Africa has lost two strong independent voices in the past week: Efua Dorkenoo, the Ghanaian women’s rights activist, and Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan academic and author.
Dorkenoo left her home in Cape Coast and went to work as a nurse in London, where she saw the agony of a woman who had been infibulated giving birth in the mid-1970s. This prompted her to launch a campaign against Female Genital Mutilation. After she relentlessly petitioned officials, Britain passed The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act in 1985, and most Western and many other governments followed suit. Although the World Health Organisation hired Dorkenoo as a director of its Women’s Health Department, it was not until 2012 that the United Nations codified FGM as a human rights violation.
Mazrui, a polymath academician with an encyclopaedic knowledge of African politics and culture, also battled entrenched interests. A professor at Uganda’s Makerere University in the early 1970s, he was asked by the military ruler Idi Amin Dada to become his chief advisor on foreign affairs. Mazrui replied publicly with a searing condemnation of Amin’s brutal rule, then left to take up a teaching post at Ann Arbor University, Michigan, United States. His radical, groundbreaking, nine-part television documentary series, 'The Africans', co-funded by the US Public Broadcasting Service and the BBC, sparked criticism and praise for its condemnation of both colonialism and Marxism. More recently, Mazrui remarked to a friend that his life had been 'one long debate'.