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  • Prince Amyn Aga Khan speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the rehabilitation of Forodhani Park in Zanzibar's Historic Stone Town, a World Heritage Site.
    AKDN/Zahur Ramji
Groundbreaking ceremony for the revitalisation of Forodhani Park

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends.

I should like to start by expressing the thanks of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), as well as my own, to Her Excellency the first Lady of Zanzibar, Mama Shadya Karume, for doing us the honour of attending this ceremony. I should also like to welcome the Deputy Chief Minister and to express sincere thanks to the Minister of Water, Construction, Energy and Lands who have so kindly and so ably organised this event.

The project we are gathered together to launch today, the restoration and upgrading of Forodhani Park, should be seen within the framework of the Agreement of Cooperation signed back in 2002 between the Government of Zanzibar and the AKDN. As you know, AKDN has been actively involved - for now over a quarter of a century - in Zanzibar's economic and social development, through the Aga Khan Foundation's activities in the Raha Leo community health programme and the Madrassah pre-school programme, to promote early childhood development and the Teacher Resource Centres, through the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development's creation of the Zanzibar Serena Inn, and through the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC)'s restoration and redevelopment of what was known as the Old Dispensary when I was a young man, is now called the Stone Town Cultural Centre, and may, hopefully, soon become the Indian Ocean Maritime Museum.

Restoring Forodhani Park is part of AKTC's long-term objective to revitalise the historic seafront of Stone Town as a major contribution to the social, cultural and economic development of this island. It is our hope that AKTC will bring its technical expertise and managerial assistance to the Government of Zanzibar, in a public private partnership, to ensure both an urban and an environmental regeneration of this central, this core area of the seafront of Stone Town. And let us not forget that Stone Town is a World Heritage Site, with an urban fabric and a townscape that have remained largely intact through the centuries, boasting several fine, indeed unique buildings. AKDN views this area of Stone Town's seafront as a continuum, from Kelele Square to the present ports area, and Forodhani Park is the hub and the heart of this seafront continuum. Let us also remember that in Stone Town have come together, over the past hundred years, the cultures of Africa, the Arab Peninsula, India and Europe to create this unique Swahili aesthetic. Stone Town is surely a symbol of how variety and diversity can breed creativity and originality. 

Forodhani Park, once a flourishing garden, was the landing point of the former Sultans of Zanzibar. In the 19th century, it was characterised by warehouses and customs buildings, destroyed by the British in 1896. By 1935, the area in front of the Fort had become a public garden and the Jubilee Gardens (today's Forodhani Park) were laid out to commemorate King George V's Silver Jubilee, with bandstand, pier, fountain and seats being added the next year, in 1936, to celebrate another Silver Jubilee, this time of Sultan Khalifa.

I cannot help thinking that all this seems enormously appropriate to our ceremony today when I recall that my brother was born in 1936 and this year is his Golden Jubilee. No doubt from Silver to Golden is simply a question of inflation!

Since 1936 Forodhani Park has become perhaps the most visible image of Stone Town, a point of Social gathering, family leisure, active trade and intense visitation by tourists, be they local or foreign. This is an area of public life, civic discourse, leisure and entertainment, a focal point for Zanzibaris, for residents of Stone Town and for foreign visitors.

And this is why Forodhani currently presents such a complex challenge to upgrade and to improve. The intensity of use of the site is inevitably causing damage: vendors of all kind, particularly food vendors, are everywhere; all manner of entertainments take place simultaneously; pedestrian traffic is extreme and vehicular traffic constant and constrained; ensuring cleanliness is almost impossible and preserving the landscaping, the vegetation quite impossible. The balance between business, between commercial activity and leisure has been lost; control over what takes place here, and how, has become well-nigh impossible. Demand has outstripped capacity.

It is thus necessary, in my view, to see the restoration work on which we will now be embarking as not exclusively revolving around questions of horticulture, of recreating and maintaining the original, or even appropriate landscaping. It will be essential, I believe, to decide what kind of commercial or business activity can take place in what areas of Forodhani and with what controls. The right balance will have to be identified between commercial and leisure activities, business and recreation. How can vehicular traffic be rationalised and how can one ensure that it does not damage the ecology of the park nor inhibit utilisation of Forodhani? How is pedestrian traffic to be handled? And I would strongly recommend that while these questions are being tackled, so should other questions of infrastructure, in particular sewage, drainage, signage and lighting. Indeed, it would be desirable, in my view, to place this work on infrastructure in Forodhani Park within a programme and plan for upgrading all the basic infrastructure of the entire seafront continuum, from Kelele Square to the Port.

AKDN and AKTC believe that restoration and rehabilitation work should lead to the self-sustainability of what is restored and rehabilitated. Forodhani Park should emerge self-sustainable through the income generated by activities on site, from operations and from neighbouring development. This income must be sufficient to ensure optimum maintenance of the Park, its infrastructure and its built environment, as well as to ensure its efficient management. It will be necessary to identify those commercial operations within the Kelele Square-Ports continuum that have the potential to generate the funds required, and to give these commercial operations some level of priority. In this regard, I would urge consideration of the stabilisation of the pier, which is not only an historic construction with an iconic presence, but is a potential source of income. In the same line of thought, the future of Blues Restaurant should be reviewed. Certainly Zanzibar Serena Inn, nearby as it is, stands ready to assist in any manner that may be deemed fit. We have also already initiated talks with Government and the Municipal and other local authorities on the potential of buildings such as Mambo Msiige and it is my hope that these discussions will be continued and will prove fruitful as they relate directly to questions of self-sustainability, purposeful conservation and productive utilisation.

I hope this project will prove a catalyst for the socio-economic development of Stone Town and that we can rely on the active support and indeed partnership of the Government of Zanzibar, local municipal and other authorities, the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority and all other stakeholders, public and private. Our experience elsewhere has been that catalytic urban projects, such as this one, lead to a wider development, in fact to an area development, with improved economic prospects and an improved quality of life for the inhabitants of the entire area. The Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, for instance, working with AKTC in Cairo, has enabled citizens around the Cairo Park to set themselves up in small businesses, to improve their professional and money earning capabilities and to bring improvements to their housing.

May I conclude by saying that it is my deepest hope that we will achieve buy-in from, and the active backing of, local citizens, of the residents of Zanzibar. Ultimately, this is their project, created and designed for them. The primary users of the improved and upgraded Forodhani Park will be the residents of Stone Town themselves. They will have a facility in which they and their families can safely experience quality leisure time. And with this, commercial and restoration activities around the Park will be stimulated. Forodhani will remain a hub, but from and around that hub we can expect to see significantly expanded economic and social opportunity and activity.

Thank you.