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  • His Highness the Aga Khan delivers his address entitled, "Democratic Development, Pluralism and Civil Society", at the Norwegian Nobel Institute to an audience of academics, diplomats, civil society leaders, and representatives from the Norwegian government and the private sector.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
Aga Khan urges greater investment in education about the science of government for students in the developing world

Oslo, Norway, 7 April, 2005  —  His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) today urged industrial nations to make major investments in the developing world to improve the quality of education related to democratic governance.

Speaking at a seminar at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Aga Khan cited lack of good governance as a major reason many democracies have failed in the developing world, leading to conflict and suffering that in some cases has lasted more than a generation.

“If governance is a science, as I believe it is, developing countries must educate about governance at secondary and tertiary levels,” he said. “Otherwise, they deprive their intelligentsia of academic grounding in the critical knowledge of how democratic states operate.”

A key factor in poor governance was the lack of educational programmes to teach leaders and administrators.

He said the strong focus on universal primary education in the developing world was resulting in “significant under-expenditure” in secondary and post-secondary education.

“It is clear that over the next decades, a large number of countries will be designing new constitutions, or refining existing ones, and new regional groupings will come into place. Many young democracies will spawn new political structures. But where are the men and women who will lead?”

He noted that up to 900 million people currently live in countries under severe or moderate stress as the result of the failure of democracy and resulting internal conflict. Two thirds of armed conflicts in the last 15 years occurred in Africa and Asia and 80 per cent were internal.

“In nearly every instance, these internal conflicts were predictable because they were the culmination of a gradual deterioration in pluralist, inclusive governance. The question I have is this: if these breakdowns in governance were predictable, why was the international community powerless to get engaged at the early stages to help arrest the deterioration and avoid the suffering that resulted?”

The Aga Khan said, in addition to stronger support for democratic governance, early stage involvement should include investment to promote pluralism and diversity as well as strong civil society in the developing world.

These conditions are mutually supportive and contribute to nation building, as well as providing a buttress to states and their citizens in times of stress, he said. Unless they are achieved, no development process can be sustainable and new democracies will remain fragile, often spiralling into crisis.

Also critical was the ability of the industrial world to have a better understanding and more solid information about the developing world. He noted that the 9/11 attack on the United States was “a direct consequence of the international community ignoring the human tragedy that was Afghanistan at that time.”

“Since the collapse of the Cold War, the need has grown exponentially for the world’s leaders to be able to understand, and properly predict, what is likely to happen in parts of the world in which they previously had no reason to be involved.”

“The West should not discount that an accumulation of failed democracies could be a serious threat to itself and its values, capable of causing – if not conflict – deep currents of stress among societies.”

The Aga Khan was speaking to a distinguished gathering of diplomats, leaders and partners at the Nobel Institute, which has played an historic role in the promotion and recognition of efforts to reduce human conflict throughout the world.

The Aga Khan was on his first official visit to Norway at the invitation of Hilde Johnson, Norway’s Minister for International Development, who praised the Aga Khan Development Network for its “like-mindedness” as a partner with Norway in its development efforts: “Putting the poor people first.”

Norway has been a partner in development with the AKDN going back 20 years to initiatives in remote regions of Northern Pakistan and the cooperation more recently has extended to Afghanistan. A Memorandum of Understanding, signed yesterday, between the Norwegian government and the AKDN, calls for further collaboration in Africa, Central and South Asia.

For further information, please contact:

Department of Public Affairs
Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan
60270 Gouvieux
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The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the Government of Norway have been working together in South Asia since the early 1980s in the areas of natural resource management, microfinance, education, alternative livelihoods and cultural development.

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, culture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. Its agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia.