Vali Jamal is BA Cambridge and PhD Stanford, author of the book Uganda Asians, concluded at 2333 pages, 10,000 images, after 10.6 years of work, now expected to be launched mid 2018.
Living in Kampala and following the Independence Day celebrations “live” on TV I think there was an opportunity missed here to capitalize on Uganda’s highest medal conferred on the Imam. Media articles could have been prepared to explain the significance of the medal and care could have been taken to include in the citation certain crucial achievements of His Highness and the Aga Khan family in the 60 years of the present Imamat and three Imamats before then.
The medal – called the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa, Class 1 – is Uganda’s highest medal reserved for Heads of State. So far it has been given to only five heads of state, including President Nyerere posthumously. So HH Aga Khan is in exalted company. A Class 2 medal also exists for “Princes”. His Excellency President Museveni was clearly in an expansive mood at the conferral and HH Aga Khan’s response showed the same. The medal can only be bestowed on Uganda’s Independence Day, October 9, and His Highness accommodated to that late in the discussions, and by combining a didar, made Uganda the first Iamaili jamat to be granted the Diamond Jubilee didar. Museveni made it a State Visit, with a Guard of Honour at the airport and a platoon of soldiers even on the jamatkhana compound to escort the Imam. Hazar Imam himself was so pleased at all this that he referred to his medal at the didar the next day and said he would return to Uganda soon. Many murids were hearing of the medal for the first time.
At the national level the citation remained firmly rooted to the ground, more or less a shopping list of what the AKDN had invested in Uganda – effectively in the last two decades, with even the pharmaceutical factory mentioned. It was like HHAK was being honoured as a mere investor. No mention was made that this year was chosen for this medal because it was the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee, nor that one ceremony of the Imam’s coronation was done on the Kampala jamatkhana compound, something very emotional for Uganda Ismailis, as it was a last-minute move, enforced by the withdrawal of the permission by the Kabaka’s government to do the coronation on public land as against Buganda custom. The Aga Khan family’s historical ties to Uganda could have been mentioned, in terms of schools and the dispensaries built by Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III and even further back to HHAK’s grandfather’s grandfather Imam Hassanali Shah Aga Khan I for his guidance to Ismalis to come to East Africa. The “King of Commerce” in Uganda Allidian Visram came under this guidance.
Mention should have been made that to all Uganda Asians, not just Ismailis, and to Uganda government itself, the Aga Khan is part of Uganda’s history as a “hero” at the Uganda expulsion in 1972 for his and his uncle Prince Sadruddin (as UNHCR Head)’s roles in Uganda Asians’ resettlement. Uganda Asians belong in history books because of the expulsion and H H Aga Khan and Prince Sadruddin were part of that saga. Such connections are made in a citation to make it soar. Unfortunately, the reader called us Islamia throughout his speech.
Is it the highest national medal conferred on HHAK by ANY country? I had said so at places but then went to Wiki and found that Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, and Madagascar had conferred their “highest orders” on HHAK at mid-1960s. Are these medals only reserved for Heads of State and HHAK was being recognized as one? The Head of State criterion is important in the comparison. PAKISTAN conferred on HHAK the Nishan-e-Pakistan in 1983. It is only given to Heads of State. In going down the list I find that the first one was conferred on the Shah of Iran in 1959 and later honourees included the Queen of England, President Nixon and Indian Prime Minster Morarlji Desai. Mandela is there. We don’t know about the African awards – who were included – but seeing the Pakistan list we could say that is THE highest honour to HHAK so far.
The Honorary Citizenship of Canada conferred on HHAK, as early as 2005, has the title Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada. It is Canada’s SECOND highest medal, given so far to only six other people, including Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kii.