The death of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem has shocked many across the continent. As a pan-Africanist, he embodied the role of the African intellectuals in formulating the policy agenda of the continent, development process.
We learn from all articles written about him following his tragic demise that many have celebrated his life and works. He was a fine intellectual- one of the few Africans to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
He mainly operated as non-state actor trying to advance the cause of Africa’s progress. By reading his articles one felt in touch with him even when you never knew him personally. Many admired him and felt they knew him simply by reading his great work.
Many Rhodes scholars have gone on to become very influential. These include Bill Clinton, his former labor secretary Robert Reich, Suzan Rice the American ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Mutambara leader of the MDC breakaway faction and former presidential candidate in Zimbabwe and many other notables.
From this experience, we note that many intellectuals go on to assume leadership positions in countries like the USA, but this is rarely the case in African countries.
Many leading African intellectuals have remained holed up in Ivory towers, and those who participate in the murky waters of politics have been bruised by the rough terrain that is the contest for power.
Some like Muhamed lala Embalo (the former Kumba Yalla) who ruled Guinea Bissau was easily deposed by the military. In a nutshell, the scholars of Africa have largely remained on the periphery -as critics of strong man regimes.
More often than not, they are ignored, and end up relocating to the west as professors in universities. It is important to note that most of the people in the intelligentsia have a role to play in the running of state affairs and hence contributing to national development.
We have learnt from many articles written about him that Tajudeen was on a first name basis with many leaders on the continent. So we can deduce that he was to some leaders an informal advisor of sorts.
Many progressive leaders surround themselves with leading minds in their countries. Obama himself a law professor, has surrounded himself with leading scholars like Larry Summers a former Harvard University President who is now his economic advisor.
In the United States, scholars seek to influence public policy beyond being actors in the state system. Many form think tanks and foundations which give them a platform to articulate their ideas and hence influence public policy.
Many foundations and institutes like Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Chatham House, American Enterprise Institute and others do have a lot of influence in the west.
Some are liberal, others conservative or even libertarian. All these tap into the intellectual circles to advance the national debate on a wide range of issues.
In addition to these are many professional organizations and fraternities that in a way compliment these think tanks or offer alternative view points.
Organizations like the American Political Science Association play a fundamental role in America’s leadership issues as centers of independent thought.
Our own intellectuals in Africa have also sought to promote independent thought through such organizations like Council for the Development off Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA).
This organization has given a platform to leading scholars like Thandika Mmkandawile, Mahmood Mamdani and others to have a broad influence on a wide range of social issues on the continent.
But like most intellectuals in Africa, they have remained at a theoretical level and their influence remains in the elite circles. By engaging leaders at different levels of society, the African intellectual can have more influence in the development process of African countries.
We recall that they played a great role in the decolonization of the continent. They can even play a greater role in the development of the continent by seeking a greater-leadership role in the affairs of their countries.