Aga Khan’s largest single infrastructure investment

Daily Monitor

We at the AKDN and the Ismaili community in Uganda very much appreciate the government’s recognition of this Golden Jubilee by inviting His Highness to Uganda. It is a time of honour for both the nation and the Ismaili community. We hope, therefore, that many Ugandans will celebrate his arrival and his visit here, and that they will be enthusiastic in celebrating his work over the past 50 years.

Bujagali is Aga Khan’s largest single infrastructure investment worldwide


His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan will be in Uganda from August 19 to 23 as part of a tour celebrating his Golden Jubilee as the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. Besides his spiritual role, the Aga Khan is involved in several development initiatives worldwide through the Aga Khan Development Network. Jan Ajwang spoke to Mr Mahmood H. Ahmed, the resident representative of the AKDN, about the visit and network’s mission in Uganda: –

Why would the Aga Khan visit Uganda during his Golden Jubilee celebrations?

This year marks 50 years since His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan became spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, after his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan.

All over the world the Ismaili community asked His Highness if they could mark his Golden Jubilee with a celebration, and also use this opportunity to appreciate his efforts in improving the conditions of humanity. Many celebrations and activities are accordingly taking place this year to commemorate this Golden Jubilee worldwide.

In the same way, the governments of East African countries are recognising His Highness’ work by inviting him to visit Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. During his visit, he will be engaged in a number of proceedings, including meetings with the President.

His Highness will also be hosting two major events which will involve a foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Aga Khan Academy, a new centre of academic excellence in Munyonyo and, also, a ceremony at Bujagali near Jinja, where President Museveni will lay a foundation stone for the hydropower project.

We at the AKDN and the Ismaili community in Uganda very much appreciate the government’s recognition of this Golden Jubilee by inviting His Highness to Uganda. It is a time of honour for both the nation and the Ismaili community. We hope, therefore, that many Ugandans will celebrate his arrival and his visit here, and that they will be enthusiastic in celebrating his work over the past 50 years.

The Golden Jubilee is also a time when we can anticipate new developments and advances in the engagements of AKDN in Uganda. In the jubilees of His Highness’ grandfather, the Jubilee Insurance Company and Diamond Trust Bank were founded. As mentioned previously, the laying of foundation stones at the forthcoming Aga Khan Academy and the Bujagali project, both of which will be prominent Ugandan landmarks, will take place this year.

What does the Aga Khan Development Network do?

ahmed_akdn.jpg It is the world’s largest private development agency and is active in large parts of the developing world including South Asia, Central Asia, and Africa. The AKDN is engaged in three principal areas of development: economic development, social development and cultural development.

Many of the AKDN’s companies and institutions were founded by His Highness’ grandfather and have, therefore, been in existence for many decades. In Uganda these long-standing institutions include the Aga Khan Schools, Diamond Trust Bank, and Jubilee Insurance Company.

Other more recent projects are Uganda Fishnet Manufacturers, Kampala Pharmaceutical Industries, the hides and skins tannery, and the West Nile Rural Electrification Company (WENRECO), which is generating 18 hours of electricity per day, and has improved the quality of life for rural populations.

Next year, WENRECO will bring into use the Nyagak “mini” Hydro Power Plant near Paidha. This will reduce the cost of power for these rural areas which presently rely on expensive oil-burning power facilities. It is a pilot project which, if successful, could be replicated in other regions of the country.

Then, of course, you have the well known Bujagali Hydro Power Project. Bujagali is a major undertaking and the largest single infrastructure investment of the AKDN worldwide. It is driven by the conviction that without a reliable and cheap source of power, the Ugandan economy will not be able to reach its full potential.

We have taken a risk which many more commercially driven investors would not take and believe that at its completion, the project will lead to a dependable and economical source of electricity and, hopefully, have a significant multiplier effect on Uganda’s economy.

Then there are the hotel and tourism projects of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, which in Uganda begun with the inauguration of the Kampala Serena Hotel last year.

Finally, there are the media interests which include the Daily Monitor newspaper, Kfm radio and the recently launched NTV television station which has brought the latest digital technology to Uganda and, I believe, is going to be a key player in broadcasting the Commonwealth Summit events coming up in November.

As you can see, during the past 50 years His Highness the Aga Khan has significantly expanded and deepened the activities of AKDN in East Africa. While we look at Eastern Africa as a region, we also focus on specific programmes within each country.

Many of the AKDN institutions in Uganda that I have described constitute part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, which is the economic arm of the AKDN. Other institutions are part of the social development arm.

These include the Aga Khan Foundation, which is involved in various endeavours such as community based early childhood (or pre-school) education for both Muslim and non-Muslim children. This is focussed around the Madrasa Resource Centre for Early Childhood Development in Mengo, and many thousands of children have benefited from this successful project. It is being further extended to the West Nile region.

The Aga Khan Foundation also runs a project called “EUPEC”, which works with poor and disadvantaged urban communities to enhance access to and quality of teaching in primary education. The company known as “Aga Khan Education Services” in Uganda operates the well known Aga Khan Schools which provide nursery, primary, and secondary education. Finally we have the Aga Khan University offering its advanced nursing training programmes to help working nurses upgrade their skills.

What is the basis for your operations in Uganda?

In 1989 His Highness met with President Museveni and they agreed on the restitution of properties that belonged to the AKDN, but had been confiscated during the Idi Amin era. President Museveni wanted to engage with parties that could assist Uganda in one way or another, and the AKDN was one of these. The Ugandan government made it more attractive for the AKDN to invest further, thereby enabling an expansion of our involvement in Uganda.

How about political development?

The AKDN is apolitical. AKDN policy is to improve the quality of life for all people where possible and, in part, this is by encouraging an environment which is conducive for economic development, and the growth of the private sector.

We encourage good governance because many lives can be improved through such means. Additionally, we help to strengthen awareness about the vital role of civil society in Uganda so people can become more involved in the decisions which affect the quality of their lives.

The AKDN in Uganda has diplomatic status. What exactly do you as resident representative do?

Since AKDN has significant engagements in Uganda, many of which have existed for decades, President Museveni signed an agreement with His Highness the Aga Khan in 2002. This agreement provided an opportunity for the AKDN to consolidate and, where appropriate, increase its involvement in Uganda. One element of these arrangements was the agreement with the Ugandan government that the AKDN could establish a diplomatic mission in Kampala.

My function as the resident representative of the AKDN in Uganda is to work with the different AKDN agencies and the government of Uganda so that we can, together, optimise our engagements here.

I also maintain the relationship of AKDN with various constituencies in Uganda, including the government, the academic community, civil society, the donor community, the business community, international organisations, the media and others. As far as we can see, the future of the AKDN in Uganda is bright.

How does the Aga Khan reconcile his activities in development alongside his role as a spiritual leader?

The leaders of our congregation lead their normal lives at the same time as playing a spiritual role in the community. There is no rigid separation between the material and the spiritual worlds as there is nothing inconsistent with a spiritual leader leading a worldly life in all its dimensions.

Would you consider his Highness the Aga Khan a philanthropist or a shrewd businessman?

Some observers of his work will consider him to be a philanthropist, while others perceive him as a businessman. However, I do not regard His Highness to be driven by either philanthropy or business. One way to understand this point of view is to reflect on the long tradition of His Highness’ ancestors since the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), who have consistently encouraged the improvement of conditions of living of the vulnerable and disadvantaged and upholding the dignity of mankind.

Looked at in this way, the AKDN may be seen as an endeavour by His Highness to seek the improvement of living conditions in three spheres of development: economic, social and cultural. In light of such a perspective, His Highness the Aga Khan is neither a philanthropist nor a businessman, but rather pursuing a mission which is centuries old.

Daily Monitor

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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