Makerere University Professor Mahmood Mamdani Recognized Among Top 50 Global Thinkers

Makerere University Professor Mahmood Mamdani Recognized Among Top 50 Global Thinkers

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By Spy Uganda

Kampala: According to Makerere University Vice-Chancellor, Prof.Barnabas Nawangwe, Professor Mahmood Mamdani has been recognised as one of the top 50 thinkers globally.

”I congratulate Makerere University don Mahmood Mamdani upon his recognition as one of the top 50 thinkers globally. You make Mak proud,” said Nawangwe

Mahmood Mamdani, (born 23 April 1946) is a Ugandan academic author and political commentator. He currently serves as the Chancellor of Kampala International University, Uganda.

He is also the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University and the Professor of Anthropology, Political Science and African Studies at Columbia University.

Mamdani is a third generation Ugandan of Indian ancestry. He was born in Mumbai and grew up in Kampala. Both his parents were born in the neighbouring Tanganyika Territory (present day Tanzania). He was educated at the Government Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Government Primary School in Masaka, K.S.I. Primary School in Kampala, Shimoni and Nakivubo Government Primary Schools in Kampala, and Old Kampala Senior Secondary School.

He received a scholarship along with 26 other Ugandan students to study in the United States. He was part of the 1963 group of the Kennedy Airlift, a scholarship program that brought hundreds of East Africans to universities in the United States and Canada between 1959 and 1963. The scholarships were part of the independence gift that the new nation had received.

He was among the many students in the northern US who made the bus journey south to Birmingham, Alabama organised by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to participate in the civil rights movement. He was jailed during the march and was allowed to make a phone call. Mamdani called the Ugandan Ambassador in Washington, D.C., for assistance. The ambassador asked him why he was “interfering in the internal affairs of a foreign country”, to which he responded by saying that this was not an internal affair but a freedom struggle and that they too had gotten their freedom only last year. Soon after he learnt about Karl Marx’s work from an FBI visit.

He then joined The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and graduated in 1968 with a Master of Arts in political science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy in 1969. He attained his Doctor of Philosophy in government from Harvard University in 1974. His thesis was titled Politics and Class Formation in Uganda.

Mamdani returned to Uganda in early 1972 and joined Makerere University as a teaching assistant at the same time conducting his doctoral research; only to be expelled later that year by Idi Amin due to his ethnicity. He left Uganda for a refugee camp in the United Kingdom in early November just as the three-month deadline was approaching for people of Asian heritage to leave the country.

He left England in mid-1973 after being recruited to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. In Dar es Salaam, he completed writing his thesis and was active with anti-Amin groups. In 1979, he attended the Moshi Conference as an observer and returned to Uganda after Amin was overthrown following the Uganda–Tanzania War as a Frontier Interne of the World Council of Churches. He was posted with the Church of Uganda offices in Mengo and was assigned to research the former regime’s foreign relations. His report was published as a book: Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda.

In 1984, while attending a conference in Dakar, Senegal, he became stateless after his citizenship was withdrawn by the government under Milton Obote due to his criticism of its policies. He returned to Dar es Salaam and was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for the spring semester in 1986. After Obote was deposed for the second time, Mamdani once again returned to Uganda in June 1986. He was the founding director of the Centre for Basic Research (CBR), Uganda’s first research non-governmental organisation from 1987 to 2006.

He was also a visiting professor at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa (January to June in 1993), at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in New Delhi (January to June in 1995) and at Princeton University (1995–96).

In 1996, he was appointed as the inaugural holder of the AC Jordan chair of African studies at the University of Cape Town. He left after having disagreements with the administration on his draft syllabus of a foundation course on Africa called “Problematizing Africa”. This was dubbed the “Mamdani Affair”. From 1998 to 2002, he served as president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa. In December 2001, he gave a speech on “Making Sense of Violence in Postcolonial Africa” at the Nobel Centennial Symposia in Oslo, Norway.

In 2008, in an open online poll, Mamdani was voted as the ninth “top public intellectual” in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (US). His essays have appeared in the London Review of Books, among other journals.

Mamdani specialises in the study of African and international politics, colonialism and post‐colonialism, and the politics of knowledge production. His works explore the intersection between politics and culture, a comparative study of colonialism since 1452, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, the Cold War and the War on Terror, and the history and theory of human rights.

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