When His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims jetted in Kenya this week, it was more than a foreign dignitary visiting the country. Despite him receiving the official treatment given to international leaders, this is more of another trip to a country he knows so well and is known well.
In East Africa, His Highness the Aga Khan is more than just a name: a philanthropist; a spiritual leader; a job creator; a business empire; a rural development crusader and above all public health service provider. From the Aga Khan group of schools, to the Aga Khan University Hospital and the Aga Khan Development Network, many people in the region have had an interaction with an entity or two that has a link to the Aga Khan network.
The many initiatives in East Africa may be has something with His Highness the Aga Khan early life, which he partly spent in Nairobi, before advanced learning in Switzerland and later Harvard University in the US. Born in Geneva Switzerland, His Highness the Aga Khan who is a British citizen has always returned to East Africa either personally or through his various entities. Running into billions, the network runs hospitals, schools, banks, agricultural processing companies, media companies, insurance companies and civil society groups.
Over the last century, the Aga Khan Development Network’s (AKDN) has set up programmes and diverse institutions which have become strong forces of social and economic development in Kenya, improving the quality of life in some of the country’s most resource poor communities and beyond. An Agreement of Cooperation for Development was signed with the Government of Kenya in 1996. It recognizes AKDN’s contributions to national development and creates an enabling framework for its activities.
His Highness the Aga Khan is in the country at the invitation of the Government of Kenya to commemorate his Diamond Jubilee – 60 years since he assumed the role as 49th hereditary Imam of the global Shia Ismaili Muslim community.
During the meeting, the two leaders discussed the long-standing partnership between the Ismaili Imamat and the Government of Kenya, and the roles of the Ismaili Community and the Aga Khan Development Network. It is a relationship spanning over 100 years that has contributed to improving the lives of all Kenyans.
The meeting confirmed a shared commitment to improving the quality of life for the people of Kenya through continued partnership. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations represent both a recognition of the Aga Khan’s work over the last 60 years and an opportunity to launch new initiatives.
Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) currently is operating more than 200 schools and educational programmes which provides quality pre-school, primary and secondary education services to students in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The foundations of the present system were laid by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, III, who established over 200 schools during the first half of the 20th century, the first in 1905 in Mundra and Gwadar in South Asia, and in Zanzibar in East Africa. Today AKES schools and programmes benefit over 75,000 students.
Frigoken Limited (FKL), a project company of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), endeavors to forge a better future for Kenya’s rural small scale farmers. Frigoken provides farmers with a range of services, including price guarantees, assured market, provision of highest certified quality inputs, agricultural extension services at no cost to the farmer among others.
Today, Frigoken is the largest exporter of processed green beans from Kenya, supplying niche products to leading European supermarket chains. The company currently provides direct employment to over 3,000 people, most of whom are women, and supports around 100,000 small scale farmers in rural areas of Kenya.
In the financial sector Aga Khan network runs both Jubilee Insurance and Diamond Trust Bank. Incorporated in 1937, Jubilee Insurance is the oldest composite insurance company in Kenya with 70 years of experience. Established 60 years ago, Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) has matured into a fully-fledged commercial banking group in East Africa with branches in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Other entities include Nation Media group, Tourism Promotion Services and Industrial Promotional Services, pharmaceutical industries in Tanzania, investment in the Bujaggali Hydropower Plant in Uganda, SEACOM- the first marine cable in East Africa.