Prince Aga Khan in Africa Conference

The spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan focused on the vital role of Civil Society in his address during the ‘Africa 2016: Business for Africa, Egypt and the World’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Offering his strong endorsement to the heart message of the forum ‘Africa’s Moment has come’, Prince Aga Khan said serious challenges confront the African people, citing unemployment among the young in the countries with the highest percentage of youth in the world as one of the examples.

However, he said the story of Africa’s progress and potential is also impressive including the growing GDP and foreign direct investment, economic diversification and national resiliency, the role and the rise of a vital middle class and the expansion of consumer spending, which is now breaking through the one trillion dollar mark.

He pointed towards the emergent balanced confidence in Africa and new forms of cooperation among people in the private and the public sectors.

“I highlight the part played by confidence because it addresses a problem that has long plagued the human race. I refer to the fear we so often have that our environment will be controlled by others, to the point where we distance ourselves from potential worthy partners,” he said, adding that “The concept of Public Private Partnerships has been a keystone for many of our own Network’s projects in Africa and elsewhere.”

He insisted on the vital role of Civil Society in which Africa’s success could be forged, saying “When I speak of a vital Civil Society I think of path breaking efforts in the field of education, from early childhood to advanced post-graduate programs. I think of health-related innovators, whether they are extending quality maternal and natal care or creating new tertiary care facilities. I think about efforts to advance the arts and culture, to improve environmental quality and foster scientific research. Civil Society includes a host of professional, labour, ethnic and religious groups and a broad array of non-governmental organisations — NGOs — as well.”

Prince Aga Khan said his focus on Civil Society was because its potential is often under-appreciated as we become absorbed in debates about the most effective programs of governments and others, or the most successful business strategies.

Calling the Civil Society a ‘difference-maker’, Prince Aga Khan said “It not only complements the work of the private and public sectors, it can often help complete that work. Similarly, there is a great deal that leaders in the business sector and in government can do to strengthen the work of Civil Society, to help provide Civil Society with what I have called an ‘Enabling Environment.”

“In sum, I believe that social progress will require quality inputs from all three sectors: public, private and Civil Society. Sustainable progress will build on a three-legged stool. And that progress can be particularly impressive when the three sectors work closely together,” he concluded.

Prince Aga Khan said one prominent example of such cooperation is the Bujagali dam in Uganda — a project in which the Economic Development Fund of the Aga Khan Development Network has joined with the government of Uganda, and a private investment fund based in the United States. All three sectors; public, private and civil society have jointly created this project which, after just three years, provides nearly half of Uganda’s electric power.

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