PAAP | Prof Mahmood Mamdani: Scholarship as Political Activism

Welcome to our Peeling Away at Patriarchy series, which seeks to contribute to the equality that feminism stands for by letting you know compadres and allies in privilege positions who are contributing to transformation and intersectionality in spatial discourse. We obviously aim at making the spatial links, revealing and sharing discourse so that the development of our situated knowledges can take effect in the spatial form.

To inaugurate our Peeling Away at Patriarchy (PAAP) we are featuring Professor Mahmood Mamdani. An inspirational Ugandan academic, author and critic whose thinking speaks to the intersection between politics and culture with critical explorations reimagining colonial normative entities.

Many of the post-Apartheid generation in South Africa would have likely been introduced to Prof Mamdani’s thinking through conversations with their parents. Mamdani is a fine example of how activism can and does exist in various mediums, and it the collaborative coming together of our particular skills of expertise and strength that give stamina, endurance and value to political activism. When reflecting back to the TB Davie Memorial Lecture in 2017 at UCT, one is reminded of the tenacious life long effort that generations have been working at to dissolve Eurocentric oppressive educational institutionalism towards an empowered situated development of dormant and unimagined African knowledge. For many, this was an introduction to Prof Mamdani. Learning from Mamdani, we are able to reaffirm the urgent need for transformation in the sphere of knowledge production. More importantly, we are reminded of the power that knowledge has, particularly in a world where information is so easily shared and where the product of academia is not so difficult to distribute. The ability to write a PhD, thesis, book or whatever other (validated?) medium it is, and then to publish to an audience is an extremely powerful tool. Recipient audiences inevitably absorb the content, which we produce which affects their thought processes (be it consciously or subconsciously). We are reminded of this presence of this power in moments such as the Mamdani lecture. In a present  time of struggle where Africans continue to depart from colonial instututionalism, lectures such as this, reveal the lived reality of untransformed sites that we- students, professionals, lecturers, professors- all contribute to through following but depend on to remould. Ngugi Wa Thiongo spotted it early, and it is in the recent past few years that we have begun to revisit the literature and thinking of intellectual activists as guidance. These activists remind us of the reality that the greater crime of colonialism was that of colonising and incepting situated thought- the mind. (*** Ngugi). That greater crime was to politicize indigeneity, first as a settler libel against the native, and then as a native self-assertion (Mamdani, Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism, 2001)

So what is the point of this feature?

This PAAP aims at emphasizing that the power of intellectual sharing and acting is of great importance today, and should be practiced with caution. Collectively, as Africans, we have the ability to emancipate our local ways of understanding the world (past, present and future) in various mediums suited to supporting the value of situated knowledge. The aforementioned, all in pursuit of developing to not only breathe freely, but to live and navigate unimagined realities. This speaks directly to the inherent phenomenology that we have as humans, in whatever form we decide it to be. This humanly tendency to phenomenology is contravened through historical injustice and continues to be fettered by oppressive institutions.

In this fast-paced world we find ourselves engulfed in today, it is important to hone in on what we find meaning in, and of course platforms such as this (MA) are often susceptible to impact. We always hope that that impact is of positive relevance in the scientific, practical and policy plethora of communities. Having mentioned this, many questions throw us into the whirlwind of time – which is the basis of “history” and oppression (which dominates history). The idea of the pre-existing determines the landscape in which we can/not function and flourish.

“How do you write the history of those who are not in the record? …It’s a task. We cannot afford to discard or romanticize. Its an analytical task” (Mamdani, Mamdani delivers rousing TB Davie Memorial Lecture, 2017)

And so let us think of our agency and activism. Activism and scholarship are not alternatives. (Mamdani, Mamdani delivers rousing TB Davie Memorial Lecture, 2017) We are in a time where we have the ability to remould these notions that we discuss so often in whatever expertise that may be; MA focusing particularly on the critical dialogue/discourse of intersectional space. We are in a period of great creativity that amplifies in response to political turbulence. The incentives for our creative activity should thus be driven by our passions for transformation, which can be tested through the persuasive popularisation of “being woke”.

“The great periods of creativity – not in publications on CVs – happened in times when everything was up at stake, those of times of political activism.

Now that you are active: READ.”


Mamdani is currently the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research and a Professor of Anthropology, Political Science and African Studies at Colombia University.


  1. Mamdani, M. (2001). Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism. Comparative Studies in Society and History , 43 (4), 651-664.
  2. Mamdani, M. (2017, August 23). Mamdani delivers rousing TB Davie Memorial Lecture. (U. o. Town, Producer) Retrieved February 11, 2018, from Youtube:
  3. Davis, R. (2017, August 23). Mahmood Mamdani: Sixteen years on, UCT’s old nemesis returns to talk decolonisation. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from The Daily Maverick:
  4. Kron, J. (2013, March 23). Mahmood Mamdani – An intellectual leader in African higher education. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from University World News:

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