9/11 Attack Nurtured My Writing Skills – Prof Mamdani


He indeed didn’t look back as he decided to write a book. To him, medications he thought he would expand the article into a book over a summer in Kampala.

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However, remedy it didn’t happen, “it took two years. I then sent my manuscript to Shelley Wanger, an editor at Pantheon and it was published (from the US).”

To his surprise he realized his book sold more than everything else he had ever written in his life.

“You know, my wife is a filmmaker, and each time when I’m busy writing something and spending late-night, early-morning hours she would ask for the number of people I thought was going to read “this thing you’re writing?” she asked. And I’d say, “Well, I hope a thousand.”

She thought in terms of a million, not a thousand. “And then, suddenly, I was not thinking of a thousand. I mean, this book sold 100 thousand copies!” Prof Mamdani said in an interview with Bhakti Shringarpure, editor in chief at Warscapes Magazine an independent online magazine that provides a lens into current conflicts across the world.

He said that from this point, he realized he didn’t have to change his parameters or his analysis. He simply had to write in a more accessible language.

“That recognition came from the editing process on GMBM (Good Muslim Bad Muslim). Shelley Wanger, in the first draft that I wrote, took out 10 pages, and the basic message she had was to write in an active voice. Forget the passive voice.”

He said that she advised him to take responsibility for what he wrote. “So I watched this, you know, this shift – it actually happened to me, that kind of experience.”

His second Book was Scholars in a Marketplace. It was published in Kampala, in Pretoria, and in Dakar. It’s was a book on Makerere University in Kampala. It’s basically a critique of neo-liberal reform in higher education and it focuses on a single university and it attempts to intervene in an African debate.

He said that before GMBM, he had started research on a comparative project – Sudan and Nigeria – because these were fascinating for him. He spent some time in Nigeria, then came to Sudan to talk to Sudanese intellectuals and politicians, “to understand Sudanese debates about Sudan”. It was in the same year that the insurgency began in Darfur.

According Prof Mamdani, on returning to Columbia, he began hearing about the Save Darfur narrative of what was going on. “It aroused my curiosity and concern. Outraged, I wrote this piece in the London Review of Books. It turned out to be my entry point in the public discussion on Darfur,” he said.

“Yeah, The Politics of Naming gave me an audience. I dropped the idea of writing this comparative project – it was too ambitious anyway.”

Prof Mamdan refuted a claim that his book, The Politics of Naming was a shift into the public arena. He said that before he came to the US, in Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala and South Africa, he was always a public intellectual.

“If you are in a university in East Africa, you are eyeball to eyeball with the government: One government, one country, one university. And the university is the unofficial opposition.”Whatever you say, you learn that you’ll be held responsible for it, so you’re taking a risk. Whatever you say in the classroom, you’re taking a risk. Somebody from security could be sitting there.”

Prof. Mamdani has written a lot of among which include – Politics and Class Formation in Uganda, From Citizen to Refugee: Uganda Asians Come to Britain, Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda and his latest being Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures), a book that he published in 2012.


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