Item(s) for September, 2008

Sep 7,2008

His Highness the Aga Khan completed a six-day official visit to Syria from 24 to 30 August, at the invitation of the Syrian Government.

During his visit to Syria, the Aga Khan met with H.E. President Bashar Al-Assad, and government ministers, and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements between various agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the Syrian Government to further strengthen collaboration in the areas of healthcare, microfinance, cultural restoration and tourism.

He also inaugurated the Aleppo Citadel Project, which marks the completion of the cultural revitalisation work on the Citadels of Aleppo, Salah ad-Din and Masyaf, carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in partnership with the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums.

His Highness the Aga Khan inaugurated the medieval citadel overlooking Syria’s ancient city of Aleppo.

The ceremony marked the completion of cultural revitalisation work on the citadels of Aleppo, Salah ad-Din and Masyaf that once formed a system of fortresses in central-western Syria. The restoration work was carried out by AKTC in partnership with the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums.

It was attended by His Excellency Mohamed Naji Otri, Prime Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Governor of Aleppo, Dr. Tamer Hejjeh and the Aga Khan’s younger brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, as well as numerous government officials, faith leaders and partners in cultural restoration.

Speaking at the ceremony, the Aga Khan emphasised the importance of reviving the history of civilisations of the global Muslim Community, the Ummah, saying:

‘We don’t do enough to illustrate to the peoples of our world the greatness of the Islamic civilisations of cultures of the past.’

He also explained the purpose of the project. ‘The background to this initiative is very simple. It is to illustrate to the peoples of our world, the history of the civilisations of the Ummah,’ he said.

‘Because they don’t know our history, they don’t know our literature, they don’t know our philosophy, they don’t know the physical environment in which our countries have lived, they view the Ummah in terminology which is completely wrong,’ he added.

The Aga Khan also acknowledged that Syria, with its wealth of architectural and cultural treasures takes a unique position in the history of Islam. ‘My interest in working in Syria is to take the various lead countries of the Ummah and say, let’s start, let’s move together, let’s revive our cultures so that modernity is not only seen in the terminology of the west, but in the intelligent use of our past,’ he said.


Sep 2,2008

Composite underwriter Jubilee Holdings Ltd has reported a 35 per cent rise in its half-year pre-tax profit.

The profit hit Sh316 million compared to Sh233 million of first half of last year.

The insurer reported year-on-year premium growth of 57 per cent as the Jubilee Group marked its 70th year of operating in East Africa.

“Over the last 12 months Jubilee has made significant investments in people and systems to improve the underlying efficiency and profitability of its insurance operations and this has allowed the Group to post strong profits during a period of exceptional global market volatility,” group chairman Nizar Juma said.

Mr Juma noted the good performance had been achieved despite the company making ex-gratia payment to victims of the post-election violence.

Growth factors

Premium growth was well balanced in terms of class of business and territory.

General insurance experienced growth of 70 per cent year-on-year and significantly improved its underwriting profitability.

Medical business grew by 47 per cent maintaining Jubilee’s position as the market leader in the region.

Life business grew 44 per cent. Commenting on industry results recently released by the Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) Mr Juma said, “We are delighted that during our 70th year, Jubilee is now the largest composite insurer in Kenya.

This is a great addition to the positions that Jubilee already holds – that is, the largest composite insurer in East Africa and the largest medical insurer in Kenya and East Africa”

Jubilee Holdings provides insurance protection to more than 125,000 clients across the East African region and is pushing to improve its reach for its existing and potential customers in the region.

Jubilee Holdings is the only ISO certified insurance-based financial institution listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, Uganda Securities Exchange and Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange.

The company is an affiliate of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, the economic arm of the Aga Khan Development Network.


Sep 2,2008

By William Moss Wilson

Recent initiatives show signs of hope for reviving long-dormant tourist sectors in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Swiss-based Aga Khan Foundation is contributing $1 million over the next three years to the Bamiyan Ecotourism Project in central Afghanistan. According to Sanjeev Gupta, a regional program coordinator for Aga Khan, the project’s goal is to develop tourist infrastructure, train sector-related employees, and raise awareness about the region.

The relatively safe Bamiyan province is home to the stunning mountain lakes of Band-i-Amir and also to the cliff-carved Buddha statues, unfortunately destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Local infrastructure in Bamiyan has a long way to go. The 150-mile journey from Kabul to Bamiyan takes ten hours on tortuous dirt roads through the Koh-i-Baba mountains. The alternative route is thought to be under Taliban control.

In Iraq, where oil money is filling state coffers and civilian mortality rates are at their lowest since the beginning of the Second Gulf War, optimism seems to be gaining a foothold.

The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism held a tourism fair last month and sponsored a contest for local artists to design posters promoting travel to the country. Mohsen al-Yacoubi, head of the tourism board, delivered the results of the contest to a packed conference room at the al-Mansour Melia hotel, the site of a deadly suicide bombing last year. The ministry announced plans to open tourism offices in select European cities in 2009.

Outside investors are also placing bets on the improving security climate in Iraq. American investor Robert Kelley broke ground last month on a $100-million luxury hotel in downtown Baghdad.

“We think the Iraqi people want to get along with each other,” Kelley told the Associated Press.

For time being, travel is discouraged outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. No official timetable exists for the reopening of the Baghdad Museum. The museum is located outside the Green Zone and officials worry that it could become an easy target for suicide bombers.

Religious tourism is already on the upsurge, thanks in part to an $80-million renovation of a military airfield in Najaf. Iraq’s newest airport opened to commercial traffic on July 20. The airport provides access to several of the Islamic world’s holiest sites in Najaf and nearby Karbala. An investment group led by the Kuwaiti firm Al-Aqeelah plans to pump another $170 million into the project as traffic into the airport increases.

The consensus among travelers, from Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree to Robert Young Pelton’s, is that travel in Iraq south of Kurdistan remains a foolhardy endeavor. Both the US State Department and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs strongly discourage unnecessary travel to any part of Iraq or Afghanistan. Their web sites warn of the familiar dangers, terrorism, rampant kidnapping, and widespread use of roadside bombs, as well as less obvious threats-the World Health Organization has confirmed Iraq as a site of human deaths from avian influenza.

Other countries, including the UK, Denmark, Japan, and Germany, have amended their travel warnings to note the higher security level in Iraqi Kurdistan.