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
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game