In Memory of Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai

In London, England on Thursday, January 4th,1990 at the age of 85, Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai passed away.

Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, Chairman of the Leaders' International Forum was an important and great figure in the Asian Community in Kenya and a leading personality in the Ismaili World.

Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai devoted a life time of voluntary service towards the vision of Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah and Mowlana Hazar Imam for the upliftment and progress of the Jamat worldwide. This included laying sound foundations for the progress of the Jamat with a network of schools, hospitals, health clinics, housing societies, and more.

Sir Eboo Pirbhai started in business as a taxi owner-driver. Based on hard work and enterprise, from the humble beginning, he built up a vast fleet of vehicles into servicing the needs of the growing East African Safari Industry. Sir Eboo Pirbhai gradually became widely known, first in the municipal affairs of Nairobi in whose City Council he sat from 1938 to 1943, and then in national politics as a member of Kenya's Legislative Council from 1952 to 1960. These were the growing years of Kenya's freedom movement culminating in the Lancaster House Conference which eventually led to the country's independence under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta whose close friendship Sir Eboo Pirbhai cherished with affection.

In recognition of his services to Kenya, King George VI awarded him the OBE in 1946, and in 1952 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a knighthood.

Sir Eboo Pirbhai was among the group of supporters of the efforts initiated by Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, and since continued by Mowlana Hazar Imam, for the educational advancement of the East African Muslims as the most effective way of ensuring their full participation in the national life of their countries. These efforts resulted in the establishment of many scores of schools and mosques under the support of the East African Muslim Welfare Society, and of a major vocational training institute at Mombasa. Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, for some time, served as the President of the Central Muslim Association of Kenya. In recognition of his services to the Muslim community he was awarded the Brilliant Star of Zanzibar in 1956, and the Order of the Crescent Cross of the Comores in 1966.

In July 1957 when Mowlana Hazar Imam ascended the Masnad of Imamat, Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai was well known among the Ismaili Leaders in East Africa where a large part of the Jamat, now living in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, was then resident. At the time, Mowlana Hazar Imam took major initiatives to prepare the Jamat as what Mr. McMillan had described as the winds of change that were beginning to blow across Africa. New institutions such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the Aga Khan Health and Education Services, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and the Aga Khan Trust for culture were established in the next three decades. The area of main importance of these endeavors, meant for the benefit of all citizens, lay in the field of education. With an increase in the number of schools, there were improvements and modernization in teacher training and generous scholarships for university education. The network of health clinics was further strengthened with the establishment of modern hospitals serving as central referral points to ensure an equitable health care delivery beyond the urban centers. The goals in the economic sphere were in line with national aspirations for a diversified economy with balanced emphasis on agriculture, agro-based industry, manufacturing, and tourism. Industrial Promotion Services and Tourism Promotion Services, affiliates of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, catalyzed foreign and local and foreign investment, attracting much needed technical and managerial know-how in the relevant areas while the Diamond Trust and Jubilee Insurance Company, first established in the 1930's and 1940's marking the Jubilees of Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, were converted into major national financial institutions quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

Sir Eboo's role in these far reaching initiatives is witnessed by the fact that for many years he served as chairman of the Jubilee Insurance Company; a senior director of the IPS and TPS and the Diamond Trust; Chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation(Kenya), a local affiliate of the Imamat's major international non-denominational philanthropic institution and Chairman of His Highness Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Supreme Councils for Africa, Canada, U.S.A., and Western Europe, the umbrella organizations for the social welfare governance of the Ismaili Community. He was chairman of the Ismaili International Leaders Forum and was also a member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

At the Silver Jubilee Darbar in London UK in July 1983, Mawlana Hazar Imam graciously conferred upon Sir Eboo the title of "Diwan" for his 50 year service to the Jamat and the Imamat

Sir Eboo's funeral service which was held at the Parkland's Ismaili Cultural Center Hall was attended by His Excellency President of the Republic of Kenya the Honorable Daniel Arap Moi, the Vice President and Minister for Finance Professor George Saitoti and a host of Cabinet Ministers, the Permanent Secratary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, various members of Parliament, the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner and the British High Commissioner to Kenya. Various members of the Leaders International Forum, office bearers of the Aga Khan Foundation Geneva, staff from Mawlana Hazar Imam's Secretariat and office bearers of Imamat institutions in Kenya and overseas were also present.

In a message Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

"Sir Eboo's leadership has been a major source of inspiration to members of my Community in volunteering their services in various capacities to assist in improving the quality of life of all those among whom they live.

Sir Eboo's life and work spanned the critical years of Kenya's recent history and the country's emergence to nationhood which, as a member of the country's Legislative Council and a leader of the wider Muslim Community, he played a significant role.

His quiet and gentle manner, his humility and above all his thoughtfulness and wisdom earned him the esteem and affection of all those, regardless of rank or position, who came in contact with him."

In his message, President Moi said:

"The late sir Eboo was a friend of many and he was passionately believed in the development and welfare of others. One of his outstanding qualities was his service to the people irrespective of their nationalities. He will always be remembered for spearheading various development projects in this country which provided employment and income to many families. In his more than 50 years at the helm of the Ismaili Community, he promoted the development and expansion of the Community's institutions...

He was respected and admired by all in the Ismaili Community and indeed by all Kenyans. The cruel hand of death has dealt an irreplaceable blow to us all.

At this time of grief and sorrow, I convey to his bereaved family, His Highness the Aga Khan, the Ismaili Community, relatives and friends, my heartfelt sympathies and condolences. May the good Lord grant them strength and courage to bear the loss."

Messages of condolences also poured in from Leaders of various communities in Kenya-the other Muslim Communities, the Hindus and the Sikhs.

Sir Michael Blundell, the veteran European Leader in Kenya said:

"Sir Eboo was indeed the forerunner and later a leader in the great contribution to the development of Kenya, which has been made by the Ismaili Community...

With His Highness' support he guided the Community along the path of Kenya Citizenship at a time when other people were hesitant to take this step. 'Eboo' as he was affectionately and universally known, always supported the idea of a non-racial Kenya in which all communities could play a part and never wavered in its support.

The last few years of his life were marred by illness and physical affliction which he bore with the same tranquility and peace of mind which marked his whole path through life.

Kenya as a country and many individuals in it will be the poorer for his passing away," Sir Michael concluded.

All the Kenya daily newspapers paid glowing tribute to Sir Eboo's life.

In an editorial, the "Daily Nation" of Kenya said on January 5th, 1990:

"The death of Sir Eboo Pirbhai in London yesterday after a long illness closes a chapter of Kenyan history-a history in which he played a distinguished role as one of the most influential leaders of the Asian Communities in the country both before and since independence. A close confidant and friend of the late President Kenyatta and a close friends of President Moi, Sir Eboo never sought the limelight of publicity. He will be remembered above all as a gentle and modest man. His influence was nonetheless profound and throughout his life he worked persistently for moderation and racial harmony at home and abroad. Above all, he will be remembered for his tireless work as a leader of the Ismaili Community worldwide and for a life-long devotion to his Imam. At an age when most men have long retired from active work, Sir Eboo traveled constantly and he will be mourned today by a host of colleagues and friends across the globe. The 'Nation' salutes the passing of a distinguished Kenyan patriot, one man who devoted so much of his time to the service of his fellow men."

Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai will be remembered by all members of the Jamat throughout the world for his devoted and untiring services to the House of Imamat and the Jamat. We pray his soul rest in eternal peace.

Notes and Extracts taken from The American Ismaili-July 11,1990

Mirrored from on January 31st 1997