Renowned Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui died Monday morning in Binghamton, New York, in the United States, after several months of illness.
President Kenyatta, Cord leader Raila Odinga, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and retired President Mwai Kibaki were among national leaders to pay tribute and send their condolences to the family and friends of Prof Mazrui, who was 81.
“Death has robbed us of one of Kenya’s greatest scholars,” Mr Kenyatta said. He described Prof Mazrui as a towering academician “whose intellectual contributions played a major role in shaping African scholarship.”
Mr Kibaki said Prof Mazrui was committed to the advancement of progressive thought and action for a better world for all.
“The late has undoubtedly set the bar for upcoming academics and political thinkers, not only in Kenya but also in Africa and the rest of the world,” Mr Kibaki said.
As President, Mr Kibaki appointed Prof Mazrui Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology and Agriculture (JKUAT) in 2003.
Prof Mazrui held the post until 2009 when he resigned.
Mr Odinga, who sent his tribute from Mozambique, said: “We take solace in the knowledge that in passing on, Mazrui leaves behind a body of significant works that will forever stand to his credit and assure him of a lasting place of honour among the world’s greatest scholars particularly of African history and politics.”
JKUAT Vice-Chancellor Mabel Imbuga said the university was privileged to be associated with the illustrious son of Kenya who served as the university’s third chancellor for six years.
She said that in his farewell speech at the university, Prof Mazrui told students that he had only two opportunities to serve his country. One was as a clerk at then Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education, now Technical University of Mombasa and the other as chancellor at JKUAT.
Chief Justice Mutunga described Prof Mazrui as a kind and humane man and a person to emulate.
The Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, also paid tribute to the scholar who, he said, was “a great thinker and phenomenal interlocutor for Africa and the developing world.”
Mazrui, a professor of history and political science, was born in Mombasa on February 24, 1933.
At the time of his death, he was the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the Albert Schweitzer Institute of Humanities.
He also held numerous senior teaching posts, including at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He also held a string of academic positions across five continents.
Relatives gathered at his Mombasa Old Town home on Monday to pay tribute to the scholar and make funeral arrangements.
Former Chief Kadhi Sheikh Kassim Khamad, who is related to the scholar, said arrangements to bring the body home from the US will start tomorrow. The body is expected in Kenya either on Thursday or Friday with the burial set for the weekend.
The don will be buried at the 900-year-old Mazrui family graveyard near Fort Jesus in accordance with his Will.
Relatives described Prof Mazrui as an academic giant and a global scholar with extraordinary determination.
Although he was controversial, they said, he was also influential and likeable in equal measure.
He often rubbed both the Daniel arap Moi and Kibaki administrations the wrong way due to his liberal and independent mindedness.
No fascinating ideas
Mazrui considered himself a product of three civilisations: “My native tongue is Swahili, but I was educated in the West in English, and was called to prayer in Arabic.”
The convergence of Africanity, Islam, and the Western influence formed the basis of the Triple Heritage Model, which permeates his works. Prof Mazrui wrote more than 35 books.
The academic also had his share of run-ins with other scholars.
One of them is the controversial South Sudanese author and poet, Taban lo Liyong, who has been quoted as saying: “But Prof Mazrui wrote very little against the misdeeds of his native Kenya. Perhaps there were no fascinating ideas emanating therefrom?”
Another was the Prof William Ochieng’, who also served as a permanent secretary in President Moi’s administration. He once said that although Prof Mazrui could write better English than any white man that he (Ochieng’) had read in his youth, “at the end of the day there wasn’t anything much that he wrote that lasts.”
Among the scholars who paid tribute to Prof Mazrui was the Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute, Prof Peter Kagwanja. He said: “Prof Mazrui was an intellectual who opened up new horizons in creating knowledge globally. As a manager of knowledge, a good orator and scholar, he will be missed and not be forgotten.”
Prof Mazrui is survived by a wife, five sons and an adopted daughter.