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His Highness the Aga Khan

Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the State Banquet (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

18 August 2007

 

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Your Excellency President Kikwete,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Guests:

Let me begin my comments this evening by thanking His Excellency the President for his exceptionally warm and generous speech and comments about me – I am deeply touched President. I would also like to say how much I have enjoyed these last few days in Tanzania. It is always a great personal pleasure for me to be here - and I am most deeply grateful for your wonderful welcome and your gracious hospitality.

The enormous honour you have shown me, through the creation of a special stamp to mark this Jubilee, is something I profoundly appreciate and will always remember.

This Jubilee year provides such an ideal opportunity for me to visit places which have been particularly important to me - and to the Ismaili community - throughout my Imamat. I am taking these opportunities to revisit some of the important themes of these fifty years, and to announce a number of new initiatives.

The story of the Ismaili community in East Africa goes back well before the start of my Imamat, at least as far back as the middle of the 19 th century. Various Aga Khan institutions have been active here for more than 100 years - ever since my late Grandfather founded the first Aga Khan Girls School in Zanzibar in 1905.

Today, our work here takes many forms: We work in the medical field through the Aga Khan Hospital and an array of clinics and dispensaries. Our educational institutions serve students and teachers of all ages. We are active in banking and microfinance, insurance, tourism, leisure and cultural preservation. We have been deeply involved in Tanzania.

I am always heartened, as I return to a place I have known so well, to hear from local friends about the progress which has been made since my last visit. I suppose there are times when enthusiastic friends might even exaggerate their stories - but usually, by the time I leave, I have a pretty clear fix on how things are going!

I must tell you that my conclusion tonight, is that the people and leaders of Tanzania deserve great credit. You have been able, under difficult conditions, to maintain national stability, to consolidate many recent reforms, and to build a sense of hopeful continuity. Surely one of Tanzania’s great gifts to the world has been its example in building a strong spirit of pluralism among a population balanced almost equally between Christian and Muslim peoples. It is not surprising that a major new survey of world opinion ranks Tanzania among the highest countries in Africa in expressing faith in its democratic future.

I have also been impressed by the formulation of your Millennium Development Goals - and your success in meeting some of them - whether it is the increase of more than 6% in the GDP this year, or the fact that immunization rates have climbed past 80%, or that primary school enrolment rates now exceed 90%.

But each forward step must lead on to new steps. Increasing primary school enrolments, for example, leads inevitably to the need for more secondary schooling. As young people enter the work force here - two thirds of a million each year - the fact that only 6 percent of them enter the wage and employment sector remains an immense challenge. With effective new education and training programs, however, this enormous source of national strength could be unlocked.

As you know, the field of education has been a central concern of my Tradition - going back to the great institutions of learning which were such a distinguished part of Islamic history for so many centuries.

Our current efforts in education have centred on developing an integrated international system of schools, ranging from the pre-school efforts of our Madrasa program, to primary and secondary schooling through our expanding Academies programme, including some 18 schools in 14 countries of Africa and Asia. These efforts culminate in the tertiary programs of the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.

One cannot hope to build quality schools, of course, without quality instructors. That is why our Academies program includes a Professional Development Centre (PDC) on each of its campuses, with a focus on educating the educators. In many cases, the PDC will be opened and training teachers well before the Academy students are enrolled. Similarly, the Aga Khan University has already opened the Institute for Educational Development here in Dar es Salaam for the purpose of teacher training and pedagogical research.

We realize that these efforts in themselves will not remedy the human resource challenges in Tanzania. But we do believe they can have a great “multiplier effect”, serving as laboratories, models, and motivators.

The challenge of development - in education as in other fields - is highly complex -and it calls for complex responses. We must replace old, dogmatic prescriptions with new pragmatic approaches.

This is why I say so often that the challenge of development must be a shared experience, one that rests on a “cosmopolitan ethic”, and proceeds in a spirit of partnership. In this light, Tanzania’s progress in building a pluralistic society is an important foundation stone for the future.

The commitment to cooperate is not only essential among peoples of different ethnic or religious backgrounds, or different classes, or philosophies. We must also build stronger bridges of cooperation between different sectors of social and economic leadership. I am pleased, for example, to be hearing more and more these days about “public/private partnerships. As we learn to work across the public/private dividing line, we can do things together we could never do separately.

One effective way in which governments can contribute to this goal is by providing a strong enabling environment for private initiatives - at the local, national and regional levels.

It has been a hallmark of Ismaili thinking that the peoples of East Africa can often be most effective when they work and think on a region-wide basis. Many of our AKDN initiatives, in fact, have been organized, for some years now, on a region-wide basis - and with great success.

Stronger regional institutions in East Africa can do a great deal to facilitate development, but for this to happen, and for the East African Community to thrive, the spirit of partnership must also be present when governments deal with one another.

We hear constantly these days about the process of “globalization” in our world. But we should note that this is also an age of enormous “regionalization”. It is happening in Europe. It is happening in Southeast Asia. It is happening in North America – and in many other places. And, of course, it is also happening in Africa.

East Africa is a place where regionalization can have a particularly beneficial impact. It is good to know that the leaders of the five major countries of East Africa have all indicated their strong support for regionalization. The moment is a promising one.

I mentioned earlier that my Jubilee visits would be opportunities to talk about future plans - and I have done so tonight by emphasizing the importance of a pragmatic approach to development, the value of public/private partnerships, and the importance of building a stronger East African Community.

Let me conclude by describing something more concrete - one of the most far-reaching of our new initiatives. I do this out of my conviction that the best way to celebrate the past is to grasp the future - and that it is good to make new plans with an eye on their historical context.

It is in that spirit that I am pleased to announce the Aga Khan University’s decision to build a major new campus in East Africa--and to locate that campus in Arusha.

Tis project is, I believe, the first major private sector investment in the East African Community since the formal joining of Rwanda and Burundi. It is the biggest expansion step for the Aga Khan University since it opened in Pakistan almost 25 years ago.

This new campus will be built over a period of fifteen years with a total investment of some 450 million dollars. It will include a new Faculty of Arts and Sciences and several graduate professional schools. It will be committed to teaching and research of world-class standards.

Building a university is a very exciting process. But it is no small undertaking!! It requires enormous resources of time, talent and treasure. Above all, it requires a sustained long-term commitment. It is not a sprint—it is a marathon.

But we undertake this effort with some confidence, bolstered by evidence of past success. We are pleased, for example, that the Aga Khan University has been ranked as the best university in Pakistan - and that its medical graduates score in the top 10% on licensing exams in the United States. We are also pleased that the first class of Aga Khan Academy graduates in Mombasa has scored impressively in the International Baccalaureate exams.

Even in the planning stages, building a new University campus is an exercise in complexity. As we undertake this unprecedented task, we will need to work closely with the Tanzanian government on several fronts. One key challenge will be in the area of land use planning, zoning, and infrastructure—providing all the facilities a thriving new community will need. Introducing a new university in Arusha will actually change the way a city grows and the way people live in that environment. A second area is the preparation of students who can compete effectively for admission –and who can rely on loan and scholarship programs to help support their schooling. We are looking a t a means blind admissions process. Any young child male or female who has the intellectual potential to enter that university must be able to have access that that university. Thirdly, but just as importantly, region-wide accreditation will be critical —so that the University’s degrees are recognized and respected across all of East Africa and of course as of the first of July that includes Rwanda and Burundi.

We hope that the University will be a source of effective leadership for the East Africa of tomorrow. We envision students coming from many directions and many backgrounds—living and studying together in a special regional environment, and then going out again with a strengthened sense of personal empowerment and social responsibility.

The plans I have been discussing reflect our faith in the future of this region and this continent. In a very specific way, they also reflect our faith in the future of Tanzania and of Arusha - not only as an organizing point for regional affairs, but also as an international focal point of Ideas and Innovation.

Our dream is that the Aga Khan University - as it expands in East Africa and elsewhere - will play a central role in the great Knowledge Society of tomorrow.

This vision for the future is important to me personally because it so fittingly honors the past. The great chapters of Islamic history, after all, demonstrate how peoples of a common faith, spread widely throughout the world, have flourished when they embraced and advanced a cosmopolitan Society of Knowledge.

As the 49 th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, I often look back to the words of the Fourth Caliph, who was also the first Imam of the Shia Muslims, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Listen to Hazrat Ali’s words: “No honour is like knowledge. No belief is like modesty and patience. No attainment is like humility. No power is like forbearance. And no support is more reliable than consultation”.

The passage - beginning with the word “knowledge” and ending with the word “consultation”- sums up my message to you tonight. It is my prayer that all of us - with a common commitment to knowledge - and in a continuing spirit of consultation - can go forward together to meet our great challenges.

Thank you.

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