Academic journal article African Studies Review

A Better Intellectual Community Is Possible: Dialogues with Ali A. Mazrui

Academic journal article African Studies Review

A Better Intellectual Community Is Possible: Dialogues with Ali A. Mazrui

Article excerpt


To probe the changing roles and responsibilities of intellectuals, this article explores the world of Ali Mazrui, one of Africa's best-known scholars. Mazrui's lifelong work spans the entire postcolonial period, and offers a prism for viewing African studies. Methodologically, this intellectual ethnography stages dialogues between Mazrui and other leading thinkers who have examined the nexus of knowledge and power. More specifically, Mazrui engages in controversies on complex issues such as Afrocentrism, religiosity, gender, and youth. Debates with his critics address fundamental questions facing Africa: grappling with social transformation, expanding policy space, and building ladders of development.

Résumé: Afin d'enquêter sur l'évolution des rôles et des responsabilités des intellectuels, cet article explore le monde de Ali Mazrui, un des théoriciens les plus connus de l'Afrique. Les écrits de Mazrui s'étendent sur l'ensemble de la période postcoloniale, et offrent un prisme d'observation sur les études africaines. Sur le plan méthodologique, cette ethnographie intellectuelle met en scène des dialogues entre Mazrui et d'autres grands penseurs qui ont examiné le lien entre la connaissance et le pouvoir. Plus précisément, Mazrui s'engage dans des controverses sur des questions complexes telles que l'afro-centrisme, la religiosité, le sexe, et lajeunesse. Les débats avec ses critiques évoquent des questions fondamentales qui concernent l'Afrique: la gestion de la transformation sociale, l'élargissement de l'espace politique, et la construction des étapes du développement.

Key Words: Identity; intellectual; Pan-Africanism; postcolonial theory

In our arduous times, what are the changing roles of intellectuals? What are their responsibilities to society? To examine these issues in the African context, let us peer into the world of Ali Mazrui, one of the continent's bestknown scholars. He has had great influence on the public, political authorities, and generations of youth to whom civilizado nal values are transmitted. This process is how societies perpetuate themselves and adapt to changing conditions. At issue are social reproduction and the analytical foundations of democratic deliberations, or, conversely, repressive tendencies. These legacies shape the common heritage of a society and safeguard the expressive freedom of its institutions. The stakes in the nexus of knowledge and power are therefore quite high, as evident in the case of Mazrui's lifelong work.

The approach in this article is intellectual ethnography. It examines one scholar's transcripts, his creativity, his use of analogy, and the power of storytelling. The discussion that follows is meant to offer a prism, albeit a partial one, for viewing African studies.

In probing Mazrui's conceptual makeup, let us not confuse substance and style. I salute his substance, applaud his panache, and will issue critical challenges. I will proceed with respect and admiration, but know that Mazrui would give me a failing mark if I were to shirk my academic responsibility and try to worm out of scholarly debate, which, after all, is our stock-in-trade, our métier.

The exchange here is staged as a series of imaginary interlocutions with four theorists who have addressed the roles of intellectuals in society: Antonio Gramsci, Max Weber, Edward Said, and Thandika Mkandawire. This platform will give Mazrui, an artisan skilled in repartee, an opportunity to ply his craft. He thrives on criticism; it elicits the best in him as he envisages a better intellectual community.

One caveat: if I have overlooked a crucial reading for this assignment, I plead guilty on the ground that Mazrui's output is massive; the sheer quantity would practically fill a library. And his creative energies are exceptional. Having read or reread several Mazrui scripts, I have sought to do my homework, and hope that the professor will tread gingerly on any errors of omission, though not commission. …

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