Antananarivo, Madagascar, 24 February 2003 — “A fresh approach to ethics in public life and in the private sector, an improved recognition of the inherent pluralism of contemporary societies, and increased opportunity to build high competence in the sectors of greatest need, are features of the new horizons that I see in Africa today.”
Speaking at the conclusion of a private visit to Madagascar, in the course of a working tour of East Africa, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, today expressed cautious but pragmatic optimism about the future in certain parts of the Continent.
The Aga Khan, who earlier in the day, was received by Prime Minister Jacques Sylla and by the President of the Senate, Mr. Rajemison Rakotomaharo, used the opportunity of his fourth visit to the country – but the first since 1966 – to review contemporary development challenges and to revitalise the Ismaili Muslims’ historic links with the Indian Ocean region.
With roots reported to stretch back to the 9th and 10th centuries, Ismaili communities settled in Madagascar, the Comoro Islands, Mauritius and Reunion have, alongside other inhabitants, weathered the transitions suffered by these outposts of empire, later backwaters of Cold War rivalry. Today, like their sister communities along what were formerly Anglophone and Lusophone countries of the eastern coast of Africa, the Ismailis of the Francophone Indian Ocean are well positioned to support the institutional initiatives being contemplated by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in the region.
In the course of various meetings, the Aga Khan situated the Network’s capabilities in a wider international context, citing instances where Network initiatives have helped rehabilitate countries emerging from crises. These included reviving the economic and social sectors in Uganda, and helping to rehabilitate economies in Mozambique and Tajikistan following civil wars. He also mentioned specifically situations such where intolerance and bad governance have exacerbated development needs; among them, the collapse of a state in Afghanistan over the past two decades because of the failure to recognize the pluralism inherent in Islamic societies.
In addition to brief visits to Tolagnaro (formerly Fort-Dauphin) at the south-eastern tip of Madagascar and the north-western port of Mahajanga, the Aga Khan had the opportunity to tour sites of specific interest in Antananarivo. These included a 10-hectare plot on the outskirts of the city where the Aga Khan Education Service, the specialized educational agency of the Network, has been developing plans to create a “centre of excellence.” This private, non-denominational institution will admit students from the pre-primary to higher secondary levels on a merit-based, means-blind basis and will offer both national and international curricula.
As in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda, many of the development challenges facing Madagascar lie in areas of activity in which the AKDN has accumulated considerable experience. These areas include promotion of microenterprise and creating opportunity and institutional infrastructure for the most marginalized populations in resource-poor regions.
During his stay in Madagascar, the Aga Khan also met with several thousand members of the Ismaili community in Antananarivo and Mahajanga.
Over the past week, the Aga Khan has held meetings with the Presidents of Tanzania and Kenya and senior Government officials of the Union of the Comoros.
The Aga Khan leaves Madagascar today for Uganda.
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of Africa and Asia. Active in over 20 countries, the Network’s underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.
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