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February 6, 2013

Africa, the cradle of the humankind.  Africa, arguably, the place that proved how ‘variety is the spice of life’. Africa, again arguably the richest continent on the planet. But, enslaved, colonized, and demonized for centuries by other fellow human beings. Kipling called it ‘the white mans’ burden’:

Take up the White Man’s burden-
The savage wars of peace-
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Almost a century before of this Kiplingian condescension, though he never been in Africa, Hegel was in a full certitudinally remarked:

[Africa is] the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night.

This post is all about reminding such arrogantly patronizing voices that belong to the dark age, how they’re wrong. This annotated story is a story of Colossus from the ‘land of childhood’. This is the story of Ali Mazrui, an African scholar of everything. This is an introduction to Mazruiana, a school of thought that centers the ‘dark mantle of Night’, — Africa — in the spectrum of discourse. Nota bene this is just a Biographical story, it’s glossing over the works and thoughts of Mazrui.

(Nota bene: this is just a biographical story of Mazrui from what he said about Ethiopia, glossing over his works and his thoughts alike.)

Let’s start from some praises by quoting Seifudein Adem:

[Mazrui] is arguably one of the most original, versatile and productive African thinkers.

Likewise, one of the great public intellectuals in the recent past, the late Edward Said praises, Mazrui as:

 …for the first time in a history dominated by Western representations of Africa, an African was representing himself and Africa before a Western audience, precisely that audience whose society for several hundred years had pillaged, colonized, enslaved Africa.

Mazrui is an African public intellectual, who speaks Africanity in every aspect of his life, so that scholars called his line of thought, Mazruiana. Mazrui looks every development across the globe with an African goggle. Africa was all in his lyrical essays. He sang Africa. He writes Africa.

Should African political parties bear African names?

Africa between the Baobab tree and the Owl of Minerva: A Post-Colonial educational narrative

Who killed Democracy in Africa? Clues of the Past, Concerns of the Future

What’s in a name? European imperialism and the re-naming of Africa

Between the Arab Spring and the African Awakening: An Afro-Arab Renaissance

An Ethiopian perspective of Mazrui is a complex one nonetheless Some say he is an Ethiophobe and for others contend and praise him Ethiophile. Quoting him in length from his book Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa might clarify some clouds in this aspect:

…I was in Ethiopia in December 1973, a few months before the creeping coup started. I was invited to address the student body. An American colleague came to fetch me from my hotel. We arrived at the University. The students turned up not just in their hundreds but in their thousands. The mass of humanity that was there was surprising for a professorial lecture. When I looked behind me my American colleague had disappeared. The students were singing political songs and he had apparently decided discretion was the better part of valour. I ploughed through this mass of humanity, arrived at the front platform. It was one of the loneliest arrivals of my career because there was nobody there to meet me. I was bewildered, wondering what to do next, and then saw somebody else struggling to come across, accompanied by some other. It turned out he was my host—the professor of political science there. When he stood up on the platform to introduce me he was immediately shouted down. The students were insisting that the meeting had to be under their sponsorship, or it could not take place at all. My colleague asked me, ‘What do you think?’. I said, ‘If I were you I would let them preside’. He was worried, presumably about the impact of surrender on university opinion of him, but he did capitulate to the situation. What emerged in the course of that address, after students have taken over the chair and given their speeches, was that these were the most radical African students I had ever addressed. They gave me a fair hearing, listening to me to the end, and after that asked questions deliberately intended to embroil me in their own profound and understandable dissatisfaction with the Ethiopian imperial system as they knew it…This was the most direct and most blunt critique of an African government I had ever heard from students anywhere…

In a stark contrast to this observation, Mazuri ‘The Ethiophobe’ rebukes, ‘the arrogance of Ethiopians’ denying their African identity:

Objectively, Ethiopians were a Black people, but subjectively they were in denial about their Blackness until Emperor Haile Silassie redefined their identity in the twentieth century. Ethiopia’s racial self-denial.

Mazrui’s view on the Ethiopian revolution was very interesting. He makes a plausible comparison with the Russian Revolution:

Although the differences from what happened in Russia were immense, the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 was closer to the Russian Revolution of 1917 than anything else that had happened in Africa. Both revolutions overthrew ancient monarchical institutions; both revolutions confronted the opposition of a hostile external world; both of them had to confront hostile Orthodox Christian churches (The Ethiopia and the Russian national churches are both in the Orthodox tradition); both revolutions were followed by immense internal civil conflict; both revolutions were captured by extremely brutal dictators (Stalin and Mengistu Halile Maryam); and both revolutions finally ended with ethnic fragmentation in the body politic.

Yet again, Mazrui gets interesting in observing the politico-social aspect of Ethiopia vis-a-vis the advent of the incumbent regime to power:

[One] is the taboo of secession from an existing African state in the post-Colonial era—the independence of Eritrea with the full cooperation, if not enthusiastic blessing, of Ethiopia, of which it was once a crucial constituent province. The Eritrea flag was raised in May 1993 at a ceremony at which the President of Ethiopia was among the distinguished guests. This is the taboo of officially sanctioned ‘secession’. [The other] violated taboo is ethnic decentralization by a state which was previously unitary. Having lost Eritrea, the rest of Ethiopia is groping for a federal or confederal constitutional order within which “tribes” would have the kind of ethnic autonomy that African systems of government in the postcolonial era have persistently sought to deny them. This is the taboo of retribalization.

This’s is the Mazrui’s take on Ethiopia, that the accuracy stuns us. He takes almost every African countries with an astounding depth. They said sharing is caring. Let’s wrap-up this annotation sharing some more writings from Mazrui.

Democracy and the Politics of Petroleum

Civilization and the quest for creative synthesis: Between a global Dr. Jekyll and a global Mr. Hyde

Language and the Rule of Law: Convergence and Divergence

The end of the Cold War and the Rise of Democracy?  between Africa and the West

The Bondage of Boundaries

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