Prof Ali Mazrui was known for making penetrating comparisons of seemingly unrelated individuals, things and groups. It is fair to say that he was also a great classifier in general; nothing was unclassifiable for Mazrui whether it was racism, sexism, Africanity or slavery.
[Opening remarks prepared for Ali Mazrui International Symposium, organized by Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, New York, USA, and Twaweza Communications, Nairobi, Kenya. The Symposium took place in Nairobi, Kenya from 15 to 17 July 2016.]
Let me begin by acknowledging the presence here of the late Professor Ali A. Mazrui’s relatives and family members and thank them for being with us. This is apart from Mazrui’s distinguished friends, his colleagues or his former students, groups that include both his critics and his admirers. Of course, an individual could be both a critic and an admirer of Mazrui at the same time or on different occasions. Thank you all for coming.
So, for some reasons, Mazrui used to associate different events and processes with numbers in general, and number three in particular. Sometimes even the topics of his lectures came in “triads.” Mazrui's flagship concept was, of course, the Triple Heritage.
In keeping with Mazrui's tradition of using the number three to tell stories, please indulge me also to make a brief comparative reference to three professors and three universities to tell a story briefly about the relationship between Professor Mazrui and myself. It is an intellectual relationship. Of the three professors, two are Kenyans, Peter Anyang Nyong’o and Ali A. Mazrui himself, and the other is, Ethiopian, Negussay Ayele. The three universities in question are Makerere, Addis Ababa and Binghamton. Nyong’o was Mazrui's student at Makerere University; I was Nyong’o's student at Addis Ababa University. Nyong’o and I met in my country, Ethiopia. Mazrui and I met neither in my country nor in his. We met in Binghamton, New York, in the United States.
Ayele was Mazrui's colleague at Binghamton University in the 1990s and Nyong’o’s colleague at Addis Ababa University in the 1980s. I also happened to be Ayele’s and Nyong’o’s student at Addis Ababa University in the 1980s. That Nyong’o, a Kenyan, was teaching an Ethiopian student in Addis Ababa would be, in Mazrui’s phraseology, horizontal inter-penetration. Ayele’s teaching activities in Binghamton represented what Mazrui would call vertical counter-penetration.
In Binghamton, New York, Ayele was a scholar turned diplomat turned scholar. He was Ethiopia’s ambassador to the Scandinavian countries between his stints at Addis Ababa and Binghamton universities. Is Nyong’o a scholar turned activist turned scholar or, shall we simply say, he combined scholarship with activism?
I am not biologically related to Mazrui, as you know. But could I claim an intellectual lineage to Mazrui not just by virtue of my being the longest-serving associate director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies which he created at Binghamton University but, and even more importantly, because I was taught by Ayele, Mazrui's former colleague, and by Nyong’o, Mazrui's former student?
On Ayele's side of my family line, I would be Mazrui's intellectual nephew; on the Nyong’o’s part of my relationship, I would be Mazrui's intellectual grandson. Apart from the mystical relationship between Mazrui and I, which I just outlined, I had also worked with Mazrui like Ayele and studied under him like Nyong’o. Moreover, I coordinated the logistics when, in April 2012, Mazrui invited Nyong’o to give a public lecture in Binghamton. What an amazing and happy convergence of coincidences!
It was in keeping with the Mazrui tradition that I was using the number three in my remarks today, as I already indicated. And also if, in the process, I said more about myself than was probably necessary, please note, that, too is consistent with the semi-autobiographical style of Mazrui’s discourse.
In addition to his triple tropes of triads, Mazrui was known for making penetrating comparisons of seemingly unrelated individuals, things, and groups. In this vein, he compared, for instance, Soldier Idi Amin and Boxer Mohammed Ali; the African state and a political refugee; and the Bolsheviks and the Bantu. My own comparison of Professors Negussay Ayele, Peter Anyang Nyong’o and Ali Mazrui is less penetrating for sure, but the comparative exercise itself is in the tradition of Ali Mazrui.
Although Mazrui loved number three in a special way, it is fair to say that he was also a great classifier in general; nothing was unclassifiable for Mazrui whether it was racism, sexism, Africanity or slavery. It is true, too, that his typologies had occasionally brought him into collision course with some of his colleagues who were less impressed by his colorful typologies.
I trust our deliberations in this symposium will critically reflect on Mazrui’s numerologies, comparisons, typologies, among other things, also in the spirit of intellectual pluralism and openness.
That said, I wish to welcome everyone, again, to the Ali Mazrui International Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, and I do so on behalf of Binghamton University and on my own behalf.
Never before have I seen so many experts about Ali Mazrui gathered in the same place at the same time.
Let me close by expressing my appreciation to Dr. Kimani Njogu, for his hard work, and others, for their material and moral support. I know it has been quite painstaking and time-consuming to put this together.
* Seifudein Adem is Associate Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies & Associate Research Professor of Political Science, Binghamton University, New York, USA. [email protected]