Mahmood Ahmed is the outgoing Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN’s) ambassador to Uganda. He took up the post in March 2006. His Highness the Aga Khan has already appointed an ambassador designate to replace Ahmed. However, Ahmed will, in the meantime, continue serving as AKDN’s ambassador to the East African Community. Prosper magazine’s reporter, Nelson Wesonga, spoke to ambassador Ahmed.
What does Aga Khan Development Network do?
The Aga Khan Development Network is involved in uplifting living conditions and improving quality of life. How do we uplift living conditions? In Uganda we operate in two thematic areas. These are economic development and social development. It was the government’s wish that we help the country to develop the economy. That means building capacity, cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit, catalysing economic activity so that it creates jobs. The jobs create wealth; the people who earn the money are able to spend on education, health, on aspects that give them a quality of life.
Social development is about education, health, civil society strengthening and rural development. These aspects are, historically, our core activities.
Civil society is that whole area of activity that is essentially voluntary. There are a whole series of groupings in society that are fundamental to maintaining quality of life.
So the Aga Khan Development Network, in part of its social development activities, supports these types of organisations. In order to strengthen civil society, it is important to have independent media. So we are involved in the whole area of media.
What are some of AKDN’s successes in Uganda?
Securing land for building the Aga Khan Hospital, I would say, is the biggest success.
Since 2012, we had been trying to find the right parcel of land. Eventually, we were successful in securing the land in Nakawa.
What were/are the challenges?
The challenges we faced were around human resources, finding the right level of human skills.
The biggest disappointment to me is the closure of Air Uganda. That was an unmitigated calamity, one that, unfortunately, represents a huge lost opportunity. I don’t want to start giving you any form of insight into what went wrong.
All I would say to you is that it went wrong but not because of anything that we did. But we didn’t feel that we could continue with Air Uganda under the circumstances that we faced.
It was felt that haemorrhaging money in Air Uganda was not something that could be justified on those terms. We needed to have much more support all round to make it a success.
You are leaving at a time when President Museveni has been talking about refinancing Bujagali Hydro Power Plant. Has he formally engaged AKDN over Bujagali?
Not that I am aware of. I am in a way sympathetic to what he says. The reality is that the cost of power from Bujagali power is expensive – but it’s not that that is a surprise. The cost of Bujagali was the cost of Bujagali. It was a time when we needed power generation. It was a time when the cost of materials, the cost of money was high. Those costs have come down. If we did Bujagali today, it would be a lot less expensive. If we were to say at that time that ‘Oh no, no this is too expensive, let us find a cheaper way of doing this’, there would have been a compromise on quality and we would be paying the price for that.
Or we would have compromised on the timeframe; we could have delayed Bujagali for, say, two years. Then we would have had to make do with thermal–generated power, which was more expensive than Bujagali.
And it would have been harmful to the environment; we know what thermal does to the environment.
Can we refinance Bujagali? Yes. But I am not sure that the arithmetic has been looked at carefully. I don’t believe refinancing it would automatically result in the reduction on the price instantly because the price at the consumer level is set by a number of components. The cost of generation and the cost of paying back all the loans are there.
Ismaili Imamat’s AKDN Resident Representatives
- Afghanistan: Nurjehan Mawani, Order of Canada
- Bangladesh: Munir M. Merali
- Canada: Dr. Mahmoud Eboo
- Kenya: Aziz Bhaloo
- Kyrgyzstan: Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Pakistan), Officier de l ‘Ordre National du Merite (France)
- Portugal, Mozambique and the Lusophone countries: Nazim Ahmad, Comendador da Ordem do Mérito (Commander of the Order of Merit)
- Syria: Mohamed Saifo
- Tajikistan: Ali Akbar Pesnani
- Tanzania: Amin Kurji, Légion d’Honneur (France’s Legion of Honour)
- Uganda: Mahmood Ahmed (in transition and currently assigned to East African Community)
AKDN Resident Representative is a position similar to an Ambassador. While Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a non-denominational entity, it is supranational in the context of its reach and operations. AKDN is a contemporary endeavor of the Ismaili Imamat to realize the social conscious of Islam through institutional action and it is inspired by the ethics of Islam as interpreted by the Shia-Alid tradition. The diplomatic reciprocity AKDN enjoys in the global diplomacy arena speaks of the importance of the contribution, impact and relevance the Ismaili Imamat has in the community of nations in modern times.
According to Wikipedia, an ambassador is an official envoy, especially a highest ranking diplomat who represents a state and is usually accredited to another sovereign state, or to an international organization as the resident representative of their own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment. The “ambassadors” to the Commonwealth of Nations are known as High Commissioners and “ambassadors” of the Holy See are known as Papal or Apostolic Nuncios.
Personal Representatives of the Imam
- Prince Amyn Mohammed Aga Khan is the (Non-Resident) Personal Representative of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan to Bangladesh.
- Prince Rahim Aga Khan is the (Non-Resident) Personal Representative of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan to Canada.
- Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Gordon Campbell, is also Canada’s Ambassador to the Ismaili Imamat.
Senior Officials of the global Seat of Ismaili Imamat (Portugal)
- Nazim Ahmad, Head of the Department of Portugal and other Lusophone Countries
- Ambassador Arif Lalani, Head of the Department of Diplomatic Affairs
- Dr Shafik Sachedina, Head of Community Affairs
- Jane Piacentini- Moore, Head of the Department for International Financial Affairs
- Maitre Laurent Chambaz, Head of the Department for International Legal Affairs
Research, Insight & Perspective by A. Maherali