Berlin, Germany, 6 September 2004 - His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary spiritual leader (Imam) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), today placed emphasis on democratic governance, pluralism and civil society, as being the three preconditions required for developing countries to be transformed into peaceful and modern societies.
Speaking at the 5th German Ambassadors Conference, the theme of which this year is, “The Future of the Near and Middle East,” at the invitation of Joschka Fischer, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Aga Khan stressed the need to mutually reinforce democratic governance, pluralism and civil society in order to create an environment in which societies in developing countries could develop and prosper.
Emphasising the importance of stable and competent democratic governance, the Aga Khan highlighted that nearly forty percent of UN member nations were failed democracies, and that these failures crossed much of the Muslim world, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. “Democracy is fragile. It is susceptible to failure at any time, in any society.” He added that there was a strong probability that numerous forms of democratic government in the Near and Middle East were likely to be tested in coming decades. “Elections and the existence of political parties do not by themselves guarantee stable governments, competent political leadership and respect for the constitution. Nor do they guarantee good economic management and the absence of corruption,” he said. In calling for support to these governments, the Aga Khan underlined that any development strategy must include education and developing a wider understanding of the institutions and processes of constitutional democracy.
Speaking on the need to sustain and enhance pluralism, the Aga Khan emphasised that pluralistic societies were “a product of enlightened education and continuous investment by government and all forces of civil society in developing value and recognition for one of humanity’s greatest assets: the diversity of its peoples.” On the other hand, he noted that the rejection of pluralism had bred destructive conflicts across the globe and had affected many cultures, races, nationalities and religions. “ We must approach this issue today within the dimension of civilisations learning about each other, and speaking to each other and not exclusively through the more narrow focus of inter-faith dialectic. Such an approach would also be immensely beneficial to the Muslim world” reiterated the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan noted that civil society was a third pre-condition that made an enormous contribution to human development, “filling the gaps between government, the business sector and the family.” He elaborated that civil society does things that the state cannot and thus supports citizens in nation building. “Civil society underwrites human progress by acting as a stabiliser or buttress in times of economic slowdown and social stress. When democracies are failing, or have failed, it is the institutions of civil society that step into the breach,” he added.
An example of this is Northern Pakistan, where AKDN, in partnership with Germany, has pursued an approach to economic development in conjunction with strengthening governance, civil society and pluralism. The history of these programmes in Pakistan has clearly demonstrated the need for both patience and a long-term commitment.
Partnership between Germany and AKDN spans many years and began with the critical support of cultural restoration of one of the truly cosmopolitan coastal regions in Africa, namely the Old Stone Town in Zanzibar. In recent years, the collaboration has extended further to Pakistan, Tajikistan and more recently to Afghanistan in areas of community development, food security and alternative livelihoods, health, micro-finance and institution building.
More recently, Germany has made a substantial contribution to Egypt’s Azhar Park Project in the heart of Old Cairo. Here, a former dump site is being converted to a 30-hectare urban park that will provide much needed relief and economic opportunity to some 200,000 residents in the congested surrounding area, one of the most marginalised in the city.
In talks in Berlin, His Highness and Minister Fischer have reaffirmed their commitment to furthering a long-term, constructive partnership around matching objectives and wider dialogue between their respective representatives in countries of mutual concern.
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The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies whose mandates range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. They collaborate in working towards a common goal – building institutions and programmes that can respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change on an ongoing basis. Active in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, 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.