Welcome Address​​​​​​​

Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University​

Professor Yunus Mgaya​​​​​​
Members of the Board of Trustees
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University 
Parents, Supporters and Distinguished Guests​
And most importantly, Graduands

Welcome to the 2016 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.

Humjambo and Karibuni.

Every year, this is the highlight of the University’s calendar. Today, we are especially honored to have as our Chief Guest Professor Yunus Mgaya, Executive Secretary of the Tanzania Commission for Universities. Thank you so much for joining us, Professor Mgaya. 

Today is the culmination of all the hard work by you, our graduands. So many early mornings and late nights. All those times when you stared at the same sentence or equation for what seemed like an hour, willing it to make sense. It’s been a long journey, hasn’t it?  You have learned so much and grown so much that I think some of you would hardly recognize the person you were when you started this voyage. 

Yet here you are: You made it. You have crossed the ocean that lay before you. You now stand on the shore that was once no more than a hazy line on the horizon. This is the moment you have been working for all along. On behalf of all those assembled here, I congratulate you. You are now ready to serve your countries as leaders and innovators in nursing, medicine and education.

Days such as this would not be possible without your families and friends who stood with you and the University’s many donors and supporters. So I am very happy to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of all of us for their generosity and their commitment to our mission of educating leaders for East Africa and the developing world. 

The list of our supporters is long, but if you will indulge me, I will single out a few for special mention and thanks:

The Canadian government, which is providing over $31 million to improve pre-primary and primary education, including in Lindi and Mtwara, through the Strengthening Education Systems in East Africa initiative, which involves AKU’s Institute for Educational Development here in Dar es Salaam. 

L’Agence Française de Développement, whose support includes $53.5 million in concessionary financing to our sister agency the Aga Khan Health Services, Tanzania for the expansion of the Aga Khan Hospital here in Dar es Salaam, as well as for the establishment of 30 health centres across Tanzania, in addition to their support for our expansion in Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

The German government, through BMZ and KfW, which are supporting AKU’s new Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi, and the University’s Schools of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa, through a €31.2 million Euro grant. 

The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Canada’s International Development Research Centre, which are helping to fund the Dialogue Series run by AKU’s East African Institute. The Institute recently released the results of a major survey of East Africa’s youth as part of that project.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been very generous in supporting our renowned work in women and child health. 

The Lundin Foundation, for its generous support for programmes to upgrade the knowledge and skills of community nurses to improve the quality of health care in rural areas.

As many of you know, AKU has launched an ambitious plan of expansion and transformation here in East Africa, under which it will develop into a comprehensive university educating future leaders in a wide range of fields. Elements of our plan include:

  • ​​The establishment of our principal East African campus in Arusha to house an undergraduate arts and sciences faculty and graduate professional schools;

  • The construction of a new campus for the Institute for EducationalDevelopment in Dar es Salaam;​​

  • Building a new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala, where thegovernment has just granted us land to provide international standardhealth care and training for specialist doctors and nurses;

  • And the creation of new medical and nursing education programmes, as well as the expansion of existing in Dar es Salaam programmes, including here at the Aga Khan Hospital, where we recently announced the launch of new surgery and internal medicine postgraduate residency programmes. 

As you can see, Tanzania is a very important part of our plans for the future. I am pleased to report that several individual donors have already made major gifts in support of our vision, and I am confident many more are yet to come. And I must also express the University’s gratitude to the TCU for its guidance, support and encouragement in the development and approval of our new programmes in Tanzania. 

All of the support we have received speaks loudly about the impact of the University and the trust it has earned. An example of the impact and trust in our University is the recent appointment by President Magufuli of one of our faculty, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, as the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training. 

Of course, we owe a special debt of gratitude to our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, whose vision and generosity launched this international University more than three decades ago and has sustained it ever since. 

I want to speak to you today about a subject that has been a central concern for our Chancellor, and which is of great importance for Tanzania and its neighbors: that is, civil society. And in particular, the role that the University and you, our graduands, and our alumni, can play in it. 

By civil society, I mean all those organizations and institutions that typically operate on a private or voluntary basis, and which, to quote our Chancellor, “are motivated by high public purposes.” 

Examples include institutions of culture and education, among them the AKU. Commercial, labour and religious organizations. Associations of professionals such as doctors, journalists, nurses and teachers who seek to raise standards and improve practice. Organizations devoted to humanitarian activity. Think tanks and watchdog groups that monitor policies and advocate for greater transparency. Broad national coalitions that raise awareness about a particular issue, such as the environment, or press for change, as well as small local groups, such as parents who come together to support their children’s school.

Clearly civil society is a broad term. It is meant to capture all that activity which is neither the work of government nor of business, and to remind us of the profound importance of that activity at a time when many people look at either the government or the profit-driven sector for solutions. We might even broaden it still further, and apply it to private individuals acting on their own, whenever they are motivated by a noble ideal and a peaceful social purpose. 

Indeed, I think this is a very key point regarding civil society: that every one of us is potentially a member. A CEO, a nurse, a teacher, a student, a farmer, a doctor, an entrepreneur – each becomes part of civil society they seek to defend its rights, fight injustice or improve the conditions of life for others.

It is in civil society that both our unity and our diversity are expressed. We express our diversity when a multitude of voices speak without fear on every subject. We express our unity through the respect that we accord those whose perspective we may not share, but whose right to their perspective we respect.  

East Africa has a long tradition of civil society activism of which it is rightly proud. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the modern-day, independent nations of East Africa owe their very existence to civil society. For their struggles for independence were, of necessity, waged by groups and organizations that came together on a voluntary basis to pursue a common purpose for the good of the majority. 

Civil society’s achievements in the decades ahead and  since then have been numerous. 

Here in Tanzania, civil society organizations – including the AKU and the Aga Khan Development Network – have long been in the provision of health services. When the AKDN examined the composition of the country’s health sector as part of a 2007 study of Tanzanian civil society, it found that there were as many church-run hospitals as government hospitals. This is also true for education for schools.

In Kenya, civil society organizations led the way in ushering in a new, more democratic era; in re-establishing peace after the 2007 elections; and in forging agreement on a new constitution. 

Civil society has played a critical role in stemming the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda, where the history of The AIDS Support Organization began when a small group of men and women met one day in 1987 to support one another and to ask what they might do to improve life for those suffering from the disease. Today, the organization administers the country’s largest antiretroviral treatment programme.

When civil society is strong, communities and countries thrive. Rather than being discouraged, it should be embraced as an essential contributor to the public good. Rather than being seen as a threat to government, it should be seen as the guarantor of good governance. Rather than fearing that it threatens order and stability, we should see its diversity and peaceful disagreements as a sign of national strength and maturity. 

This now brings me to you, our graduates; to this University; and to the very subject of leadership. Because a vibrant civil society demands leaders. 

Undoubtedly, you have been deeply challenged here at AKU. But the challenge that awaits you now is greater than any you have faced here. 

As I suggested, civil society depends on voluntary action. But the space for such action often seems limited. We have our own lives our own interests to look after. Your professional work will be intensely demanding. And there will always be forces that resist change. 

No one can demand that you compose an opinion piece for a newspaper on a vital and controversial subject. No one can compel you to join an organization, still less to found one or lead one. No one can force you to volunteer your time and expertise to address a chronic societal problem.

To find the determination and desire to take action in such circumstances, and to galvanize others into joining you – that is the challenge you will face. Yet I have every confidence in you. I am confident because the education you have received here at the Aga Khan University has prepared you for leadership. 

You have learned to practice at the highest international standards; to think creatively and independently; to work effectively with individuals from many different backgrounds. You have come to see yourselves as agents of change, charged with identifying crucial problems and developing evidence-based solutions. And, critically, you have learned to see your profession in a larger context: to look beyond the walls of the school, the clinic or the hospital, and to inquire into the social conditions that lead to poor health and poor education. 

It is precisely that wider perspective that has prepared you to understand the need for an active civil society, and to play a leading role in it. You know that as badly as we need excellent teachers in our classrooms and excellent nurses and physicians in our operating rooms, we also need them out in our communities, spreading information and awareness and conducting research. We need them to help organize and inspire colleagues. We need them to work with government to set effective policies. And we need them to speak up for those whose voices remain unheard. 

I am confident because of your predecessors: the many distinguished AKU alumni who sat where you are sitting now, and who have taken it upon themselves to bring new modes of thought and action to the places that need them most, and to create new knowledge and strategies for overcoming formidable obstacles. 

Health care and education are linchpins of a civil society. No fields of endeavor better demonstrate our compassion for those who suffer, or our responsibility to enable others to fully develop their talents. As teachers, nurses, doctors and researchers, you embody the extraordinary potential of civil society to change the world for the better. 

For the sake of your profession, your community, your country, and your world, I urge you to fulfill that potential. 

Savor this day. Be proud of all you have achieved. But know that another ocean lies before you, and another shore awaits you. 

Thank you all, and Asanteni​