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Event - 1997-03-15
Wednesday, 1997, March 5
The East African

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is an international group of institutions, established by the Aga Khan, whose social, economic and cultural activities span South and Central Asia as well as Africa and include Europe and North America (see box).

Along with South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa is home to the AKDN's oldest institutions - business enterprises in West and East Africa, and health care and educational institutions in East Africa. This document focuses on the development of the AKDN in East Africa. It aims to show how community-based institutions founded there during the early part of this century have grown into a network of national organizations open to all, and pursuing innovative approaches to social development. economic development and culture in the region today.

Through individual institutions, the AKDN traces a history in East Africa which goes back to the last century. It was in the early years of the 19th century that members of the Sia Imami Ismaili Muslim Community, know as the Ismailis, began to move to East Africa, along with other settlers from the Indian subcontinent. The trend accelerated in the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The existence of a one-room community school is documented for the first time in 1905, on the island of Zanzibar. Even earlier, members of the Ismaili community had settled as far inland as Kampala.

During the Imamat (1885-1957) of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, the present Aga Khan's grandfather, an institutional network began to take shape throughout East Africa.

Medical facilities and schools were created; financial institutions were set up to support housing and small development projects with funds contributed during the Jubilee celebrations (1935 and 1945) of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah. During the same period, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah became one of the founders of the East African Muslim Welfare Society, establishing a tradition which continues into the present day of out-reach and collaboration with other Muslim communities.

A new era for all of these institutions began in the 1950's, shortly before Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Uganda became independent countries, when legislation in East Africa permitted community-based institutions to offer their services to people of all races, faiths, and origins. The Aga Khan institutions were among the first to open their doors. Under the guidance of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, who acceded to the Imamat in 1957, they responded to the challenges of independence with further commitment to national development. These included the construction of a state-of-the-art hospital in Nairobi, which opened with 112 beds in 1958 (it now has 225 beds), and the opening of flagship nursery, primary and secondary schools in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Kampala in the 1960s. In the field of economic development, Industrial Promotion Services companies were created by the Aga Khan throughout East Africa in 1963 to support industrial initiatives in the private sector. Following the creation of Tourism Promotion Services in 1971, a network of hotels and lodges, known as the Serena Group, was established in Kenya; it has now been extended to Tanzania (created in 1964, through an Act of Union signed by Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The Kenyan office of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) opened in 1974. By the 1980s, it had established programmes in health care, education and rural development, some of which are now region-wide.

The evolution of the AKDN's institutions and programmes has been conditioned by recent history in East Africa. It was facilitated by the shared regional goals of government in the 1950s and 1960s, which led to the foundation of the East African Community. This early regional thrust provided a propitious context for the development of regional-wide policies in certain sectors; during this period, for example, schools in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda shared a common education programme, and the Diamond Trust was a single East African financial institution. In the 1970s, the possibility of regional synergies declined for the AKDN institutions in East Africa, as different situations developed within each country: relative stability and a mixed economy in Kenya; over a decade of civil war in Uganda, where the Asian populations were expelled and their assets expropriated; socialism and nationalization in Tanzania. Nevertheless, institution-building continued on a national basis, albeit at different speeds, in Kenya and Tanzania, where the Aga Khan Education Service (AKES) and the Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS) were formally incorporated in 1986.

In recent years, the AKN has grown in size and complexity in East Africa. Strongest in Kenya in the 1970s and early 1980s, institutional development has recently received an important impetus in Tanzania, where liberalization policies are creating new opportunities for the private sector in the economic, social and cultural spheres. AKF, which had been supporting programmes in Tanzania since 1984, opened an office in Dar es Salaam in 1991. AKES opened a primary school in 1993. A major effort to revitalize Zanzibar's Old Stone Town, led by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), was facilitated by the establishment of The Aga Khan Cultural Service (Zanzibar) in 1990. AKFED is participating in the privatization of state-owned enterprises in Tanzania. It has also now completed a major expansion of its East African hotel and lodge network, both on the mainland and on the island of Zanzibar.

In Uganda, peace and stability have also created new opportunities for the AKDN, to serve development. Schools and other properties confiscated in the early 1970s have been returned by the Government. An enabling fiscal environment, facilitating the flow of resources from income-producing sectors to social services, has made it possible for the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) to contribute to the rehabilitation of the schools. As a result, AKES is already running nursery and primary schools on its Makerere Road premises in Kampala, where it has also started school improvement programmes, with AKF support. The creation of an enabling environment for social and economic activities in Uganda has also made it possible for AKFED to undertake new ventures, reactivating dormant or near-moribund enterprises and participating in the privatization of industrial concerns in its areas of expertise. AKF opened its Ugandan office in 1992.

This presentation describes a group of institutions poised to play a growing role in the development process in East Africa. Formal agreements for cooperation have been signed with the governments of Uganda (1989 and 1992), Tanzania (1991) and Kenya (1992), recognizing the AKDN's contributions to national development and creating an enabling framework for its activities. Cooperation between the public and private sectors is facilitating new AKDN projects in several areas. In social development, these include the design of health policies which can contribute to the building of pluralistic health systems in the region, a new initiative in support for non-governmental organizations in Zanzibar, and plans for new programmes to improve health by alleviating poverty.

The new enabling environment in the region is also helping AKDN institutions become more autonomous and self-sustaining. As the cost of quality health care and education moves beyond people's capacity to pay for them AKDN institutions are looking for new ways to cover their costs, assure access to services and finance programme development. The establishment of endowments is one way. In Kenya, for example, AKF has created an endowment fund with donations from local individual and corporate donors, recently boosted with an important gift from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the uncle of the Aga Khan. The goal is to develop the local financial capacity to support programmes with a permanent source of funding.

Along with these encouraging new developments on the national level, AKDN activities also stand to benefit from the new climate of regional cooperation in East Africa. Many programmes in health, education and economic development are now regional - examples, described below, range from AKFED's work in the fields of leather processing, tourism and the financial sector, to AKF's projects in school improvement and early childhood education and the development of cross-country strategies in both the AKES and AKHS systems.

Part of a regional web of programme experience, programmes in East Africa are also part of the international AKDN. In health, education and rural development, AKF has programmes in South Asia and Central Asia which are important resources for its programmes in East Africa. AKF also has considerable international experience in providing support for non-governmental organizations, a focus for new programmes in East Africa. Both AKHS and AKES represent networks of cooperating facilities in South Asia as well as East Africa. The Aga Khan University is playing a growing role in meeting the AKDN's research and training needs in East Africa, and is to establish new institutes there. And new programmes currently being considered for Mozambique and Madagascar in a variety of fields will be able to draw upon decades of experience acquired in East Africa ( as well as in Mozambique and Madagascar themselves, before local political problems halted institutional development there).

Critical challenges face Africa's developing societies. Public resources for social services are shrinking, placing a heavy responsibility on all providers to find ways of sustaining services, and to assure access to all who seek health care, education or other services. These have become major concerns in all of the AKDN's social development institutions, and the focus of specific projects. The growing openness of East Africa's societies and economies offers rich possibilities for growth and change, but also poses questions of the preservation and revitalization of cultural heritage, and environmental protection - questions which AKDN institutions are tackling in specific projects in education, economic development, and culture, all described below. Although the challenges are daunting, the opportunity to meet them is real.

Thanks to new possibilities of cooperation between the public and private sectors, as well as collaboration between local, regional and international agencies, the potential of the AKDN to contribute to development in East Africa has never been greater than it is today..

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