“The world has much to learn from Africa.” This was the message by His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, to the opening session of the Nation Media Group’s Kusi Ideas Festival earlier this week.
Over 500 influential leaders, scholars, entrepreneurs and innovators from across Africa gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, this week during the Kusi Ideas Festival to discuss challenges Africa is likely to face over the next 60 years, and offer creative ideas on how to address them.
Lessons learned from the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)’s work over the past 100 years provide tested and successful solutions to addressing many of these challenges. In considering for example, how Africa will feed its growing population, AKDN can share its experience of working with 500,000 small-scale farmers, by providing seeds and fertilisers, know-how and training to increase productivity, guaranteed purchases of crops, processing of foodstuff within Africa and access to otherwise inaccessible markets.
Founder and Chairman of AKDN, His Highness the Aga Khan, has improved the lives of millions of people in Africa and throughout the world. The AKDN’s network of institutions in healthcare, education, financial services, industry, infrastructure, media, tourism, habitat, property development and environment and culture, work in 35 countries to improve living conditions and opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people. With its presence in 14 African countries, AKDN employs around 35,000 Africans.
A key focus of discussions at the Kusi Ideas Festival was on Africa’s youthful population — a vital demographic that will produce a future workforce as well as a significant market for goods and services. What came across clearly was that unless the youth are given opportunities, they risk marginalisation.
Having worked with youth in Kenya and from the lessons learned, AKDN has embarked on the Coastal Youth Initiative and the Youth Hub Network – targeting up to one million unemployed young people to help them articulate their own requirements; and that with the help of various funding and development partners, will create employment pathways in response. In his message to the festival, His Highness the Aga Khan said we have a responsibility to support and lift the hopeful voices of the continent’s youth.
AKDN has a vital role in education and healthcare, and has set internationally-benchmarked standards for excellence. We provide early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education to approximately 800,000 students and benefit millions more each year through our public schools’ improvement programmes. Our hospitals, clinics, community programmes and initiatives to build the capacity of public healthcare providers, benefit around 2.5 million patients annually.
As Africa implements the Continental Free Trade Agreement, the festival theme envisaged an Africa without trade borders; AKDN has practical experience to offer in this regard. Our substantial investment in the Ruzizi III hydropower project is an exemplary model of borderless co-operation to share a natural resource between three countries — Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to benefit 30 million people.
The festival also recognised the importance of environmental sustainability. Within the network, there is an essential focus on sustainability and conservation — the Kilaguni Serena Lodge is the first fully solar powered hospitality facility in Kenya; power generation projects in East and Central Africa focus on renewable energy; 10,000 rain water harvesting pans have been installed; 11 million trees have been planted; and corporate social responsibility.
AKDN’s cultural initiatives are ‘trampolines’ for development. Investment in urban parks and the restoration of heritage sites, promoting the preservation of cultural traditions in music, and recognising exquisite architecture that reflects the use of traditional materials, techniques and design elements are reflective of the role of traditional culture in development.
The cornerstone of AKDN’s development work is collaboration with others, as we expand our efforts to improve the quality of life for all, working directly with beneficiaries; 100 funding partners; 25,000 civil society organisations; and through the 33 agreements with national and local governments in Africa.
Our work reflects our ethics and values such as service, care and concern for the most vulnerable. Viewing diversity as a source of strength, His Highness has promoted pluralism and inclusiveness and worked for over 60 years to build respect for differences among communities.
The success of Kusi is a testament to the formidable role that media can play in mobilising and harnessing thought leadership. Not only is the Nation Media Group the largest media house in the Eastern Africa region, it has now demonstrated its will and capacity to engage some of the continent’s best leadership.
With AKDN’s investments of billions of dollars in Africa and lessons learned from our development work over decades, not just in Africa but across over 35 countries globally, we show that we can offer solutions to addressing many of these challenges identified at Kusi.
Dr Azim Lakhani is the Diplomatic Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network in Kenya.