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Host of PBS's most controversial series would do it all again

By Arthur Unger / December 1, 1986



New York

After nine weeks of polemics, the wrangling rages on about ``The Africans.'' Tomorrow (9-10 p.m, check local listings) and throughout the week, PBS's most controversial series of the decade airs its final and, perhaps, most controversial segment, subtitled ``Global Africa.'' Here are some of the highly opinionated statements viewers will hear, accompanied by illustrative film footage, in this commentary by African scholar Ali A. Mazrui:

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``When Muammar Qaddafi [Libya] came to power in 1969, he used oil as an opportunity for the greater glory of Africa as well as Islam.

``Two supreme ideals seem to have inspired Quaddafi's adventures - to turn Africans and Arabs into masters of their own destiny, and to transform them into major actors on the world stage. ...It's not enough just to stop being pawns in the games of the powerful; we must become global players in our own right.''

``For 300 years, whites have dominated the southern tip of the continent. Now their days of privilege are coming to an end.... The most humiliated blacks in the 20th century are likely to become the most privileged in the 21st.

``...Blacks will inherit the most advanced nuclear infrastructure on the continent. Out of the ashes of apartheid will emerge a black-ruled republic with convincing nuclear credentials.''

Despite the wide-ranging disagreement with many of Dr. Mazrui's opinions, this visiting professor at the University of Michigan and Cornell tells the Monitor that, if he could do it all over, he wouldn't change any of his bold opinions. ``Perhaps I might change things like space allotted to topics, but no change in the politics of the series.''

He believes that there was a certain amount of racism in some of the reactions to the series. ``There seems to have been some racial distaste for such a series being shown in prime time with a black man talking about white men in a manner not always complimentary. But, then, if it had been done by a white man he might have been denounced for racial treason.''

Mazrui takes back none of his comments about Qaddafi. ``I am only sorry that I never really fully developed my feelings about this [Reagan] administration, which subsidizes the Contras, who use terrorist methods, at the same time pointing a finger at Qaddafi subsidizing absolutely similar acts of violence by the IRA and Palestinians.

Has ``The Africans'' been a good experience for Mazrui? ``Yes. Because I discovered another side to America. I had this notion that all Americans were fine communicators but bad listeners. They wear psychological hearing aids, which they turn off when there is a message from the outside.

``Well, through this experience I have learned there is another kind of American who listens. So many have given me standing ovations at lectures and have written to tell me that, while they may not agree with everything I say, they find it stimulating to listen to my point of view.''