When he takes to the podium to be honoured today, it won’t be by accident or even a miracle; it will be tribute to decades of work and contribution His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV has done in Uganda that have outlived many post-independent governments.
The Aga Khan, who is the Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, arrived in the country yesterday ahead of today’s 55th Independence anniversary and held a brief meeting with President Museveni and other senior government officials at State House Entebbe.
Earlier, during a media briefing at the Uganda Media Centre, Presidency minister Esther Mbayo hinted on why Uganda was honouring His Highness the Aga Khan. “He will receive a special honour because of the immense economic contributions he has made to our country and indeed the whole world,” Ms Mbayo said.
He will be decorated with the “Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa” medal during the celebrations for his huge contribution to Uganda’s development and to humanity.
The medal, according to the National Honours and Awards Act, 2001, is given to Heads of State and Heads of Government. A full citation, as dictated by law, shall be made clearly indicating the reason for the award during the celebrations.
Past recipients include presidents Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Theodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea) both awarded in 2012, Armando Guebuza (Mozambique) in 2013 and Julius Nyerere and Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) in 2007.
This year’s celebrations will be held at Bushenyi Municipal Grounds under the theme, “Uganda’s freedom must be anchored in the spirit of hard work, resilience and commitment”.
His Highness Aga Khan has made outstanding contribution to furthering the understanding and progress of human development in Uganda and the wider East African region. Choosing to return to Uganda as he marks the Diamond Jubilee, or 60 years, in office as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims shows how much importance he attaches to Uganda and her people.
The Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims in 1957 at the age of 20. Since taking on his role in 1957, he has dedicated his efforts to improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations, while emphasising the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith: one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds human dignity.
In recognition of his exceptional efforts and contributions to human development and improving the social condition of societies globally, the Aga Khan has over the last six decades, received numerous decorations, honorary degrees, and awards from institutions and nations across the world.
He has been deeply engaged in the development of countries around the world through the work of his Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). He and his grandfather before him, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, have had a presence in Uganda and the region for more than a hundred years.
The immense contribution of the Aga Khan and the Ismaili Imamat to Uganda has included social development (education, nursing, healthcare, civil society strengthening, and rural support), infrastructure development, tourism promotion, industrial promotion, financial services development, media for development and cultural development.
The initiatives demonstrate the Aga Khan’s long-term commitment to the development of Uganda. In the last decade alone, the total development investment made in Uganda by the portfolio entities of AKDN, including resources of AKDN partner organisations and lenders, amounts to more than $1 billion or Shs3.6 trillion. In addition to delivering strong developmental outcomes, the AKDN agency companies are also among the highest tax-payers in Uganda today. Yet, the Aga Khan and the Ismaili Imamat draw out no financial returns from these investments as all financial surpluses are re-invested in development work.
Throughout his 60-year period of Imamat, His Highness has, in partnership with government, tirelessly promoted development, working to improve the lives of people regardless of religion, origin, gender or tribe. His ambition has been to strive for world-class standards for all Ugandans and the region.
A central feature of his unique approach has been to design and implement strategies in which the different agencies of his development network integrate their activities in order to reinforce each other’s efforts and impact.
Take education as an example. The Aga Khan has long displayed a deep and unwavering commitment to Uganda. AKDN has been involved in education in Uganda since the 1930s when the first Aga Khan schools were established.
Over the years, AKDN’s contribution to the education sector has expanded to include a continuum of services from early childhood education at the grassroots level, to high-quality tertiary education where students, teachers and school management all benefit from the various formation initiatives.
Since its inception in 1993, the early childhood programme has increased the ability of more than 20,000 children from marginalised communities to access and succeed in primary and later schooling, through fostering pre-school environments in children’s formative early years. AKDN agencies also provide training, research, programme design and policy formation support to the government. His faith in this nation and the leadership of President Museveni led to the return of a number of Ismaili families who have now made Uganda their home. Under the guidance of The Aga Khan, the Ismaili community stands out today for its unstinting loyalty to Uganda and its enormous contribution to the economic progress of the country.