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Mazrui: `My life is one long debate'

No dashiki for Dr. Ali A. Mazrui. The scholar many African nationalists consider to be the proud spokesman for the ``new Africa'' arrives for an interview at PBS's New York headquarters dressed strictly Ivy League style -- dark suit, white button-down shirt, etc. A professor of political science at the University of Michigan, he has also taught in Nigeria and Uganda.

How does he feel about the controversy still swirling about his TV series ``The Africans''?

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``It was almost to be expected. The whole purpose of PBS going out of its way to get a person with a non-Western point of view was not to repeat what they could have gotten from any competent Western reporter. I raise issues from inside Africa. It is not the African point of view. It would be arrogant to claim that, because there are so many.''

What would he like the series to accomplish?

``I would like the series to be accepted as a medium of education. I hope it will set a precedent for the West, calling upon members of other societies to discuss their own society for Western audiences. Considering the West's power over the rest of the world, the West should be ready to hear something about what the rest of the world thinks about itself. One of my major fears now is that the series will become so controversial that never again will America call upon the third world to explain its own society to Americans. That would be very sad.

``People should have a context when they hear about riots in South Africa or a military coup in Nigeria or drought in Ethiopia. The series is partly an effort to provide a human context for the things Americans hear about on television news every night.''

Dr. Mazrui believes that two African countries will make a strong bid for the leadership of Africa in the next century: ``Black-ruled South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa, when it is ruled by blacks, will help us find additional sense of direction; Nigeria because of its human resources. Hopefully it will have found a better sense of organization than it has at the moment.''

As we parted, I told Dr. Mazrui that, although I disagreed with many of his opinions, I found the ideas challenging.

Dr. Mazrui smiled. ``Good,'' he said, with just the hint of a sigh. ``Many people disagree with me. My life is one long debate.'' -- A.U.

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