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‘Counter-penetration’ and Ali A. Mazrui

Mazrui turned to him to lead in prayers to open the occasion. He protested, arguing that such an honour was reserved for an elder. In…

Mazrui turned to him to lead in prayers to open the occasion. He protested, arguing that such an honour was reserved for an elder. In any case, he confessed that he wished to hit a popular beer joint in Port of Prince after the sober ritual was over. Mazrui asked why he wished to exclude him from the planned fun. The famous man’s modesty, simplicity and ease in joking with a person probably as old as his last son, jolted the Nigerian in Taju.
As son of the Grand Imam of Mombasa, Mazrui knew the link between simplicity and winning followership. While at Makerere, he built an invisible fan club by answering letters from school children who wrote to ask him for money to buy writing pens. His secretary wrote back on official Makerere University paper, a symbol sure to make the recipient a local hero. Moreover, he signed it with his full academic credentials, ending with ‘’D.Phil (Oxon)’’. His energy went for envisioned fans of readers of his numerous writings and charmed listeners of his lectures. He would shrug off my warnings against cannibalizing earlier articles by new ones.
His relationship with Makerere University had a peculiar history.  In the 1950s, Makerere University College was the sole apex of learning for products of secondary schools from Zanzibar, Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda. Entrants became local royalties with First Class grade in Cambridge School Certificate.   Alliance High School and Maseno Secondary School sent entrants with scores of 6 to 7 distinctions in a total of 8 subject areas. Entrants from Mombasa were cheered off by admiring crowds seeing them climb a train ‘’travelling abroad’’ – to Uganda. Young Mazrui failed to make this journey in three attempts. Entering Manchester University with a General Certificate of Education, he  earned a First Class degree. It was from a ‘’red-brick’’ university which lacked the high status of Ox-Bridge. A Masters degree from Columbia University opened entry to Oxford, a tag that would guarantee him a job at Makerere.  It had not welcomed him as a student; he would enter through its academic roof. His rapid rise to professorship, at the age of 35, incited protests from American and British academic staff. He was, after all, still working on his doctoral thesis for Oxford. Professor Bethel Ogot later claimed that Makerere’s vice chancellor, Yusuf Lule, was bullied into trading that award for a grant from the British government.
Mazrui’s celebrity status increased the irritability of his public lectures in President Milton Obote’s circle. His accusations against Obote’s hero, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, of being a dictator; of Mwalimu Nyerere in Tanzania as a prophet of socialism – which, to him, blocked men of genius as ‘’ gifted individuals’’ who spearhead development – were unpleasant. Incidences of intimidation by government officials of editors of Transition magazine won Mazrui friends among supporters of the Democratic Party; the monarchy in Buganda, Bunyoro and Ankole. He began to thrive on it, labelling the Baganda flatteringly as ‘’the Japanese of East Africa’’ in matters of development and modernization. Paradoxically, this tangle increasingly drew Mazrui into favourable publications about Obote.
 As a top member of security chiefs, Amin was privy to suspicions that Mazrui was an ally of British and American interests hostile to Obote’s government. On Amin’s first meeting with assembled Makerere  staff soon after he seized power, Mazrui sought to exploit a prevalent view that Amin was so empty-headed that he made policy pronouncement either on a whim that seized him or was suggested to him. He urged Amin to reverse a policy unpopular with expatriate staff.  In retribution, military trucks began parking in front of Mazrui’s home daily at sun set. With an alarmed family, he migrated to the United States.
Mazrui had talked to me about what he labelled as ‘’counter-penetration’’; a phallic imagery of Africa systematically exporting cultural and moral values to Europe and the Americas.  Idi Amin’s hostile push became a catalyst. He was already a policy advisor to the World Bank, the IMF, and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Meeting him in Washington D.C.in 2000 aroused an enthusiastic invitation to attend a meeting of leaders of Muslim associations in North America.   His contacts inside high policy halls must have contributed to Islam Americana’s greatest symbolic visibility, namely: breaking a Ramadan Fast inside the White House.  
As a theorist, Mazrui marshalled knowledge of histories of global civilizations for promoting Islam and Africa’s interests. In partnership with distinguished historians Ade Ajayi (of Nigeria), Bethuel Ogot (of Kenya), and Joseph Ki-Zerbo (of Bukina Faso), they bubbled out Mushood Abiola’s project for achieving reparations for crimes of slavery by the Americas and Europe. He advocated for black Africa’s nuclear bomb. He had pioneered an Institute for Diplomacy at Makerere with a view to crafting Africa’s contribution to codes of global diplomacy.
Professor Archie Mafeje, the late South African anthropologist – who in 1965 had lectured briefly at Makerere–bitterly accused Mazrui of advocating for the re-colonisation of Africa. Mazrui had argued that powerful states of Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa must put out fires of conflict all around the continent by putting offenders under what Jamaicans refer to as ‘’heavy manners’’.  He left Africa angry with her culturally crippled leaders.

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