You are here

You are here

  • His Highness the Aga Khan delivering a speech at the lunch hosted in his honour at the State House, Nairobi, Kenya, 12 October 1982.
    AKDN / Christopher Little
Luncheon in honour of the President of Kenya

Your Excellency the President,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

To be in Kenya again in my Jubilee Year, remembering vividly my Takhtnashini, which seems only yesterday, is a most moving experience.

You, Sir Eboo, were the leader of our Community in East Africa then and today your responsibilities are far greater, extending beyond Africa to Europe, Canada and The United States. I must pay a warm tribute to your untiring devotion to the Community’s institutions both under my grandfather; Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah and throughout the twenty-five years of my own Imamat.

Such links with my Councils are a great source of happiness and strength. Indeed this Silver Jubilee is a symbolic affirmation of the ties between myself as Imam and the Ismaili Community of fifteen million people spread among twenty-five countries.

Since I assumed the Imamat there have been fundamental political and economic changes in many places where Ismailis live, not least in Kenya. Twenty years ago Mzee Jomo Kenyatta saw that independence must mean all communities pulling together so that their combined talents and resources could build the nation, a policy which you Your Excellency have reinforced.

This bridge building, both domestic and international, in business as well as health, education and welfare, is what I would like to talk about this afternoon.

The last few years have brought a distressing polarisation between the industrialised nations and the Third World, between economic and political philosophies and within faiths. Such polarisation divides the rich nations from the poor, divides socialism from free enterprise, divides religious beliefs including my own faith. It is achieving the exact opposite of the brotherhood of man, and makes it crucially important that communities and nations should try harder to learn from each other and to understand each other.

My grandfather, who was the President of the League of Nations, knew this well. I believe he would have been very pleased to see the education and health services which he initiated in the 1880s on their way to becoming an internationally linked system of voluntary, non-profit, Muslim institutions, which through its welfare activities helps to foster understanding between peoples.

Let me recall briefly some highlights of these institutions’ history here in Kenya.

The first Aga Khan school opened in Nairobi in 1905. After the end of the first World War in 1918 my grandfather began the establishment of an educational network in East Africa. Because the colonial administration maintained traditional structures and these tended to keep communities separate, our school’s expansion up to the 1950s was primarily for Ismailis. However, our first African teacher was recruited in 1957 and since my accession to the Imamat we have steadily broadened our intake of pupils and extended the scope of our activities. Today more than 70 percent of the staff and students in the Aga Khan schools are non-Ismailis. Over 6,000 students of all denominating receive education through the Community’s network of nursery, primary, secondary and special schools, as well as bursaries when they are leaving school.

I cannot emphasise too strongly that this network could neither have been created nor been managed and improved without the boards, the committees, and the other volunteers, young and old, who contribute their time and effort, unpaid, for the benefit of society. The voluntary worker is the lifeblood of our institutions, both in education and in health.

Our health services, like our education ones, have adapted themselves to accord with Government’s aims and policies. They are based on three centres of population where my grandfather founded institutions: a maternity hospital in Mombasa in the 1940s, the Kisumu Medical Centre in 1952 – which we are now enlarging – and my grandfather’s Platinium Jubilee Hospital which opened in Nairobi in 1958 and was the first non-racial hospital in Kenya. Today over 85 percent of our patients are from other communities.

We can be proud that just as our social services now primarily serve other people, so have our economic institutions expanded to meet national needs, 80 percent of Diamond Trust of Kenya’s loans are to members of other communities as is two thirds of the Jubilee Insurance’s business.

I emphasise the phrase ‘economic institutions’, because Islam is a total religion touching on all aspects of a Muslim’s life. As Imam, I am concerned with material well-being as well as spiritual and the Imamat’s Third World investments are concerned substantially more with economic development than simple profit making.

In this economic sphere we have recently expanded our commercial activity in a way which should benefit Kenya. The companies concerned are Industrial Promotion Services Limited and Diamond Trust of Kenya.

I.P.S. is part of an international group of private companies established since 1963 to be an agency of the Imamat’s economic development in the Third World. Its aim is to stimulate enterprise particularly in the field of industry by marrying international capital and know-how to local resources. On July 29th this year I.P.S. Kenya signed an agreement giving equity participation in it to three major financial corporations: the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation; Finance for Industry, which is owned by the Bank of England and the United Kingdom clearing banks; and the Kenya Commercial Finance Company. This participation will bring I.P.S. an additional Shs 19.3 million capital and enable it to re-orient itself as a venture capital company.

A venture capital company is one which puts money direct into the companies it is assisting, taking a shareholding as well as providing management and technical expertise. So it has a very real stake in those companies, unlike a bank making a loan, which is usually concerned to take as little risk as possible. But risk is inevitable in building a business, especially if new techniques are involved. Hence the importance of venture capital companies for a developing country.

I referred earlier to Diamond Trust of Kenya, which is one of the country’s leading financial institutions, with assets exceeding Shs 500 million. D.T.K., too, is being restructured, so that it can enter the field of merchant banking. It is doing this in collaboration with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, the London Merchant Bank of Samuel Montagu and Company and the United Nations Pension Fund. This is incidentally the U.N. Pension Fund’s first investment in Africa.

As a merchant banking house D.T.K., in addition to providing loan finance, will be able to help growing companies raise permanent capital by ‘going public’: that is, by selling shares to the public through the stock exchange. D.T.K.’s ability to underwrite such share issues will represent an important step forward in the orderly development of Kenya’s financial and capital markets and extend the base of local ownership. Equally D.T.K.’s new partners will bring international and local expertise into collaboration to the benefit of both local and foreign investors.

In my view this kind of collaboration between developing and industrialised countries is essential for progress. The Third World cannot wholely rely on aid programmes for development, especially not in the present world recession. Instead private enterprise can assist by providing a constructive partnership in which foreign and local expertise and resources work together, drawing on the best available from both sides.

May I quote some local examples of this philosophy in action? Tourism Promotion Services Limited will shortly be completing extensions to both the Mara Serena and Mara Amboseli Game lodges, which will mean they are two of Kenya’s largest lodges. Among several projects IPS is promoting one to grow jojoba beans and extract a whale oil replacement from them. This is in collaboration with Dutch and German development banks and will bring much needed employment to the Taita area. Another I.P.S. project is for a new tannery with Belgian and Italian cooperation. Both these schemes are strongly export oriented.

I would also like to mention an example of the international bridge building which is so vital to the Third World. This is the twinning just announced between the Nation Newspapers Limited and the Times Publishing Company at St Petersburg, Florida, publishers of the American award winning St Petersburg Times.

Publishing a newspaper day after day is a hectic, high pressure business. Errors of fact in newspaper stories are more usually the product of lack of time and organisation than of ill-will. It has seemed imperative to me that Kenya’s leading newspaper should aim for the highest professional standards. The St Petersburg Times has introduced management techniques which have been shown to work. The aim of this twinning is to exchange expertise in editorial organisation, advertising, circulation, technology and other areas, but I emphasise without affecting the editorial independence of either group. Additionally we hope the twinning will give both sides a closer understanding of each other’s cultural environment and attitudes.

It may surprise some of you here today to learn that similar exchanges between the industrialised and the developing countries are now taking place within the Aga Khan Foundation, which I set up in 1967 in Geneva as a private, non-communal, social welfare institution and with which my Health and Education Services have strong links. For example the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, as a registered non-governmental organisation can raise funds for the Third World in a way which the Aga Khan Foundations in Kenya, India, Pakistan or Bangladesh cannot.

The Foundation also works in conjunction with such international agencies as the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the Ford Foundation and the Canadian International Development Agency. Where appropriate the Foundation utilises the management resources of my Aga Khan institutions, for example in organising the Food Aid Programme in the Hymalayas of the Northern Pakistan.

In financial terms the Foundation’s largest project is the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College currently under construction in Karachi. This constitutes part of a private Aga Khan University and we are actively exploring the possibility of its having faculties in other countries, so as to broaden its connections even further.

Thus the Aga Khan Foundation functions internationally, running education, health, nutrition and rural development programmes and Ismaili experts return from developed countries to assist in less developed ones, as hospital staff have done in Mombasa and in Pakistan. The I.P.S. is an international development agency linking the industrialised nations with the Third World. The Aga Khan University intends to become international and address fundamental issues of the Third World. At all levels our Community’s activities are becoming internationalised.

I referred at the beginning of this speech to the dangers of polarisation in the world today, between rich and poor nations, between political philosophies and within faiths. These dangers are acerbated by recession. I hope it is only a passing phase.

Your Excellency, please do not misunderstand the Ismaili’s community links. Ismailis are loyal to the countries they live in and to Governments responsible for their well-being. However, they are united in their common religious faith. What the examples I have given illustrate, I think, is how a relatively small community, acting in accordance with the social conscience of Islam, can exercise an influence for the benefit of mankind out of proportion to its numbers for the reason that its members are able to pool their knowledge and to collaborate.

I believe the Ismaili Community and its Imamat’s commitment to the brotherhood of man and the quality of his life can contribute to countering the dangerous polarisation of our world and of our times.