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University to foster healthy civil
society in East Africa
AKU grads equipped to lead in a
borderless world
AKU to embark on a huge East
African expansion

Arusha East Africa
The Aga Khan University will build a major new
campus here, in Arusha, the city where the East African
Community is headquartered. AKU

Learning & Work

Aga Khan University
Civil Society
East African Community

East Africas shared destiny brightened by

Aga Khan University

10 March 2015

With a major expansion underway, the Aga Khan University is

planting institutional and intellectual seeds to produce the
leadership that East Africa will require in the years ahead. Dr
Farouk Topan discusses some of the ways in which the
university hopes to contribute to the East African Community.
Fi!een years ago, the Aga Khan University crossed the Indian
Ocean. At the invitation of the governments of Kenya, Tanzania,
and Uganda, AKU set up an Advanced Nursing Programme in
each country the universitys "rst academic initiative in
At the same time, the three countries were up to something
remarkable of their own. They had recently concluded a treaty
which came into e#ect in July 2000 that brought into
existence a regional intergovernmental organisation known as
the East African Community. Their motto: One People. One

Also see:
EVENT: Aga Khan University 2015 Convocations in
East Africa
In 2007, EAC membership expanded to "ve countries with the
addition of Rwanda and Burundi. The university was about to
expand as well. It revealed plans that same year to build a major
new campus in Arusha coincidentally, the city where the EAC
is headquartered.
This project is, I believe, the "rst major private sector
investment in the East African Community since the formal
joining of Rwanda and Burundi, said Mawlana Hazar Imam as
he announced the new campus at a state banquet in Dar es
Salaam that August. It is the biggest expansion step for the Aga
Khan University since it opened in Pakistan almost 25 years

Moving forward together

The East African Community is young but ambitious. Its treaty
calls for a customs union, a common market, and a monetary
union, with the eventual goal of political federation. Realising
all this will require vision, goodwill, political cooperation, and
access to a deep pool of educated leaders.
We are just at the very beginning of our journey, says Dr
Farouk Topan, a scholar at the Aga Khan University. The
grandson of Varas Sir Tharia Topan, he was born in Zanzibar
and pioneered the study and teaching of Swahili Literature in
Kiswahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and the University
of Nairobi in the 1960s and 70s. Dr Topan received his PhD
from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the
University of London, where he later held the position of Senior
Lecturer, having also been with The Institute of Ismaili Studies.
Now attached to AKUs Institute for the Study of Muslim
Civilisations and the nascent Faculty of Arts and Sciences in
Arusha, he maintains a close connection with the East African
I think the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a tremendous step
forward as the aim is to educate the youth in the round, says Dr
Topan. The curriculum has been thought through with the aim
of providing skills of leadership as well as a broader sense of
grounding and vision.
The ideal, he says, is to produce East Africans who take each
other as what they are human beings living in one place,
facing common problems and who are moving forward

Informing policy
To assist in addressing their shared problems, AKU launched the
East African Institute in 2014, a policy and research platform
that focuses on addressing regional challenges that confront
East Africa.

The EAI is a think tank, which is partly informed by the

activities of the EAC, says Dr Topan. Its function in turn, is to
apply research and analysis to inform the policy makers and
help them address challenges that confront East Africa. By
virtue of the universitys a$liation with the Aga Khan
Development Network, the EAI is positioned to turn its research
into practice, enhancing its impact.
Food security is one of the issues that the Institute is already
looking at. I think that is absolutely crucial, says Dr Topan. On
the one hand you have malnutrition and on the other you have
poor management of the ecosystem, he explains, and then
when you have famine this just compounds the problem.
Another area is education policy as a tool for unifying people,
says Dr Topan. But here it is to do with parity of education, so
that there is regional integration through education.
You achieve that through the curriculum on one hand, but also
through vision and that vision needs to be shared by the
leaders of the countries, he says.

Common language
Language is another important tool for bringing people
together. While English is the o$cial language of the East
African Community, the EAC is developing Kiswahili as its
lingua franca.
Colonial languages, like English and French, or traditional
languages could dominate certain regions and possibly be
divisive, but Kiswahili has the potential to unify. The language is
already spoken throughout the region in varying degrees, says
Dr Topan and it can enable trade, for example, functioning as a
bridge in the EACs common market.
It is not surprising then that AKU recently launched a Kiswahili
Centre, with Dr Topan as its director.
Part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the initial focus of the
Centre is on developing the "rst digitized collection of Kiswahili
literature in the world, bringing together materials on the
heritage of the Swahili language and people from at least as
early as the 17th century, including their history, literature and
It is quite unique in East Africa to have a literature that goes
back centuries, says Dr Topan. Translated where appropriate,
the collection will be a means to both preserve Swahili texts and
make them available to a worldwide audience.
The collections and work of the Centre will help contribute to
courses in the core curriculum of the undergraduate liberal arts
programme. The Centre will also host lectures and conferences
on issues that are important to the region.

Seeds of optimism
The universitys plans for the next 15 years are extensive.
Investments in health sciences will strengthen healthcare in the

region and expand the number of health professionals trained

in East Africa. The recently launched Institute for Human
Development focuses on early child development. A future
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre will o#er programmes
in social and business entrepreneurship, with a special focus on
womens entrepreneurship. And a new Programme on Social
Change will encourage the examination of questions in the
context of East Africa.
I think the future is bright, says Dr Topan thoughtfully. We
can dream, because Hazar Imam has already put the beginnings
in place so we are not dreaming aimlessly.
The seeds are there for people to feel optimistic.