For its magnificent landscapes, hospitable culture, and beautiful wealth of wildlife, Sir Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa”, when he visited the land in 1909. More than a century later, it remains rich in the ways that Churchill had remarked upon, but is now a sovereign nation, decades removed from its colonial past. The 9th of October marks the 50th anniversary of Uganda's independence from Great Britain, and it stands today as one of Africa's most stable and prosperous countries.
As the Jamat in Uganda – and Ismailis of Ugandan heritage around the world – celebrate with the proud nation, RAYS OF LIGHT: Glimpses into the Ismaili Imamat, will open in Kampala, marking its East African premiere. The exhibition adds a special dimension to the country's commemoration of this historic occasion.
As with many post-colonial nations, the Uganda's road since independence has been a difficult one; it took time and trials for the young nation to learn how best to serve its people and find its place in the world. Indeed, within a decade of independence most Ugandan Asians, including Ismailis, found themselves relocating to other parts of the world as the country struggled to balance identity with social harmony.
“There is a connection to our home land that, while I and my family have spent a bulk of our lives in another part of the world, we still consider ourselves and refer to ourselves as Ugandans,” remarked one Ismaili who emigrated from Uganda in the 1970s. In later years, as the atmosphere settled, some families ventured back to the country. Greater efforts were made towards building economic prosperity, quality health and education, and towards the wellbeing of the entire populace.
In the past two decades, Uganda has welcomed many Ismaili families from South Asia, who came to find opportunities and establish new roots. Jamatkhanas have been revived, with families, volunteers, institutional activities, and the excited voices of children playing in the halls and corridors, breathing in new life and renewing hope for the future.
Since 1957, Mawlana Hazar Imam has, through the institutions of the Ismaili Imamat, worked tirelessly towards bettering the lives of all Ugandans. Excellence in education, economic development, and investments in major infrastructure like the recently inaugurated Bujagali Hydropower Project, have been the most visible hallmarks of the Aga Khan Development Network in the country. The 4 000 square foot RAYS OF LIGHT exhibition gives insight into the wider context of the Ismaili Imamat's endeavours around the world, as well as in Uganda – both pre and post-independence.
The excitement for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Uganda's independence and the premiere of RAYS OF LIGHT is evident across the country and throughout the region. “It feels as though we are reliving a visit from the Imam,” remarks one volunteer.
One young lady in the Jamat expressed how she is particularly excited to see the photographs of Hazar Imam growing up as a young boy. An elder member of the community shared his eagerness to share stories with his grandchildren as they visit the exhibition together. A father is proud that each member of his family is volunteering at the event.
For some in the Jamat who once called Uganda their home, the occasion has provided an opportunity to revisit their birthplace, a journey that many have not undertaken since they left. “I may take a trip back home, after all it's my independence celebration as well, and seeing RAYS OF LIGHT is a bonus that makes it all worthwhile,” said one former Ugandan.
As RAYS OF LIGHT premieres in Kampala, it will help the Pearl of Africa shine a bit brighter on the occasion of 50 years of Ugandan independence.
Experience RAYS OF LIGHT: Glimpses into the Ismaili Imamat in Kampala, Uganda, which runs between 12 – 16 October 2012. For more information email email@example.com.