Alamin Mazrui was born in 1948 in Lamu, an island off the Kenyan coast, into the famous Mazrui family. Instead of the religious careers of his father and grandfather, Mazrui chose to follow the example of his uncle, professor Ali Mazrui, and pursued an academic career. Alamin Mazrui received his primary and secondary education in Kenya and his university degrees in the USA, obtaining a Bachelor's of Science degree and Master's of Art degree at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, and a PhD in Linguistics in 1980 at Stanford University. Mazrui was professor in the Department of African American Studies at the Ohio State University 1989-2004, and currently teaches in the department of African Languages and Literatures at Rutgers.
In the 1980s Alamin Mazrui was detained, as were a number of other intellectuals who were regarded as critical of the government of Kenya's second president, Daniel Arap Moi. Mazrui had been the representative of Kenyatta University in the University Academic Union. After his release in 1984, Mazrui went into exile in the USA. In 1988 Mazrui published his first and so far only poem collection, Chembe cha Moyo (Pit of the Stomach/Grain of the Heart). Written in free verse, many of the poems reflect the experience of being in detention and call for political change; at the same time, they often have another, personal level, and with the multilayered imagery, Mazrui's poetry is far from reductive or simplistic political manifesto.