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Speech at the 'Rotary Club'-1961-05-13

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Event - 1961-05-13
Wednesday, 1961, May 10
Speeches, II, Pp. 68-72
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Mr. Chairman, Ladies & Gentlemen:

If I had been the president I would have fined the sergeant-at-arms for being a treacherous feminist and not fining the ladies present today.

May I first say how much I enjoy being back in Mombasa again - a town which I always remember for its friendliness and hospitality, for its welcome and also to the police who have escorted me so faithfully and so resistedly - indeed when I went to Bamburi Beach yesterday afternoon, I had a notion that they might be joining me for a swim.

I believe this is the first time I have addressed a Rotary Club in East Africa, but I have heard a good deal about the social welfare it does, without fuss or publicity, to assist communities of all races in this town. I think I am also right in saying that you have a ladies section known as the Inner Wheel - so I shall not repeat the gaff of a friend of mine who when addressing a similar luncheon in London, referred gallantly to ‘The Beauties of the Inner Circle', - a remark which caused the telephone bells of the London transport system to ring incredulously for the next twenty - four hours.

I would like, if I may this afternoon, to make a few remarks about education in this country, an item which I am glad to see heads the list of Government expenditure for the next financial year. No one, I think, seriously disputes the fact in an emerging nation such as this, that education should take first priority from the funds available. Nor is there much doubt that even when this is conceded, the funds available from the Public purse are nothing like sufficient to meet the enormous demands which could be made upon them.

Given these circumstances we must, therefore, face the fact that Government alone cannot hope to pay the whole bill for the schools, colleges and universities which we all want to be multiplied in the shortest possible time. The only way to overcome this difficulty, I feel certain, is to enlist the aid of private and voluntary agencies and to seek assistance from countries who are well disposed towards us.

It is fair to say that my own community has recognised these facts for some time now, and we are doing our utmost at no little financial sacrifice, to contribute to the educational needs of Kenya. To begin with, our nursery, primary and secondary schools were developed as exclusively communal institutions. To start we had to establish the standards and create a system which complied with government requirements and fitted into the general pattern of national education. Once this was done, we qualified for government assistance in our capital building programme and our schools began to spring up all over East Africa. We have also been able to qualify for the recurrent grant from Government to private schools and I should say that this support has been invaluable to us.

Today, under the able and energetic leadership of Mr. Jimmy Verjee, we are in the middle of a rapid expansion programme which will cost £ 175,000 in capital alone. Some four years ago we took the decision to broaden the field of entry to these schools, so that they included children of all races. We have always recognised the principle of multi-racial education and today this practice is well established in all our institutions.

As Muslims we also accept an obligation to our fellow Muslims who in this part of the world are mainly African. I have seen it reported with some truth, that the educational needs are particularly urgent on the coast where there is a high proportion of families belonging to the Muslim faith. There is little doubt, I am afraid, that these include much of the proper sections of the community and that the educational facilities available to them for a variety of reasons are not nearly as good as they ought to be.

This is clearly not in the interests of the country as a whole. Wherever you have one section of the community which is less well-off and less well-equipped to meet the competition of their compatriots, you have a source of grievance and possibly trouble. For, as the years go by, the disparity between rich and poor, the well-educated and non-educated, is about to increase, a kind of second class citizen is created who must inevitably feel that he has been unjustly treated and that the scales of fortune have somehow been weighed against him.

This is not a question of politics - though quite unwittingly it might become so. It is however a tendency which, if unchecked, I should be bound to deplore as a Muslim myself, and I therefore make no apology for drawing your attention to it this afternoon.

The problem is not a new one and many years ago my grandfather formed The East African Muslim Welfare Society, whose first objective was to assist indigenous Muslims, both financially and in other ways in their struggle against poverty and ignorance. Though the society has had many difficulties, it has now been reorganised and revitalised. I hope, before long, we shall see Muslim secondary schools teaching upto Higher School Certificate in all the three East African territories, and in time, a chair of Islamic Studies at one of the University Colleges.

These, then, are the principal channels in which the Ismaili community hopes to make its contribution in the field of learning. In numbers we are not very large, so the contribution cannot help, being limited in scope which compared with the massive work that has to be done in such a short time.

I have mentioned already the assistance which might we be obtaining from overseas. There are now many scholarship schemes in existence which enable African and other students to benefit from the educational institutions abroad. If these schemes are properly organised, both at the sending and the receiving ends, they can make an important contribution. Equally welcome, and possibly even more valuable in the long run, is the growing willingness of countries overseas to send teachers, administrators and senior students over here. By organising specialised courses, technical training and research work here in East Africa, private industry and friendly governments abroad can do still more to fill the gap between what is needed and what can be paid for out of our own resources. Finally we cannot exclude from these calculations the modern means of mass communication such as newspaper, radio and next year, I understand, television. The major, if not the only, justification for the considerable expense involved in setting up television in Kenya will be the role it can play as a force for education. The Kenya Government has properly insisted that a higher proportion of the programmes should be devoted exclusively to the needs of the schools. Opinions may differ as to whether reading the Daily Nation or Taifa is an educational experience. But in the long run they undoubtely contribute to the sum of human knowledge, to an understanding of the wider world around us. As the founder of these two newspapers, this is certainly my intention and I know that editors concerned will do all in their power to carry it out.

Mind you, as I was often warned, being connected with a newspaper has its perils. Small mistakes can have such disastrous repercussions. I am reminded of a story (and like most newspaper stories it is probably aprocyphal) when two pictures appeared side by side on a page. One was of a very handsome tabby cat, the other of a rather formidable looking lady in Mayoral Robes. The captions described them as the winner of the local cat show and named the lady Mayor in question Mrs. Esmerlda Goldenchain, as having addressed the Inner Wheel that day. Unhappily, the luckless sub-editor placed the wrong caption under each picture. The cries of anguish the following morning - no doubt as much from the prize - winning cat as from Esmeralda, had to be heard to be believed.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, it has been a great privilege to speak to you and I shall look forward to my next visit to Mombasa.

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