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Prof. Mahmood Mamdani Birthday: Principled Scholar who Stood Tall Against Oppressive Authority


KIU, Western Campus – Prof. Mahmood Mamdani’s appointment as KIU Chancellor last year was met with universal acceptance from all corners of the academic world.

The positive reception of Prof. Mamdani’s appointment was a tell-tale sign of the respect and admiration he commands within scholarly circles and it also signified the serious intent of Kampala International University to continue its ascendance to the apex of the academic world.

The Harvard University Ph.D. graduate is a scholar who is cut from a cloth that only a handful of others can lay claim to have come from.

After finding his way to the United States as one of the beneficiaries of a scholarship program titled “The Kennedy Airlift” – an independence gift to Uganda - he quickly climbed the academic ladder - first at the University of Pittsburgh, which he joined in 1963 and then the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he 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 with his thesis titled Politics and Class Formation in Uganda. 

His first run-in with authority came when he was at Harvard. He was among the many students in the northern US who made the bus journey south to Birmingham, Alabama organized 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, who 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 the previous year.

In 1972, Mamdani returned to Uganda to do his doctoral research while doubling as a teaching assistant at Makerere University. However, he was expelled by then president Idi Amin because he was of Indian ethnicity, forcing him to flee to a refugee camp in the United Kingdom.

He found himself stateless in 1984 after his Ugandan citizenship was revoked by President Milton Obote as retaliation for Prof. Mamdani’s scathing criticism of the president’s policies at a conference in Dakar, Senegal. 

In 1996, the multi-award-winning author was appointed as the inaugural holder of the AC Jordan chair of African studies at the University of Cape Town but left after having disagreements with the administration on his draft syllabus of a foundation course on Africa called "Problematizing Africa"

Despite being victimized for his academic principles, Prof. Mamdani has been recognized by the wider academic world for his contributions to academia.

In 2008, in an open online poll, Mamdani was voted 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.

Apart from being KIU Chancellor, Prof. Mamdani 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 as well as the Professor of Anthropology, Political Science and African Studies at Columbia University.

The 75-year old has authored 13 major works and won multiple awards like the Herskovitz Prize in 1997 and the University of Cape Town Book Award in 1999 - both awards for his book Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Colonialism

He also won the GDS Eminent Scholar Award from the International Studies Association in 1999, the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award, the Scholar of the Year at the 2nd Annual African Diaspora Awards for his immense contribution to African Scholarship in 2012 and the Ugandan Diaspora Award in 2012.

He has also been awarded honorary degrees from the Universities of Johannesburg, Addis Ababa and KwaZulu-Natal.

In July 2017, Mamdani was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.

We wish you a very happy birthday Prof. Mamdani!

Information from Wikipedia was used in this report.

Picture credit: PML Daily