Mazrui obtained his B.A. with Distinction from Manchester University in Great Britain in 1960, his M.A. from Columbia University in New York in 1961, and his doctorate (DPhil) from Oxford University (Nuffield College) in 1966.
Upon completing his education at Oxford University, Mazrui joined the faculty of Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda), where he served as head of the Department of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He served at Makerere University until 1973, when he was forced into exile by Idi Amin. In 1974, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan as professor and later was appointed the Director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (1978-1981). In 1989, he was appointed to the faculty of Binghamton University, State University of New York as the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS).
Mazrui's research interests include African politics, international political culture, political Islam and North-South relations. He is author or co-author of more than twenty books. Mazrui has also published hundreds of articles in major scholastic journals and for public media. He has also served on the editorial boards of more than twenty international scholarly journals.
He first rose to prominence as a critic of some of the accepted orthodoxies of African intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. He was critical of to African socialism and all strains of Marxism. He argued that communism was a Western import just as unsuited for the African condition as the earlier colonial attempts to install European type governments. He argued that a revised liberalism could help the continent and described himself as a proponent of a unique ideology of African liberalism.
At the same time he was a prominent critic of the current world order. He believed the current capitalist system was deeply exploitative of Africa, and that the West rarely if ever lived up to their liberal ideals. He has opposed Western interventions in the developing world, such as the Iraq War. He has also long been a critic of Israel's policies, being one of the first to try and link the treatment of Palestinians with South Africa's apartheid.
Especially in recent years, Mazrui has also become a well known commentator on Islam and Islamism. While utterly rejecting violence and terrorism Mazrui has praised some of the anti-imperialist sentiment that plays an important role in modern Islamic fundamentalism. He has also argued that sharia law is not incompatible with democracy.
In addition to his written work, Dr. Mazrui was also the creator of the television series The Africans: A Triple Heritage, which was jointly produced by the BBC and the Public Broadcasting Service (WETA, Washington) in association with the Nigerian Television Authority. A book by the same title was jointly published by BBC Publications and Little, Brown and Company.
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