.

At the age of nineteen, I began being mentally conflicted because of my male gender. I just hated the male gender role and identity, and I didn’t know what to do.

I thought it was something everyone went through. I plaited my hair and my parents went berserk. Indeed they flatly refused to pay for my university fees because I was ‘gay’. So I shaved my hair and thought with time things would clear in my head and the confusion would go away. However, the confusion and conflict never went away,it only gripped me further and never let go.

I thought maybe I was gay, but then after introspection I knew that was not the case. Then I thought I was losing my mind and I sought help from a medical officer in our university clinic. She reached out for her Bible and started reading some verses. My first breakthrough came in my Sexual and Reproductive Health class during my third year in the university. The lecturer, a Dr. Abok, wrote the words ‘gender identity disorder’ on the white board and explained what it was. Everyone turned at the back of the class where I was seated and a roar of laughter shook the class. The lecturer asked what was happening and they pointed at me saying ‘that is Barbara’ ,apparently my classmates used to call me Barbara.


I went to the library, internet and my mother’s medical book, and within three months time, I had a trove of documents about gender identity disorders. Eventually I decided I would be whom I really was inside.

My hope was that I would not develop facial hair, and my voice would not break further. I didn’t have money for hormone therapy (estrogen shots) and I knew it would be impossible to get them from the university’s clinic. I found a cheaper ‘treatment’,contraceptive pills.

I only managed to receive the proper treatment after I got the diagnosis in a government hospital. Though the hospital discontinued my treatment (at the age of 25 years, they asked me to get parental consent), they had treated my bouts of depression and I was back on my two feet.

In 2008, I graduated from the university and begun looking for a job. It was hard not because I had poor graduation grades, but because some of my certificates indicated I was male and my name was Andrew Mbugua.

I thought of a plan to get myself out of the rut but the lawyers I met and requested to help change my name said it was impossible. They even doubted those academic testimonials were mine.

In 2010 I wrote to the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC), Kenya’s national examining body, and they told me they could change the names and gender mark in the certificates of people who were undergoing, or who had undergone gender change. Additionally, they gave me a list of the documents they needed to effect that change. In August 2012, I visited their offices and handed over my application for change of details (deed poll, affidavit and gazette notice). The officer who received me requested me to prove that the certificate I handed over to her was mine. I told her that was the reason I wanted KNEC to change some details, because I was not getting jobs due to that very same issue. She told me they would not change the details because they suspected it wasn’t my certificate. I requested her to consult their legal department and went home.


After eight days, KNEC informed me that they would not change the names and gender mark in my certificate. I wrote to them in March 2013 (this time I copied the CEO of the KNEC) requesting them to reconsider my application. The officer who had handled my application earlier requested me to resend it (apparently she threw away my application documents). I resent the documents, and they never got back to me. I discussed the matter with a human rights advocate and he wrote to the KNEC. The KNEC wrote back to him and flatly refused to change the name and gender mark in the certificate, claiming it might lead to fraud.

In early May 2013, I filed a court case seeking orders to have the KNEC change the name, and for them to remove the gender mark in the certificate. The news of a man who became a woman, and who then sued the government to be re-issued another certificate spread like wild fire. We had anticipated reactions from across society, but not at the levels we were witnessing.

There was huge condemnation from a minority of Kenyans but support from Kenyans from all walks. It was tough, especially with a group of hardline Christian lawyers requesting the case to be thrown out because ‘it would lead to legalisation of homosexuality and lesbianism’.


Additionally, there were all the trolls in social sites trying to bully me, and the people who were supporting the transgender cause. It became apparent the KNEC were not taking the case seriously, instead of responding to our court documents they were responding to media articles. The viciousness of the haters was well demonstrated when someone wrote some profanities and threats on my gate.

Having been in transgender activism for some time, I knew transphobia and even physical harm of transgender activists, was a reality rather than a mere concern.

I chose to soldier on since it was more honourable to die trying to solve the real challenges of transgender people rather than of hunger, suicide and other leading causes of deaths in the transgender community. I shook off the frustration and prepared myself for the worst.

It didn’t take long for something to happen. The Non-government organization (NGO) Coordination Board refused to register an organisation I founded, Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA). I implored them but they refused. And, this is after they took the equivalent of $350 from me as registration fee. Additionally, the Attorney General and the Kenya’s Ombudsman wrote to me informing me that public hospitals in Kenya were not obligated to provide me sex reassignment surgery.


The final blow was the hostility some mainstream NGOs directed towards me.

Years ago, we had approached these NGOs for legal assistance but they arrogantly turned the transgender community away.

My sense too was that many in the NGOs sector don’t want solutions for what is ailing Africa, they want to enjoy huge salaries and allowances for protecting minorities such as transgender people. I felt a massive weight on my shoulders and I was fast running out of gas.

But then I remembered the days I slept hungry because I was unemployed and my parents no longer supported me, because they blamed me for not getting a job. I remembered when I tried to kill myself because I did not see a way out of the woods. I recalled the days I used to hide from my peers, because I didn’t want them to see the failure that I was. I remembered the nasty comments and humiliation I suffered in boardrooms when I went for job interviews.

These memories and experiences told me there was only one thing I could do, develop a thick skin and a very tough mind. Suddenly the storm blew over and everything calmed down. I begun to see through the fog and fought on. Some of the people who were resisting the work we were doing reached out to us. I saw the levels of confidence in the transgender community rising.


In July of 2014, the court ordered the NGO Coordination Board to register our organisation and to pay us the legal fees we used in the case. And on October 7, 2014 the KNEC was ordered to reissue me with a new secondary school certificate with my name Audrey Mbugua Ithibu, and with no gender mark.

I knew then that we had threaded the eye of the needle. Two days later, I held that judgment in my hand.

I know some people might appeal the ruling, and they are entitled to, but I remain more confident than ever that we have the capability to overcome any hurdle that lies ahead of us.

I am aware that there are thousands of others out there who are going through hard times, because their environments are not sensitive to the challenges transgender people face. I am aware that there are parents who do not know how to handle gender confusion in their children, and wish they could beat these children to bring them back to their senses.


There is nothing very complex I can say. Only that I would encourage transgender people and their families to be part of the solution. To seek information from progressive health workers. Parents need to stop demoralising their transgender children. I remember my father at one time asking me; ‘How can I walk with you? What will I tell people? ‘ It was the most hurtful thing he ever said to me.

Yet, in some ways, I understand where he was coming from. I don’t know whether I would have handled the matter better if I had been him. He didn’t have any information about gender identity disorders, and I never shared with my parents much about what was happening to me.

Also, there must be an expiry date on blaming parents for their mistakes. I have made mistakes. I have regrets about some of the things I did to cope with my problems. I drowned myself in alcohol and smoking. I was hostile to people because I was suspicious and thought they meant to harm me. I disrespected myself and self-harmed myself with negative PEERS (people who encourage errors, rudeness and stupidity). I became promiscuous and resentful. The transphobes were treating me like garbage, and I did it to myself ten times worse. I regret it, because I know I had a choice of making better decisions and I didn’t. I do not regret being a transgender person, it is not a choice I made. I had no control over it.

Luckily for me, though it seemed like eternity, it was only two years and I managed to salvage much of what I lost. I reconciled with my family and myself and this is why I am doing this work. I believe transgender people should not be thrown in the dustbin. There is redemption out there but we have to search for it and hold on to hope when self-doubt, transphobia and hatred encounter us. We need to learn to shake off the frustrations that we face and have faith in our abilities. We do not only have to be the poster children of human rights violations in Africa.

* This article was first published by the Mail & Guardian.

Advocacy & campaigns

Battling the ‘Monsanto law’ in Ghana

Chris Walker


Ghana’s proposed seed laws are the latest manifestation of a worldwide push by corporations to takeover food systems. Currently, 70 percent of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farmers. But in recent decades they have lost land, markets and livelihoods to corporate investors.

This week, farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament is due to return from its summer break and first thing on the agenda is the government’s Plant Breeders Bill. The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on. Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable. Yet in recent months, farmers, campaigners, trade unions and faith groups have taken to the streets in the cities of Accra, Tamale and beyond. They warn that the bill would hand control of the country’s seeds to giant corporations like Monsanto. They fear the laws would allow corporations to exploit farmers, capture profit and push GM seeds in to the country’s food system. It’s why campaigners have dubbed the bill ‘the Monsanto Law’.

“The Plant Breeders Bill aims to replace traditional varieties of seeds with uniform commercial varieties and increase the dependency of smallholders on commercial varieties” says the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen. “This system aims to compel farmers to purchase seeds for every planting season.” Across the world, farmers have got in to dangerous levels of debt at the hands of companies who have come to control their seed supply. “The economic impact on the lives of farmers will be disastrous” says Duke Tagoe of Food Sovereignty Ghana. “The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed control the entire food chain”.

Ghana’s proposed seed laws are the latest manifestation of a worldwide push by corporations to takeover food systems. Currently, 70% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farmers. But in recent decades they have lost land, markets and livelihoods to corporate investors. In 2013, the World Bank announced that “Africa represents the ‘last frontier’ in global food and agricultural markets”. Now governments including the UK and US are using aid and the promise of corporate investment through benevolent-sounding programmes like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to leverage pro-corporate policy reforms in Africa. Giant agribusinesses including Unilever, Coca Cola, Monsanto and Syngenta are already lining up for the spoils.

As part of this, Ghana, along with other African states, signed up to ‘plant variety protection’ (PVP) laws promoted under the highly-criticised International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991. Backing from corporate investors, aid donors, the World Bank, and IMF has ensured that PVP has been on the agenda of governments worldwide. Yet farmers are fighting back. The resistance by Ghana’s seed laws follows mobilisations in Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere in Africa against the international UPOV regime. Earlier this year, small-scale farmers across Europe successfully halted EU-wide plant variety protection laws. In September, Guatemalan farmers, indigenous groups, and women’s organisations won a victory when their congress repealed the country’s own Monsanto law after ten days of widespread street protests.

The battle over control of seeds is key to the worldwide movement for food sovereignty: a vision for sustainable food grown for and by the communities that rely on it, not corporations. The onset of industrial agriculture has led to a seventy per cent decrease in agricultural biodiversity worldwide. That’s bad news for small-scale farmers needing to adapt to environmental and market changes. Yet farmers the world are reclaiming their seeds and to stand up for resilient, productive livelihoods in the face of corporate control.

If you’re in the UK you can email your MP to contact International Development Secretary Justine Greening about the ‘Monsanto law’ in Ghana.

* Chris Walker is a researcher on WDM’s Food Sovereignty campaign. This article was first published by New Internationalist

OSRN condemns illegal activities of oil prospection in the Saharawi offshore


This latest move by the occupying power Morocco is in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Western Sahara, which is Non-Self-Governing Territory.

Following the signature by Glencore Xstrata (an Oil company registered in Switzerland) with Morocco of two agreements of Oil prospection in the region of “foum Oughnit” South-West the Capital of the occupied Western Sahara, the OSNR strongly condemns the conclusion of such an illegal and immoral agreement that violates the international law relative to Non-Self-Governing and colonized countries still in the UN List of Decolonisation.

OSNR recalls in this respect the legal opinion of the International Court of Justice of 1975, which clearly postulated that Morocco has no sovereignty over the occupied Western Sahara. It also recalls that the only status Morocco has in this territory is that of an “Occupying Power” according to the UN General Assembly’s resolution 34/39 of 1979.

OSNR also recalls the Legal Opinion of Mr. hans Corell, the Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs issued following the Security Council’s request in 29 January 2002, concluding that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.”

OSNR further recalls the latest report of the UN Secretary General issued last April 2014 which stated that: “In the light of increased interest in the natural resources of Western Sahara, it is timely to call upon all relevant actors to “recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount”, in accordance with Chapter XI, Article 73 of the Charter”.

On another hand, OSNR draws Glencore Xstrata attention to the Saharawi Republic’s Law (SADR) n: 03/2009, issued in January 21st 2009 related to the Demarcation of SADR’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). SADR as it is well known is a full-fledged Founding member of the African Union also recognized by countries from Latin America and Asia. This mentioned Law indicates that the Saharawi EEZ extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) offshore the coastal expansion of the internationally recognized borders of Western Sahara according to the relevant International Law. Therefore, any economic activity undertaken within this area without the formal consent and agreement of the Saharawi Republic’s relevant authorities is a blatant violation of the international law, a violation of the Saharawi people’s right over their resources and sovereignty over their land, and a shameful support to the force of occupation in its colonization of the territory.

OSNR would finally like to recall Glencore Xstrata that the Saharawi people didn’t determine the final political status of their country yet and are still maintained under tight control by the Moroccan authorities, suffering from oppression human rights violations and military occupation. Meanwhile, half of this nation is living since 1975 in the Saharawi refugee camps, in the South-West Algeria, thanks to international humanitarian aid, and totally deprived of any sort of benefits from their natural resources. Hence, “by exploiting Saharawi resources Glencore Xstrata would simply undertake a blatant act of vandalism and theft of Saharawi resources in complicity with a violent force of occupation, the Moroccan”.

For further contact:
Malainin Mohamed (Lakhal)
- Freelance Journalist and Translator
- Member of the Saharawi Natural Resource Watch (SNRW)

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