Saturday, July 4, 2009

Obituary: Prof Haroub Othman

When I heard about Professor Haroub Othman’s death on June 28th I was overwhelmed with an extraordinary sense of grief and personal loss, he was widely regarded as the outstanding representative of the post-structuralist left in Tanzania. And what consolation is there for the passing of a great man?

He does not leave behind a great void rather a heaviness of spirit, a weight almost unbearable that mercilessly seems to crush the heart and render each breath an ordeal. Above all, he was the most articulate and visible advocate of Zanzibar in mainland Tanzania, where it earned him many enemies within the ruling elite.

But Haroub Othman was not just a great scholar; he was a brilliant mind, an ardent nationalist, an advocate of justice, a free spirit, an unrelenting force for integrity, an uncompromising fighter on behalf of human dignity, and all the other sets of superlative depictions that he so aptly deserves. It is easy to say we still have his ideas, books, lectures at University of Dar es Salaam and else where, the records of the debates he waged around the world.

But Haroub Othman was a writer you loved as a whole person. You loved the way his laugh filled the room, his confident walk, the easy, mellifluous voice and the sometimes merciless sarcasm from which he would not spare himself. We will read Haroub’s works over and over again, and will commemorate his memory in the years to come. But it is hard knowing we will no longer watch him striding into battle, stripping off the varnish from insidious words and tearing the mask from the face of corruption.

He had a gentle identification with the oppressed and an intimidating rage against the oppressor, a warm embrace for the victim and a cold rejection of the culprit, a love for the post-union Zanzibar and all that its struggle stood for, and a total loathing for discrimination, racism and the degradation of human life and rights.

Haroub Othman was no saint. His ideas were not above criticism or debate. To my mind, there is something in these criticisms, but this was not the real point of his scholarly works. For Haroub Othman’s real achievement is to have defined what I will call, the will to dispossess that is at the heart of this scholarship. His writings are properly situated in the politics of dispossession that have their springboard in his Zanzibar origins. To understand his significance properly is to understand the recent history of Zanzibar.

However what is beyond discussion, though, is that Haroub Othman was as great an advocate of his people as he was a champion of knowledge in the service of humanity, of the image of the intellectual, of the victims of neo-colonialism and of the wretched of the developing world. He was a formidable and honourable adversary, even when facing those who lacked honour. Nor did he shrink from subjecting his ideas to renewed scrutiny whenever new knowledge seemed to call for revision, which, perhaps, is one of the most important marks of a sincere and dedicated thinker. Not only did he take an amazing delight in knowledge, he was one of the few who sought to discover the world through literature. He was the model of the peripatetic philosopher, indefatigable and tenacious as he raised the banner of a humanitarian aesthetic.

Haroub Othman may have been "out of place" as his personal narrative encapsulated this unique form of Zanzibarian displacement, but he has always been "in place" for those of us who dared to take his genius and friendship for granted.

In addition to the unbearable burden of his death, we have to bear the knowledge that we had never been prepared to accept it. For a man who has been described by some as "the conscience of Zanzibar," his ultimate absence requires the greater affirmation of all that he had represented, both in the consciousness of a nation and in the hearts of those who loved him.

The list of names and of graveyards will grow larger. The names will increase so we decrease and no one knows where they will die. Haroub Othman's is another grave out of place, another funeral away from the homeland he dreamt about. When we lose a person in such a way sorrow gives way to anger. I am angry because it doesn't make sense that we have to circumnavigate the globe in order to put a flower on every grave containing a creative talent from Zanzibar.

As a man of courage, graciousness, hope and dedication, his memory will remain forever in our hearts.

May his soul rest in peace.


salama said...

It's a suddening burden, and quite an unfortunate experience everytime we lose somebody in our lives, let alone when we lose someone like him. I didn't know him but, It feels like a vital part of us, which can't and will never be replaced, has been taken away from us.
May his family get strengh and courage to take each day at a time around this time and..

May he rest in Peace.

Iddy said...

I never met Prof Haroub Othman, however i read some of his works. You can tell about the man from his writing. His publications shows the quality of sincerity and humbleness embedded in his soul and mind.

I believe Tanzania and global community will miss him.
R.I.P Prof Haroub Othman.

ally said...

it was really sad moment to hear that our beloved comrade passed away, though we know it has happens, he usually told during lectures that " he has played his part through imparting us knowledge so he need us to play our role/ fulfill the equality Dream"
may his soul rest in peace, ALUTA CONTINUA.. Ally hassan former udsm student

also visit


tahir h said...

Came across this today, well written, asante.