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  • His Highness the Aga Khan and Minister of Natural Resources The Honorable Ali Mwinyi unveil the plaque marking the extension of the Aga Khan Hospital, Dar es Salaam, one of Tanzania’s Silver Jubilee projects, at a ceremony on November 25th, 1982.
    AKDN / Christopher Little
Speech concerning the Aga Khan social and development institutions

Mr Chief Justice,
Honourable Minister,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a particular pleasure for me to be among distinguished representatives of Government, of international agencies and of business here today. Not only am I celebrating the Silver Jubilee of my accession to the Imamat of the Ismaili Community. I am deeply involved in social welfare and appreciate being amongst those who commit their time, effort and resource for the benefit of mankind. From the very start, the Aga Khan Health and Education Services have depended substantially upon the untiring devotion of volunteer workers and I could not address you without paying a generous tribute to those volunteers in Tanzania who assist the running of the hospital, health centres, schools and hostels. They are the lifeblood of the Aga Khan social welfare institutions.

Equally the managers and staff of IPS deserve recognition for the great efforts they are making to offset the effects of current economic problems, efforts which deserve sincere acknowledgement.

I referred a few moments ago to this being the 25th anniversary of my assuming the leadership of the Ismaili Muslim Community. Although some of you are already well informed about the Ismailis, it may be appropriate for me to say a few words about the office which I hold.

Ismailis are Shia Muslims who believe like all Shias throughout the world that the successor to the leadership of the Muslim Community, after the death of Prophet Muhammed, was the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and that this leadership, in both spiritual and temporal matters, was to continue by heredity through Ali in the Prophet’s family. Today, however, we are one of the few Shia sects led by a hereditary Imam, my grandfather having been the 48th and I myself being the 49th.

Ismailis live in over 25 countries, including India, Pakistan, Syria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canda, Kenya and, of course, Tanzania. In all these countries they are minorities and this is, no doubt, one of the reasons why private initiative has always played such an important role in their lives.

The Imamat’s involvement with this private initiative, especially in the economic field, deserves explanation to anyone educated in the Augustinian Christian philosophy which tends to divide the spiritual from the material. Islam, by contrast, is a total religion guiding all aspects of a Muslim’s life. The faith establishes the moral framework within which material endeavour is to be encouraged and a ‘social conscience’ has always been a key part of our lives. Hence, as Imam, I am concerned with the encouragement of all forms of endeavour and – further – with the quality of its performance, because that affects the quality of human life. What is done must be done honestly, sincerely and well.

We cannot afford to be incompetent, because if we are we damage the people we seek to serve.

This is equally true in the field of material endeavour, where the Imamat’s economic development agencies, such as IPS, seek to operate in a genuinely entrepreneurial environment, yet obeying the dictates of social conscience. The Third World investments initiated by my grandfather and expanded by myself are of an institutional nature and, as I explained at the dinner I gave for the President last Sunday, their activity should not be confused with the less desirable aspects of unrestrained capitalism. The Ismaili Imamat has no single home country and so its activities are international and institutional as opposed to governmental. But all the Imamat agencies and services seek to identify themselves with the objectives of the developing countries and the aim is that the benefits of their performance should be re-circulated, thus assisting the material well-being of which I have just spoken.

Performance, as I have already indicated, is to me a key word where both social institutions and commercial enterprise are concerned. Standards of performance need to be monitored and in both spheres a careful and reasoned approach to productivity can help maximise achievement. By productivity I mean the effective application of both human and material resources to the job in hand. It can be as relevant to social institutions as to business.

You can send teachers on in-service courses to up-date their teaching techniques; introduce control procedures for the distribution of drugs to rural health centres; establish proper career structures for staff; in a more wide ranging way you can introduce social audits to schools and hospitals so as to evolve more efficient operating criteria. Furthermore you can transfer lessons learnt from one country to another and from one institution to another, so that knowledge of both successes and failures is utilised.

I believe profoundly that effective achievements in health services, in education and in welfare generally depend as much as businesses upon a pragmatic approach to the realities which face us. Health and education are the predominant items in the governmental budgets of both developed and developing countries. Unhappily, avoidable waste and duplication of effort occurs almost everywhere. Our resources, especially in the Third World, are limited. They must be managed as effectively as possible and this is more than ever true in the present world recession.

In the President’s keynote speech to the CCM Party’s National Conference, outlining the Structural Adjustment Programme, he is reported to have said ‘Of particular importance for us is the development of better means of economic management.’

This point can scarcely be over-emphasised.

In the past one and a half months I have visited Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and Mauritania. Between January and March I shall be visiting India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore and Dubai and I am receiving a constant flow of reports from those countries. The conclusion I have reached from these short but intensive visits, and from the preparation for them, is that the impact of world recession on the developing countries is significantly greater than media coverage suggests or most people realise. The economic problems facing Tanzania are not unique to Tanzania. Every Third World country is seeking solutions to them.

I have asked myself why the impact of the recession is so much greater than was forecast and have come to a conclusion. This is that when recession hits a developing country the effect on all areas of the nation’s life is compounded into something infinitely more overwhelming than can be perceived by analysis of any single social or economic factor.

You can look at coffee production, for instance; note that world prices have tumbled since 1979 and that there are serious outbreaks of coffee berry disease, and realise that a catastrophic fall in foreign exchange earnings is certain. At the same time hospital services may appear to be functioning adequately because shortages of supplies have not yet affected them. Thus you would get two different readings from two different sectors and consequently a false impression of balance, because in practice recession and foreign exchange shortage have bitten far deeper into the country’s economy than would be the case for example in a developed, Western State. But the total impact has not been realised.

I have also asked myself whether it is possible to detect any clear trends in the ways Third World countries are responding to world recession and seeking to diminish its impact.

While I would not say there are any definite moves towards fundamental changes in political thinking – that the ‘isms’ of the past are out and new ones becoming fashionable – and while each country seems to be responding individually to its own economic problems, there is a rapidly increasing premium being attached to the work of creative people and creative institutions.

The response of the Third World in trying to make people, institutions and enterprises more productive, is perfectly logical but I have never seen it pursued so vigorously as it is today.

In fact not only is a premium being put on creativity, there is a premium on locating it, and on harnessing it to the national endeavour. This premium includes providing a new legal framework in which creativity can operate: what I would call an Enabling Environment.

Let me give you some examples which, interestingly, cross national frontiers, ideological outlooks and span differing areas of endeavour.

In Kenya, Pakistan and many other countries, the recession is causing Governments to look again at their social services, their nationalised schools and health institutions, to invite existing voluntary agencies as well as new ones to contribute their resources in support of national programmes.

Sri Lanka is actively seeking investments of all kinds to widen the spectrum of national economic activity.

Burma is in the process of a major re-consideration of economic policy.

Guinea has completed part of such a re-consideration and is implementing it.

India is inviting investment from abroad, in order to accelerate the development of specific areas of its economy.

All these countries are aware, and are keeping in mind even if they do not say so publicly, that it is of fundamental importance to the Third World to widen the spectrum of activity of creative people, and of creative enterprises and initiatives. They are also aware even if they do not say that publicly that this can be overdone, with undesirable results. But to a greater extent than I can ever recollect before, they recognise that creative activity is needed and that the only way to stimulate it is by providing an environment which enables it to flourish.

If there is indeed a premium on identifying creative institutions then perhaps those of the Imamat can be recognised as such.

As Aziz Husain mentioned in his introductory speech of welcome, IPS is one of the Imamat’s agencies for economic development in the Third World and has acquired considerable experience which is relevant to today’s problems. It has obtained this experience in two ways.

First, through the direct promotion of IPS companies here, in Kenya, The Ivory Coast, Zaire, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This network of IPS companies increases our understanding of Third World economic problems and strengthens our ability to transplant successful concepts from one country to another. However, IPS is not only involved in conceptualising and financing projects, but also in providing management expertise and supervision. Therefore it has, of necessity, developed a flexible and innovative management approach, which is now one of its greatest strengths.

The second area in which IPS has been active is the promotion of and participation in the creation of new institutions; for instance a Tourism Development Bank in Tunisia, a housing development finance company in India and a very recent venture capital company in Bangladesh.

In the immediate future, the Imamat’s institutions can help Tanzania by making available increased resources, optimising management performance, and responding pragmatically to problems which have intensified in certain areas.

One such area, is the unavailability of foreign exchange and we will specifically seek to obtain a foreign exchange credit line for the IPS companies in Tanzania which will enable them to import essential raw materials without using up Tanzania national foreign exchange. We would do this, subject to the necessary agreements, until such a time as the foreign exchange problem becomes more manageable and where possible our industrial projects have converted satisfactorily to use of local raw materials.

This decision will I hope help to safeguard 4,500 jobs as well as ensuring the availability of many products Tanzania requires.

Additionally I think this is very important we will encourage utilisation of local financial liquidity for the establishment of new production activity. These would be enterprises exploiting local raw materials to produce goods with potential national and international markets, aiming through the latter to further improve Tanzania’s foreign exchange position.

I think we must be careful, however, not to react to current pressures by developing local raw materials which, in better times, will prove so expensive as against imported ones that the finished products made from them will be too high priced to continue commanding a local market, or of achieving export sales.

Finally, in the field of social institutions, we will continue to provide material and management support to those social services in whose operations we have expertise, notably education and health.

We are prepared to help both institutions we ourselves run and, in special cases, those we do not, but which are seeking support from us.

This morning I launched an extension programme for the Aga Khan Hospital here in Dar es Salaam and I am happy to confirm that a preliminary study for a scheme to provide support for upgrading the Government hospital at Dodoma is beginning today.

Obviously a small Community like mine in Tanzania cannot produce a major response, but I believe we can show a willingness to respond quickly, pragmatically and effectively.