Prof Ochieng’, let’s debate or shut up
By Ali Mazrui
I was intrigued by Prof William Ochieng’ Opondo’s article about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Professor Ali Mazrui in the Saturday Standard on March 18. Ochieng’ seems to have decided to be as uncritical about Museveni as he once was about former President Daniel arap Moi, throughout his elaborate tenure. Contrary to Ochieng’s style of “speaking flattery to power”, I have done my best to “speak truth to power” in Africa and in the Western world. As it happens, I am an admirer of Museveni. He restored stability to most of Uganda faster than most of us expected. He also restored transparency and relative openness to Ugandan politics and has sustained stability in that country for about two decades now. I also support Museveni’s policy of empowering women. But just as I said to Moi in 1992 that 15 years was too long a tenure for a Head of State to remain in office, so I say to Museveni that his 20 years in power were already too long without adding another half-decade. Ochieng’ should not pretend that he knows Uganda or the Baganda better than I do. I lived in Uganda for 10 years, partly among the Baganda. It is a sign that Ochieng’ knows very little about the Baganda if he is not aware about their nationalistic defensiveness towards Luganda. I have never wanted Kiswahili imposed upon the Baganda, but former President, the late Idi Amin’s soldiers sometimes attempted to do just that. Although Kiswahili is my mother tongue, I have never wanted it promoted by military force. Most Ugandans would regard it as absurd to hear that Ochieng’ cares more about Makerere University than I do. I have repeatedly acknowledged Makerere as the cradle of my professorial career and have continued to have many friends on that campus. In Kenya I once challenged Ochieng’ to a public debate on academic freedom at either Maseno or the University of Nairobi. He did not have the self-confidence to take me on face-to-face. And he has never bothered to take the initiative or own up to the invitation to an intellectual discourse. Would he now be prepared to take me on at Makerere University if Makerere’s Vice-Chancellor and President Museveni would permit two Kenyans to debate Ugandan issues on Ugandan soil? I am available if such a debate can be arranged, but what about Ochieng’? Will he pick up the gauntlet? Ochieng’ claims that he does not suffer form “Mazruiphobia”. He claims: “I neither hate, love, fear, nor admire Mazrui.” Yet no East African has written more anti-Mazrui newspaper articles than Prof Ochieng’. Even when the United States’ Anti-Terrorism Task Force detained and interrogated me at Miami Airport in 2003, the only writer who celebrated my ordeal was Prof William Ochieng’. I received many international messages of concern, sympathy or outrage about the Miami Airport interrogation. But Ochieng’ gloated in the Kenya press over my discomfiture. If that was not an example of “Mazruiphobia”, I am not sure what is. Incidentally, the terms Mazruiphobia (strong anti-Mazruism) and Mazruiphilia (strong pro-Mazruism) were not coined by me. They were developed and analysed by the late Southern Sudanese scholar, Dr Dunstan M Wai, who died last year after many years of service as a scholar and as a distinguished official of the World Bank. He published a major paper in 1998 entitled, `Mazruiphilia, Mazruiphobia: Democracy, Governance and Development’. Wai tried to explain how certain African intellectuals became magnets for either admiration or hostility in the vortex of clash of ideas. I deeply regret that Ochieng’ qualifies as a “Mazruiphobe”. His handling of issues about me point to that. I share Ochieng’s scepticism about my being included by Foreign Policy journal (Washington, DC) among the 100 top public intellectuals in the world today. But Ochieng’ is wrong in assuming that the list of the top public intellectuals did not include Chinese, Indian, Singaporean and diverse major thinkers from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. The list of Foreign Policy and Prospect (Canada) was wide-ranging, but I agree that it was not wide-ranging enough. I have no chance of converting Prof Ochieng’ from Mazruiphobia into Mazruiphilia, and I do not intend to. But instead of advising me to leave President Museveni alone, should he not advise himself to leave Mazrui alone from now on?