ALI MAZRUI, SCHOLAR OF AFRICA WHO DIVIDED U.S. AUDIENCES
His family announced the death without specifying a cause.
Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, where Professor Mazrui was born, said at the time of his death that he was “a towering academician whose intellectual contributions played a major role in shaping African scholarship.”
His books and his hundreds of scholarly articles explored topics like African politics, international political culture, political Islam and globalization. He was for many years a professor at the University of Michigan, and since 1989 had held the Albert Schweitzer chair at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Reflecting his habit of provocation, Professor Mazrui wrote an article in 2012, posted on Facebook, accusing Dr. Schweitzer, the revered medical missionary in pre-independence Gabon, of being “a benevolent racist.” He wrote that Dr. Schweitzer had called Africans “primitives” and “savages,” and had treated Africans in a hospital unit that was separate from, and less comfortable than, one for whites.
Professor Mazrui’s courage transcended ideas. When he was a political-science professor in Uganda in the early 1970s, the country’s brutal dictator, Idi Amin, invited him to be his chief adviser on international affairs — “his Kissinger,” Professor Mazrui told The New York Times in 1986. Instead, he publicly criticized Amin and fled Uganda.
“The Africans,” a nine-part series that was originally broadcast by the BBC and later shown on PBS, portrayed Africa as having been defined by the interplay of indigenous, Islamic and Western influences. Professor Mazrui had acquired the perspective by growing up speaking Swahili, practicing Islam and attending an English-speaking school in Mombasa, Kenya.
“My three worlds overlapped,” he said in the interview with The Times.
The series glorified the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, saying he inspired Africans to have a sense of destiny and become actors on the world stage — a stance that set off storms of criticism. In the last episode, Professor Mazrui predicted a “final racial conflict” in South Africa that would end with whites’ shrinking from using nuclear weapons for fear of killing themselves and then being defeated in an armed struggle, ending apartheid. Victorious blacks, he said, would then inherit “the most advanced nuclear infrastructure on the continent,” and nuclear weapons would become a bargaining chip in a worldwide black-white struggle.
He told The Los Angeles Times that he was “uneasy” that the United States and the Soviet Union could start a nuclear war, without Africa having the same capability. “I want black Africa to have the bomb to frighten the system as a whole,” he said.
Professor Mazrui’s answer to Mrs. Cheney was that he had intended from the beginning to represent the views of one African — “a view from the inside,” he called it. “There are many parts that are anti-imperialist,” he told The New York Times. “Africa is concerned with past domination and afraid of redomination.”
Reviewing the series for The Times, John Corry called its scholarship “empty” and said it was “a vehicle solely for Mr. Mazrui’s feelings.”
But Clifford Terry, writing in The Chicago Tribune, suggested that this personal perspective was in fact a strength: “It is obvious, through it all, that here is a man who deeply cares about what he likes to call a ‘remarkable continent.’ ”
Tom Shales of The Washington Post applauded the shows’ abrasiveness. “The alternative,” he wrote, “would be an innocuous, safely ‘balanced’ documentary on Africa that made no ripples, provoked no discourse.”
Ali Al’Amin Mazrui was born on Feb. 24, 1933, in Mombasa. His father was an eminent Muslim scholar and the chief Islamic judge of Kenya.
As a boy he was not a good student and studied typing at a technical school. He stayed on at the school as a clerk and kept unsuccessfully applying to university, he said in a 2009 interview with The Observer, a Ugandan newspaper.
The Observer reported that the governor of Kenya had heard him give a speech on the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and had been impressed. That led to a series of interviews and a scholarship to finish secondary school in England. He ended up earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Manchester, a master’s from Columbia in New York and, in 1966, a doctorate from Oxford.
The next year he published three books on African politics. In 1973, he began teaching at Makerere University in Uganda. When he fled Uganda, he went to the University of Michigan to teach political science. In addition to teaching at Binghamton, he held an at-large professorial appointment with Cornell and lectured at many schools around the world.
He was president of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists of North America and president of the African Studies Association of the United States. He advised the United Nations and the World Bank.
Professor Mazrui’s marriage to the former Molly Vickerman ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Pauline Uti; his sons, Jamal, Alamin, Kim, Farid and Harith; his daughter, Grace Egbo-Mazrui; three grandchildren; and a sister, Alya.
In editing “The Africans” for American television, Professor Mazrui deleted his description of Karl Marx as “the last of the great Jewish prophets” because producers feared it might be taken as anti-Semitic.
In Britain, where the line was used, he had worried that Marxists might be offended by the reference to Marx as a prophet.
“My life,” he once said, “is one long debate.”
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to the person who was impressed by a speech Mr. Mazrui gave on the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, leading to new educational opportunities. It was the governor of Kenya, not the governor of the technical school where he was working as a clerk.SOURCE
OSCAR DE LA RENTA, WHO CLOTHED STARS AND BECAME ONE
His death was confirmed by his wife, Annette de la Renta. The cause was complications of cancer.
Though ill with cancer intermittently for close to eight years, Mr. de la Renta was resilient. During that period his business grew by 50 percent, to $150 million in sales, as his name became linked to celebrity events like the Oscars. Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker and Penélope Cruz were among the actresses who wore his dresses.
Recently his biggest coup was to make the ivory tulle gown that Amal Alamuddin wore to wed George Clooney in Venice.
Determined to stay relevant, Mr. de la Renta achieved fame in two distinct realms: as a couturier to socialites — the so-called ladies-who-lunch, his bread and butter — and as a red-carpet king. He also dressed four American first ladies, but it was Hollywood glitz, rather than nice uptown clothes, that defined him for a new age and a new customer. Just as astutely, he embraced social media.
Many high-end designers had bigger businesses. Some were more original. But very few were fearless enough to adapt to a cultural shift. Mr. de la Renta did it twice in his career, the first time in 1980.
Normally he didn’t dwell on the subject of his legacy. In an interview in 2009, at his home in Punta Cana, in his native Dominican Republic, he said of fashion: “It’s never been heavy. Somebody might ask, ‘What is Oscar de la Renta?’ And you could say, ‘It’s a pretty dress.’”
Instead he preferred to joke, or talk about his vegetable garden in Kent, or dish the dirt. He rarely shied from controversy or calling someone out.
Three years ago, he chided Michelle Obama for wearing foreign labels. (He insisted that his comments were not made because she never wore his things. Eventually, this month, she did.) Once, in a speech, he offered to send three-way mirrors to certain editors who wore miniskirts.
But then, all his life Mr. de la Renta loved being where the action was — whether a gala, a dominoes table, or in his various homes entertaining talented and influential friends.
“He notices everything,” John Fairchild, the retired publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, said a few years ago. A telephone call from Mr. de la Renta might begin with a familiar bit of flirtation: “How are you, my darling? Tell me the gossip.”
In 1980 he and his first wife, a former editor named Françoise de Langlade, posed for the cover of The New York Times Magazine, with the headline “Living Well Is Still the Best Revenge.” By then, Mr. de la Renta had lived in New York for 17 years — less time than his rivals Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene.
The article, which described the stylish couple’s uninhibited social ascent — and the array of people who came to their “salons,” ranging from Norman Mailer to Henry Kissinger — was a kind of watershed moment. Fashionable people had long been part of the city’s social scene; that wasn’t news. But, as a point of contrast, when Truman Capote held his Black and White Dance in 1966, only a tiny fraction of the 540 guests were dress designers. They became more visible during the 1970s, but the Times Magazine article, by Francesca Stanfill, now put their money and status out in the open.
As Alexander Liberman, the editorial director of Condé Nast, said, “Designers have become the new tycoons.” Mr. de la Renta soon embarked on the next phase of his career: as a designer to first ladies, beginning with Nancy Reagan.
Though he never took his job lightly, he always gave the impression that his life mattered more. He had enormous zest, displayed in his fashion — the vibrant colors, the airy sleeves, the Turkish delight numbers that so appealed to his greatest champion, the editor Diana Vreeland.
But where he really revealed himself, his hospitable nature, was in the Dominican Republic, where he was regarded as an unofficial ambassador (he held a diplomatic passport anyway). He built two homes there. The first, in Casa de Campo, featured thatched roofs, rattan furniture and hammocks, and images of the de la Rentas’ informal gatherings often appeared in W in the 1970s.
The second home, in Punta Cana, though imposing in the Colonial style, with wide verandas (and its own chapel on the grounds), also had a relaxed feeling. Mr. de la Renta built the house with his second wife, the former Annette Engelhard Reed, whom he married in 1989, after the death of Francoise, from cancer, in 1983.
In addition to his wife, Mr. de la Renta is survived by a son, Moises; three sisters; three stepchildren; and nine step-grandchildren.
At holidays, the de la Rentas filled their house in Punta Cana with relatives and friends, notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy and Henry Kissinger, and the art historian John Richardson. The family dogs had the run of the compound, and Mr. de la Renta often sang spontaneously after dinner. First-time visitors, seeking him out in the late afternoon, were surprised to find him in the staff quarters, hellbent on winning at dominoes.
A man of the world, he was at ease everywhere — though he once said, “To me, home is wherever Annette is,” then added with a droll laugh, “She could be unbelievably happy without me.”
Oscar Aristedes de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo on July 22, 1932. The youngest of seven children and the only boy, he often recalled that he usually got what he wanted from his family. He finished high school in Santo Domingo, and although his father preferred that he join him in the insurance business, young Oscar persuaded his mother to send him to Madrid to study art.
At 19, he left for Spain on a passenger ship.
Besotted by postwar Madrid and his new freedom, Mr. de la Renta was soon spending more time in the cafes and nightclubs, meeting flamenco dancers, than in class. As well, he acquired a “señorito” wardrobe, he told the writer Sarah Mower, which consisted of custom-made suits from the tailor Luis Lopez, high starched collars and a carnation of deepest red in his buttonhole. The $125 his father sent each month paid for fancy clothes and in a sense his broader education afoot in Spain.
For extra money, he drew clothes for newspapers and fashion houses. He later admitted that his drawings were not technically accomplished or original. Nonetheless, some of his sketches were seen by Francesca Lodge, the wife of John Davis Lodge, then the United States ambassador to Spain. In 1956, she asked Mr. de la Renta to design a coming-out dress for her daughter Beatrice. The dress and the debutante appeared on the cover of Life that fall.
He was soon working in the Madrid salon of Cristobal Balenciaga, perhaps the greatest couturier of that period. Mr. de la Renta’s job was to sketch dresses to send to clients. But when he asked Mr. Balenciaga to transfer him to the main studio in Paris, the couturier told him he wasn’t qualified yet and to wait a year.