Recognition puts Mutua in distinguished company

Professor Makau Mutua with Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o of UC Irvine and Penelope Andrews president of Albany Law School.  Professor Thiong'o is a former winner of the Distinguished Africanist Award.

Published April 13, 2015

SUNY Buffalo Law School Professor Makau Mutua has received a recognition that has gone previously to some of the biggest names in Africana studies.

At its 40th annual gathering, held April 3 and 4 in Schenectady, the New York African Studies Association honored the Law School’s former dean as its Distinguished Africanist. Founded in 1967, NYASA is a nonprofit membership group dedicated to advancing the discipline of Africana studies at colleges and universities, and among researchers.

“During our annual conference, the Distinguished Africanist receives an award from NYASA that recognizes his stellar contributions to the area of Africana studies, and due to your defining work in law and human rights, you are our obvious choice,” wrote Cheryl Sterling, president of the organization, in announcing the award.

Mutua also delivered the conference’s keynote address on April 4, a speech titled “Is the Era of Human Rights Over?”

Previous recipients of the Distinguished Africanist designation have included Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian writer and author of the widely read novel Things Fall Apart; Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan-born professor and writer who was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s top 100 intellectuals; and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer who spent 22 years in exile following his imprisonment for writing a play that criticized that nation’s government.

“I am truly humbled and feel extremely privileged to be mentioned among the world’s leading Africanist scholars,” Mutua said about the recognition. “Never in my wildest dreams as a young academic did I ever think I would be mentioned among Achebe, Ngugi and Mazrui. These were my idols growing up. They are still my idols. Scholarship and literature on Africa and the Black World wouldn’t be what it is today without them. Frankly, I feel that I will have to spend the rest of my life working to live up to the honor.”

Mutua serves as a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at SUNY Buffalo Law School. He teaches international human rights, international business transactions and international law. He was educated at the University of Nairobi, the University of Dar-es-Salaam and Harvard Law School. He is a vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2002-03, while on sabbatical in Kenya, Mutua chaired the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended a truth commission for Kenya. He also was a delegate to the National Constitutional Conference, which produced a contested draft constitution for Kenya.

Mutua is the author of several books, including Kenya’s Quest for Democracy: Taming Leviathan (2008), Human Rights NGOs in East Africa: Political and Normative Tensions (2008) and Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique (2002). He has written numerous scholarly articles as well as dozens of articles for popular publications such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post. He has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule of law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe.