Address​ by Princess Zahra Aga Khan​​


Our Chief Guest, the Honourable Ezekiel Machogu, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of Kenya
Chairmen and members of the Kenya University Council and Uganda Council
Chairman and members of the AKU Board of Trustees
Vice Chancellor and President Sulaiman Shahabuddin
Provost, deans, faculty, alumni, staff and generous supporters of AKU
Parents, family members
Distinguished guests and most importantly,
The members of the Class of 2023:​

Good afternoon, hamjambo, and welcome to the Aga Khan University’s 2024 Convocation!

Your Honour, Dr Machogu, on behalf of our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, it is an honour and a great pleasure to welcome you here today.

The Chancellor would have loved to be with us today, and I am sure that he is following our proceedings, and so I speak to you all also on his behalf, and on behalf of the Board of Trustees.

I am always so delighted to return to Kenya. Every time I do, I am struck by how rapidly the country is changing and the speed with which new opportunities are being taken up. The Aga Khan Development Network looks forward to furthering its contributions to the progress and prosperity of Kenya and its neighbours. AKU and the AKDN continue to invest in new health care and education projects in East Africa. This would not be possible without the enabling environment created by the Governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the East African Community. 

To all our graduands, here in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam, in Kampala, and in Karachi and in the UK, I wish to say: well done! Hongera, mubarak, and congratulations. The path was steep, but the view from this peak of achievement confirms that the climb was worth it. On graduating, you return to a world that is full of daunting challenges but also endless possibilities. Continue to strive with courage and optimism, and grasp all opportunities to serve your communities and contribute to making a more pluralistic and peaceful world.

Since I was a young girl, my father always told me what a mistake it had been for many international organisations, in the 1960s and 70s, to focus almost exclusively on primary education, and effectively de-fund tertiary and higher education across many countries. We all, I suspect, share the Chancellor’s belief that tertiary education is essential for any country to prepare effective leaders who will power successful economies, sustain social development, and fuel strong civil societies.  When I reflect on the pace of change of today’s world, which is accelerated by artificial intelligence and the digital world, higher education and the creation of new knowledge becomes vital to teaching new ways of thinking, developing critical thinking skills, and adjusting to rapid change. 

With his strong conviction that the contribution of higher education to thriving and productive societies was critical, His Highness founded the Aga Khan University forty years ago, and has encouraged the University’s expansion ever since, with uncompromising commitment to the values of impact, quality, relevance, and access. In his words, in 1983, the Chancellor explained that “the overall aim of the Aga Khan University will be to make clear and rational judgements as to which foreseeable future needs of the developing countries require new educational programmes and, having identified those openings, to address them by the appropriate means, setting the highest standards possible, whether in teaching, in research or in service.”

On establishing AKU, the Chancellor focused on health sciences – medicine and nursing – and educational development. These disciplines are pillars of a healthy society, and areas that were in the highest need of attention for sustainable growth of the countries in which we work. Having reached international standards and notable impact in those areas, the Chancellor has encouraged us to spread our reach to other disciplines that are of importance to those nations and the global community, as well as to expand access through new campuses.

2023 was an exceptional year in which AKU’s growth was evident through multiple initiatives. We launched undergraduate medical education in Nairobi and undergraduate nursing education in both Nairobi and Dar es Salaam to educate the health care leaders who are needed throughout East Africa.

In Kampala, where we already have a successful nursing education programme, we commenced construction of our new 60-acre campus that includes a model urban student centre, student residences and soon, a new Aga Khan University Hospital. We are grateful to the Government of Uganda for providing us with extensive support, including land for the project.

Here in Nairobi, the Aga Khan University Hospital implemented an electronic health records system – the first of its kind in the region. This system is being replicated across our entire health system, creating the means of establishing a true integrated healthcare system. It will enhance patient care and accelerate research that will improve health outcomes across the region and across continents.

Climate change and environmental degradation pose an enormous threat to Africa and to our world. In Tanzania, we inaugurated the Arusha Climate and Environmental Research Centre, a living laboratory for researchers from across AKU’s campuses and  the world.

In Karachi, our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences welcomed its inaugural class. Students at FAS will study the societies of Asia and the Middle East; the challenges of social and economic development; the cellular foundations of life and the science of global warming. Whatever professions they wish to pursue, FAS graduates will be ready to compete and collaborate with the world’s best.

Our Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London is modest in size, but its horizons are expansive, and last year it received the prestigious status of Independent Research Organisation.

In Afghanistan, where conditions continue to be challenging, the Aga Khan University has not flinched on its commitment to deliver high quality health care and medical education at the French Medical Institute for Mothers and Children. We are grateful to all of our faculty and staff at FMIC for their staunch dedication.

We are hopeful that these new and continuing programmes and facilities will make AKU an increasingly powerful platform for the education of leaders, the creation of relevant knowledge, and the delivery of world-class education and health care.

The AKU of the future will be one with a wider disciplinary scope, a greater geographical reach, and an array of new capabilities. That the University is so well-positioned for the coming decades is due to the extraordinary generosity and loyal service of all those who have devoted their resources, their time and their knowledge to advancing its mission. We are all profoundly grateful to the AKU global community.

Graduands, your ability to make life better for more people around the globe has never been a greater possibility. New tools, techniques, and technologies now exist that were the stuff of dreams only a few years ago and there are far greater opportunities today to collaborate across borders and languages than ever before.

I urge you all to harness the opportunities available to you and to leverage the knowledge and wisdom you have gained at the Aga Khan University. Be bold, be adventurous, be curious and set your sails for great endeavours. If it is a daunting endeavour, so much the better. For every success there will be setbacks. But when you look back, it will be with the satisfaction of those who embrace hope, strive against the odds, and remain faithful to their commitments and ideals.

Thank you. ​