Dr Vali Jamal (BA Cambridge, PhD Stanford) shares his reflections on His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee and 55th Uganda Independence Anniversary visit, and the special reasons for its importance to the Uganda Ismaili community, and to Uganda itself. Lot of facts elaborated here are from his book Uganda Asians which Dr. Jamal tells us, has now finished after nearly eleven years (2333 pages). The book intends to be issued in 10 parts in November this year. He started writing this book as a prototype magazine for the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee in 2007 and has finished it at the Diamond Jubilee.
HH Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee, 1957-2017, Uganda awards
By Vali Jamal, PhD, author of Uganda Asians book
What is enfolding is drama at world scale as some very high national honours will be conferred on the Aga Khan, and others announced in what is officially a State Visit. In consequence of this, Uganda is the very first country in the world the Aga Khan is visiting during his Diamond Jubilee year – July 11 2017 to July 11 2018. The government of Uganda is joining the Ismaili community – and Uganda Asians everywhere – in honouring the Imam for the 6o years of his reign. By so doing, government of Uganda is reinforcing the embrace of the Asian community’s role in Uganda’s socio-economic development in a pluralistic setting dear to the Aga Khan.
Those with a sense of history will see in this an acknowledgment of the roles of the Ismaili community and the Asian community in Uganda’s development from the start of the Protectorate. It was under the guidance of the Ismaili 46th Imam Hassan Ali Shah Aga Khan I (the present Aga Khan’s grandfather’s grandfather) that Ismailis began migrating to East Africa. The great Allidina Visram, (“King of Commerce” in East Africa) was among them. Aga Hassan Ali Shah’s grandson Aga Khan III (present Aga Khan’s grandfather) took up the theme of the necessity to migrate to Afrika even more vigorously. Kampala’s first Ismaili jamatkhana was established at mid-1910s in Nakasero, not far from Allidina’s first shop. Some adjoining rooms were used as school, the first Indian school in Uganda. The modern buildings in Makerere Valley opened only in the early 1950s. The Aga Khan schools were the first among Indian schools to open up to Africans.
It’s the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa Medal that will be bestowed upon the Aga Khan. It is Uganda’s highest medal in the form of a chain (1kg gold) given to Heads of State only. HH Aga Khan is being recognized as such.
The present Aga Khan has two close personal relationships to Uganda. He never fails to recall in his speeches that one ceremony of his Takhtnashini (coronation) took place in Kampala (August 1957) on the grounds of the jamatkhana itself, as in a last-minute decision the Lukiko (Kabaka’s government) decreed that no non-Baganda king could be coronated on public Baganda land. In the second case the Aga Khan played a crucial role at the Uganda Asian expulsion (1972), by urging upon his friend Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau to come to the rescue of the stateless Asians, a majority of whom were Ismailis who had taken out Uganda citizenship under the guidance of the Aga Khan. The Canadian mission set up their offices in the Aga Khan’s Industrial Promotion Services (IPS) building, no less. If we bring in the fact that the Aga Khan’s uncle Prince Sadruddin played an even more dramatic role as head of the UNHCR ( High Commission for Refugees) in the last-minute evacuation of six thousand or so stateless people then the Uganda expulsion story is very much an Aga Khan family story and that is being recognized this week.
The story continues after the expulsion. His Highness was one of the first Asian leaders President Museveni sought out to come and repossess his social properties (schools and dispensaries) and thus to show the Ismailis Uganda was again in the favour of the Imam. The Aga Khan reciprocated by rehabilitating the Nile Mansions into the iconic Serena Hotel and then in a major way by undertaking the construction of the Bujagali hydro project. Environmentalists had been thwarting President Museveni, abetted by the World Bank and none other than the Spirit of Bujagali who threatened to divert the waters. The opening of the dam (October 8, 2012) was a highlight day for the President as 260MW of power came on stream, cutting the brown-out time from 30 percent to 2-3 hours per week now and again to extend lines.
It’s the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa Medal that will be bestowed upon the Aga Khan. It is Uganda’s highest medal in the form of a chain (1kg gold) given to Heads of State only. HH Aga Khan is being recognized as such. City Council of Kampala has already announced the award of the Freedom of Kampala City and the Parliament and Makerere University will confer awards that fall in their domains. The recognitions are to the Aga Khan first and foremost, but they are also a reiteration of President Museveni’s resolve that the Ugandan economy be as plural as possible after the nightmare of the expulsion. ALL Uganda Asian communities and even multinational corporations should exult at this, not just Ismailis.
Vali Jamal, Kenya citizen, Uganda resident since 1946, BA Cambridge 1964, Assistant Secretary Uganda Ministry of Commerce and Industry 1964-67, PhD Stanford 1976 (data collected at Makerere 1972), Senior Economist, UN-ILO 1976-2001. Author: UGANDA ASIANS: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute.