Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem: Thinker, writer and prodigious orator who campaigned for the peaceful unification of Africa

Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, who has died in a car crash in Nairobi, dedicated his life to the Pan-African vision and the peaceful unification of Africa. He leaves a wife, Mounira Chaieb, and two daughters, Aisha and Aida. A thinker and writer but above all a mighty talker, he inspired and influenced a whole generation of Africans and Africanists with his mixture of passion and humour. It is ironic that he died on 25 May – Africa Day.

I first met "Taj" in Kampala as Secretary General of the Pan-African movement, and I confess, I expected to be lectured by the high priest of Afrikan political correctness. I met someone quite different. Stocky, bearded and dressed as if for battle in the bush, he looked fierce and frightening. But his brilliant, ebullient eyes lit up and a huge gap-toothed grin cracked open his face. And then he started talking, body swaying, arms flailing, his flowing speech rising to crescendos that broke into great cackles of laughter.

I saw him make speeches on several occasions but I never saw him use a note. It just flowed out of him, direct, passionate, only diverting to pursue a witty paradox or a ridiculous contradiction. He could not resist them. His Marxism was dressed in stupendous African colours and laced with jokes and laughter. If imperialism and capitalism could have been overthrown by hilarity, Taj would have been master of the universe.

He once addressed a meeting at Parliament for African diaspora leaders to meet MPs. Dressed in African robes, he stunned his audience by praising the City of London: "the richest square mile on the planet" full of wealth, banks and trading houses. But, he said, with a wonderful role of those eyes, "at night you leave, and WE move in and take over". A frisson passed through the gathering. He went on, "We guard it for you, clean it for you, ready for your return in the morning." The point was brilliantly, gently made; Africans are here, please acknowledge us, and respect us.

While he used humour and charm to win over those who were usually the targets of revolutionaries, he reserved his rage for the rulers of Africa and their corruption, greed and incompetence. As he wrote last week, this ruling class "only looks at the welfare of the minority rich and powerful, at the expense of the impoverished and powerless underclass."

Born in Funtua, Nigeria, Tajudeen attended a madrassah but also a Catholic school. After university in Nigeria, he won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where he impressed his teachers with his knowledge and ability to debate – though less so with his inability to deliver essays.

In London, he helped found a number of radical think tanks and Africa organisations such as the Africa Research Information Bureau, where he edited its journal, Africa World Review. He was also the founding chairman of the Centre for Democracy and Development and helped found Justice Africa. His position as Secretary General of the Pan-African movement gave him international status and access to African leaders, but little protection from the rulers in his own country. Back in Nigeria, Taj campaigned against the generals who had seized power and ruled and robbed the country for most of his life. In 2002 he was arrested as he was trying to return to London and had his passport confiscated. More recently, he took a job with the United Nations in Nairobi to promote the achievement of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

Throughout all this, he kept lecturing and writing – always signing off his emails with: "Don't agonise, Organise!"

I sometimes wondered if they were a reminder to himself. Taj was not always reliable. Editors were frustrated by him. He would promise essays, articles and books and would continue to promise long after three or four deadlines had passed. And when they did arrive, the words looked as if he had poured them on to the page and walked away. Despite – or maybe because of his fluency – he never worked at his written texts or checked them. The one commitment he kept was to write an essay every week in the form of his Thursday Postcard. Pertinent, trenchant, passionate and witty, Thursday Postcards appeared without fail and were syndicated to newspapers throughout Africa. They carried his message of African self-confidence and solidarity to a vast audience.

Richard Dowden

Dr Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, Pan-Africanist: born Funtua, Katsina State, Nigeria 1956; married Mounira Chaieb (two daughters); died Nairobi 25 May 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed