​Welcome Address

Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University​

​Dr. Benedict Mtasiwa
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.

Every year, this is the highlight of the University’s calendar. Today, we are especially honored to have as our Chief Guest Dr. Benedict Mtasiwa, Chief, Principal Exchange Programmes, Links and Partnerships of the Inter-University Council for East Africa. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Mtasiwa.  
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 the nursing leaders and teachers  Uganda needs so badly. 

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 all 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 indulge me, I will single out a few for special mention and thanks:

The German government, through BMZ and KfW, which are supporting the University’s Schools of Nursing and Midwifery here in Uganda but also in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the new Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi, through a €31.2 million grant. 

The Canadian government, which is providing $31 million to improve pre-primary and primary education, including in the West Nile region, through the Strengthening Education Systems in East Africa initiative, which involves AKU’s Institute for Educational Development. 

The AKU Institute for Educational Development has also been supported by the World Bank, which provided funding that enabled it to train more than 800 secondary school head teachers from across Uganda in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. 

L’Agence Française de Développement, whose support includes $53.5 million in concessionary financing to the Aga Khan Health Services, Tanzania for the expansion of the Aga Khan Hospital 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 K​enya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

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, and

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 is an East African university with campuses in several countries. In this regard, we very much appreciate the work of IUCEA, which has the mandate to promote harmonization, student and graduate mobility, and quality assurance of academic programmes delivered by higher education institutions in East Africa. Dr. Mtasiwa, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the IUCEA to achieve a stronger university system in East Africa. If it hasn’t already, I am sure your work will put you in contact with our former faculty member, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, who was recently appointed Tanzania’s Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training. 

To achieve our regional presence in all the countries of the East African Community, AKU has launched an ambitious plan of expansion and transformation, under which it will develop into a comprehensive university educating future leaders in a wide range of fields. 

A major part of that plan is the construction of a new Aga Khan University Hospital here in Kampala, which we announced last December. This tertiary teaching hospital will provide Ugandans with health care of world-class quality, and will train specialist doctors, nurses and other health professionals capable of leading the improvement of health care within the country, and We are working to complete first phase in 2020. 

There is no doubt that the new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala will be a tremendous benefit and resource to the people of Uganda. In addition, we plan to add more than a dozen medical centres associated with the hospital across Uganda. This project is moving forward thanks to a grant of land from the Government, and we thank President Museveni for that and his longstanding support for bringing an Aga Khan University hospital to Uganda. 

Other elements of our plan include:

  • The establishment of our principal East African campus in Arusha to house in Arusha an undergraduate arts and sciences faculty and graduate professional schools;
  • The construction of a new campus for the Institute for Educational Development in Dar es Salaam;
  • And the creation of new medical and nursing education programmess, as well as the expansion of existing  programmes across East Africa;
  • The expansion of our programmes at our Graduate School of Media and Communications, the Institute for Human Development and the East African Institute.

I am pleased to report that several individual donors have already made major gifts in support of our vision, and I am confident that many more are to come. All of the support we have received speaks loudly about the impact and the trust that the University has earned.  

Of course, we also 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 have 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 Uganda and its neighbors and 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 Aga Khan University. 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, and press for change, as well as small local groups, such as parents who come together to support their children’s school.

Indeed, this is a 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 when they seek to defend basic 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 through a multitude of voices who 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 majority in all the countries.

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.

In Tanzania, civil society organizations – including AKU and the Aga Khan Development Network – have long been instrumental 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 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. 

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 subject of leadership. Because a vibrant civil society demands leaders. 

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 to join 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. 

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 is a linchpin of civil society. No field of endeavor better demonstrates our compassion for those who suffer or those who aspire. As nurses and teachers, 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 and remember  that another ocean lies before you, and another shore awaits you. 

Thank you all​