Inauguration of the restoration of the Polana Serena hotel in Maputo, Mozambique

Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses the gathering during the inauguration of the renovated Polana Serena Hotel. Zahur Ramji

Your Excellency the President
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me begin by saying what an honour and joy it is to receive His Excellency the President of the Republic of Mozambique on this occasion.

What a great day this is as we mark the opening of a new landmark for the African hospitality industry - a new flagship for the Serena Hotel Group - and a new benchmark in the economic progress of Mozambique.

We have been looking forward to this celebration for some time - it marks the culmination of a complex process. And it is good to celebrate this moment with those who have devoted so much talent and energy to this process - and have made the moment possible.

It is a pleasure to welcome all of you.

That special word, “welcome”, is at the center of my thoughts today. After all, the purpose of this rebuilt Polana Serena hotel is to receive people from across the country, the continent and the planet and to help them to feel “welcome” in Mozambique.

I remember well the day- a little over twelve years ago - when President Chissano welcomed me to Maputo, for the purpose of signing a Development Co-operation Agreement between the Mozambique government and the Aga Khan Development Network. Our celebration today grows out of that initiative - and I thought I might say a word about how our cooperation has unfolded since that time. It is the longer story of which the Polana story is the latest part.

That story begins with my own enormous respect for this country, its leaders and its peoples, and the progress you made in recovering from an extremely difficult period of post-colonial turmoil. One reason for this progress, in my view, was Mozambique’s growing respect for practical, professional expertise in making development choices, rather than getting carried away by theoretical dogmas or arbitrary formulas. Another factor, I felt, was the value this society places on inclusiveness - welcoming the cooperative inputs of many stakeholders - from public institutions and private companies, from civil society, and from the international community.

As you may know, the developing world in general - and Africa in particular - has been a central focus of my work for over half a century. The colonial period was just ending when I became the Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim Community, and a host of newly independent countries were suddenly facing opportunities and challenges of unprecedented complexity.

One lesson we quickly learned about the development process, was that familiar investment assumptions - that had worked in earlier periods and in western economies - were not going to work in the same way in the post-colonial world. Private capital that looked for rapid returns - at minimum risk - would not flow readily - and other sources of seed finance would have to be found or generated. That is why we created AKFED - the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development - which has been the principal investor in this Polana project.

The purpose of the Agreement President Chissano and I signed twelve years ago was to lay a framework for the fullest presence of all our Network’s capacities, economic but also social and cultural in Mozambique - and we have been building on that framework ever since.

Much of our work, as you may know, has involved the northern areas, principally in Cabo Delgado. It includes the Coastal Rural Support Programme that integrates health, education and rural development in almost 200 villages, reaching over 160,000 inhabitants. A parallel effort is our Bridges to the Future programme which helps provide scholarships, internships, English courses and management training. And a third major element is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, which lends money to generate income for small-scale activities – some 7500 micro loans have already been made in this country.
At the same time, we have also tried to help with some larger projects such as Moztex, a new factory aimed at producing garments for export, a project which currently employs some 600 workers, a figure which is expected to double in the near future, with a focus on employment for women.
And, of course, I should also mention the new fiber optic cable company, SEACOM, which now links Southern and Eastern Africa with Europe and India.

Let me also mention a current project in Mozambique which is close to my heart - the Aga Khan Academy. The designs for that school have made excellent progress - and we expect construction to begin early next year. This means that the building of the Academy will mesh well with the early graduates of our new teaching facility at the Professional Development Centre at Matola. The School and the teaching facility are strategically partner projects – one supporting the other, and it is good that this academic construct will be operational by 2013.

Our efforts over the past decade have been quite diverse, and diversity must continue to be a watchword. It seems clear, for example, that improving agricultural productivity can only be one part of the long-range strategy - the growth potential in agriculture at some point will diminish - and we must encourage other activities that will propel continued growth.

One economic category that can have that sort of propelling impact, especially in Africa, is the travel and leisure sector. This is why our AKFED organization has made such significant investments in this field. And this is why the opening today of the Polana Serena Hotel is so important.

There is one other larger context I would like to mention today - the story of the Serena Hotel Group as a whole. Stretching back now over nearly four decades the Serena Group has contributed significantly to the economic progress of the places where it operates. And we intend that this same thing will happen in this country.

To begin with, attracting visitors to this country - business leaders and leisure travelers alike - one-time visitors and repeat customers - will itself produce foreign exchange at the time of such visits - as well as later foreign investment, often as a result of those stays. And in both cases, there will be important multiplier effects for other enterprises, as well as for government revenues.

As the Serena Group has learned in so many other places, world-class travel facilities can be crucial components of what we call “an enabling environment” - a setting in which additional development initiatives can take root and thrive.

Thus all of those who have contributed to the rebirth of the Polana deserve our heartfelt thanks, as do all of our valued partners in this work – the Government of Mozambique, our investment partners from Germany and France, the architects and designers, builders and decorators, and all those who are part of the Serena team. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my brother.

In conclusion, I would like to return to the word I used at the outset of these remarks, the word “welcome.” It is a word that most certainly sums up the spirit of today’s event, even as it expresses the essential mission of the entire Polana project. It is a word that signals the contribution this country and this facility will make to a widening world of exploration, engagement and cooperation.

It is with that same spirit that I greet you today, grateful for your participation in this project and your presence at this ceremony. I hope that wherever you live, in this city, or elsewhere in Mozambique, in Africa or elsewhere in the world, your path will bring you back often to the beauties of the Polana Serena.

Thank you.