Rt. honourable Speaker of Parliament, honourable ministers, trustees and president of the university, members of the diplomatic corps, deans, faculty and staff of the university, parents, donors, supporters and distinguished guests, and graduands.
Humjambo and karibuni. Hongera, Wanafunzi wote, I’m learning a little Swahili.
What a remarkable day this is - and what a pleasure it is to be here.
This is a very important day in your lives, of course, and I must say this opportunity to share in East African AKU [Aga Khan University] convocation makes this a singular day in my life, as well.
As your Chancellor, it was I who first proposed to our trustees that AKU should expand from Asia to Africa, to meet its chartered international mandate.
In the search for Africa’s development, how can any of us forget that throughout human history there has never been greatness without expanded knowledge. And is that not the precise purpose of a great university?
I have always felt that there is a kind of magical feeling about a graduation ceremony. Think about it, all of you graduands! You have walked in here earlier today as students of the Aga Khan University. And you will walk out of here a little later as graduates of the Aga Khan University - and distinguished AKU alumni.
The degree or diploma that you receive today is something you will take with you for the rest of your lives. The education you have achieved here is something that no one can ever take away.
We celebrate each of you graduands. And we also celebrate so many who have contributed to your success - your parents and your families, your friends and your colleagues, and those who have contributed to your university life - faculty, staff, donors, and trustees, as well as community leaders.
Like each of you personally, the university also remembers its heritage on a day like this.
That heritage is rooted in the rich history of Islamic intellectual accomplishment – including the work of my own ancestors in ancient Cairo 1,000 years ago, when they founded the Azhar University and the Dar-ul-ilm - the House of Knowledge.
This story continued for several centuries, as Muslim centres of scholarship and culture involved and inspired people of many traditions and faith communities. A respect for diversity - a welcoming, cosmopolitan ethic - has been a hallmark of this heritage--an increasingly relevant legacy in the emerging “borderless” world that [AKU] president [Firoz] Rasul has so aptly described.
It was this intellectual heritage that inspired my grandfather, as Imam of the Ismaili Muslim community, to make education a top priority. In fact, he started the first Aga Khan School in Africa more than 110 years ago in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.
And that same legacy was in our minds when we began planning for this new Aga Khan University.
I well remember our early conversations - as early as 1975, to be exact! We asked a host of questions - and a host of wise people helped us address them. Harvard University developed our blue print. Our biggest question was whether a new university in Asia and Africa, in this day and age, could achieve sufficient levels of excellence – and be measured by world standards.
Well, we decided to try it! The Aga Khan University was founded in Karachi in 1983 - it recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. And then, in the year 2000, we expanded into East Africa.
Today, the Aga Khan University remains the only privately supported university with major academic programmes on both the Asian and the African continents.
Over a relatively short time span, we have extended our work into eight different countries. We created two degree or diploma programmes in the 1980’s, two more in the 1990’s, and another 21 programmes since the year 2000. Altogether, we have graduated more than 12,000 students – more than 2,000 in East Africa. And you will soon become the most recent!
Altogether in these 15 years some 1,900 nurses have been trained here - almost half of them earning Bachelor of Nursing degrees. So have some 3,000 teachers, including 250 with Master’s of Education degrees.
But the most important point is the multiplier effect that you can have - as you pass along your skills and your standards. I think, for example, of programmes which have trained almost 1,000 head teachers of secondary schools -just in the last year - a striking example of this powerful multiplier potential.
The quality of these programmes has been endorsed not only by the World Health Organisation, but by standard setters such as the UK College of Physicians and Surgeons and the US Joint Commission International. But the best endorsement, by far, is the success of our graduates, when they take licensing exams, or apply to other schools, or go to work for new employers.
In the end, however, our most important accomplishments are not measured by quantity - but by quality. It’s not so much that 12,000 people were educated at AKU, but rather that one person was educated here - and that this individual life-transforming story has happened – now some 12,000 times.
As we look to the future, I am increasingly impressed by one overriding insight. It reflects the vast flow of information that has come my way as I have watched the ups and downs of the developing world. More and more, I am convinced that the key to improving the quality of human life – both in places which are gifted with good governments and in places that are not so fortunate, is the quality of what I describe as civil society.
By civil society I mean the array of institutions which are neither public, nor profit driven, but which are motivated by voluntary commitments and dedicated to the public good.
They include, for example, institutions dedicated to culture, to public information, to the environment and to religious faith. And they include, very importantly, the fields of health and education - in which you are so centrally involved.
A healthy civil society is a meritocratic one, where ethics are honoured, and excellence is valued. And the great question now confronting us in Africa is how rapidly the institutions of a healthy civil society can be established and reinforced.
In this process, the role of the university will be central - as it advances and shares new knowledge.
From the start more than 30 years ago, this university’s founding blueprint envisioned a multi-campus, multi-continental university -- comprehensive, broadly integrated, and research-led. That vision, as you have heard, is now coming true.
One milestone along that journey occurred earlier this week when I received the first charter ever granted to an International University in Tanzania. That ceremony reflected, I believe, AKU’s record of producing outstanding East African graduates. And it sets the stage for expanding the university in the years ahead through a series of new schools, new faculties, new institutes and other facilities throughout the East African region.
Here in Uganda, we will focus on achieving international levels of health care - especially for non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. With the cooperation of the government, we plan to establish a new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala – as the president has just mentioned as well as several medical centres in other places across the country. Our goal, with this integrated health system, is that no Ugandan should have to leave the country to seek quality medical care.
But this cannot happen, of course, without a significantly expanded corps of qualified health professionals. And this is where you come in. Our commitment to this country in the years ahead is to educate an ever-growing number of medical specialists, nurses and other specialists - people like you - who can perform, consistently and impressively, at an international world level standard.
Goals for East Africa
We have similar exciting goals throughout the East African region. As the president has said, we plan to open a new campus in Arusha in just four years.
It will be home for our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences - plus two professional graduate schools and a variety of other training and research facilities. We are also planning a new campus in Dar es Salaam for our Institute for Educational Development.
Other AKU initiatives that will serve the entire region include new undergraduate medical and nursing programmes in Kenya - as well as our Graduate School of Media and Communications, opening this year in Nairobi.
Seven other graduate schools will follow - designed to advance healthy civil society - in specific African contexts. They will include schools of leadership and management; hospitality, leisure and tourism; architecture and human settlements; government, civil society and public policy; economic growth and development; law; and education.
It is our belief that developing graduate schools is one of the quickest ways in which the university can impact the improvement in the quality of life of people in developing countries.
As the East African Community is built politically, so will AKU become increasingly regional. Meanwhile, we will continue to expand our inter-university partnerships - across the world - lending further global credibility to our work - and to your proud credentials.
An example is in the field of neurosciences where the whole domain of stem cell technology needs to be brought massively and competently to Africa.
This is a long list of new initiatives - but not an unrealistic one - any more than it was unrealistic to plan for an intercontinental university three decades ago. And let me emphasise that we see these various units as integrated parts of one university, working closely together - across academic disciplines and also across nations and continents - in our increasingly “borderless” world.
These developments also mean that AKU will continue to be a valuable reference point for you, with its Africa and Asia-specific research, and its continuing education opportunities. Even as the AKU story develops, so you can enhance your own relationship with the university.
Let me put you on notice! This is not a farewell ceremony! In fact, an event like this is often called a “commencement”, since it marks the beginning of so many great new stories. We hope that you too will share your stories with us, in the days ahead. And we hope, that whenever possible, you will continue to be a part of the university’s story.
And so it is that we come together, today, both as grateful inheritors, looking back on an accomplished past - and as eager explorers - looking ahead to an exciting future.
It has been an honour for me to share this day with all of you.
About commitment to Uganda
“Here in Uganda, we will focus on achieving international levels of healthcare - especially for non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
With the cooperation of the government, we plan to establish a new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala – as the president has just mentioned as well as several medical centres in other places across the country.
Our goal, with this integrated health system, is that no Ugandan should have to leave the country to seek quality medical care,”
Who is the Aga Khan?
His Highness the Aga Khan, the chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims on July 11, 1957, at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan.
He is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) through his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, the first Imam, and his wife Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter.
Son of Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajuddawlah Aly Khan, the Aga Khan was born on December 13, 1936, in Geneva. He spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and then attended Le Rosey School in Switzerland for nine years. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honours Degree in Islamic history.
Like his grandfather Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan before him, the Aga Khan has, since assuming the office of Imamat in 1957, been concerned about the well-being of all Muslims, particularly in the face of the challenges of rapid historical changes.
In Islam’s ethical tradition, religious leaders not only interpret the faith but also have a responsibility to help improve the quality of life in their community and in the societies amongst which they live. For His Highness the Aga Khan, this has meant a deep engagement with development for over 50 years.
Building on institutions started by his grandfather, the Aga Khan created the agencies of the AKDN as a contemporary endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to realise the social conscience of Islam through institutional action.