Aly Verjee’s Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize Essay on Ceasefire Monitoring

Awarded by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize is an essay competition seeking bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges. The following paper by Aly Verjee is the second winner of the Peacewriter Prize.

Ceasefie monitoring in Western Sahara
Antonio Achille, working with the Military Liaison Office of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, looks through binoculars during a cease-fire monitoring patrol in Oum Dreyga, Western Sahara. (United Nations Photo).

Monitoring Ceasefires is Getting Harder: Greater Innovation is Required

By ALY VERJEE

Far from helping resolve conflict, flawed ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring may well contribute to significantly increased mistrust between the parties to that conflict. The consequences may be even more damaging; as ceasefires are often one of the first objectives a mediator attempts to achieve, in the eyes of the combatants, early failure may more broadly damage the viability, or the perception of viability, of external action to effectively resolve the conflict.

This may reinforce the thinking of some belligerents that the only solution is military. Still, as I saw firsthand during my involvement in the peace process in South Sudan, the mediator may spend much time, energy and political capital in attempting to achieve an operable ceasefire with little promise of return.

Rather than a milestone on the road to conflict resolution, in complex conflicts that seem apparently irresolvable through peaceful means (e.g. Syria, Yemen, Ukraine), ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring often appear to be, at best, a form of conflict management. As Oliver Richmond notes, such efforts may “not even aim at a [durable] ceasefire but instead mediate . . . the continuation of violence in order to avoid further escalation.” [1]

Several recent such attempts at ceasefires have either collapsed quickly (Syria) or had a very limited geographic and political scope (Yemen), or may likely ‘freeze’ the conflict for years to come (Ukraine).

As the nature of conflict evolves and is increasingly fragmented, incrementally tinkering with conventional ceasefire monitoring may be insufficiently transformative to address its current limitations. While, for example, working to better specify the parameters of a ceasefire agreement, improving the training of international monitors prior to deployment, and improving their performance once deployed may still help in some cases, in many contemporary conflicts, peacemakers may need to consider more unorthodox and radical solutions.

At the outset, mediators who design ceasefire monitoring mechanisms should question the three core normative assumptions of conventional ceasefire monitoring. The first of these is that viable information about truce violations can be reported both accurately and in a timely manner. Second, such information can be used to deter violations and/or to incentivise agreement compliance. Third, the potential political and reputational cost of non-compliance is higher than any benefits of continuing the conflict. In a fragmented conflict, such normative logic may not fully apply, calling for other solutions to be considered.

The fragmentation of conflict has been accompanied by other discernible trends in ceasefire monitoring practice. For example, while UN peacekeeping itself began with the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements, today a regional organisation (such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in South Sudan) is as likely as the UN to be overseeing an agreement. There are obvious, possibly negative implications of near-neighbours being involved in monitoring conflicts on their immediate borders.

Further, the cautionary story of Norway’s experience in Sri Lanka has largely gone unheeded: today’s mediators are also often ceasefire monitors, or vice versa. Recall that in 2002, Norway agreed to oversee the ceasefire reached between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, despite “reservations about becoming both the mediator and the implementer of the ceasefire.” [2] As a result, ceasefire violators were not ‘named and shamed’, in order to avoid the risk of undermining Norway’s role as a mediator. [3]

Today, almost two decades later, there are numerous examples of the mediator also serving as monitor. In Yemen, the UN is both mediating between the government and the Houthis and monitoring the ceasefire arrangements in the vicinity of Hodeidah. In Ukraine, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is mandated “to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine . . . and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis.” [4] In South Sudan, the regionally led Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) is controlled and led by the same regional body that leads the peace process, IGAD. Repeated interruptions to the disclosure of ceasefire monitoring data have resulted when IGAD leaders deemed disclosure to be inopportune.

In such multi-party, fragmented conflicts, conflating the roles of mediator and monitor may make attempts to address such conflicts even more difficult. Trying to encourage the coalescing of rival forces that may be fighting each other as well as the government may affect the mediator’s ability and enthusiasm to report on ceasefire violations, particularly in an asymmetric conflict.

Historically, the idealised, neutral third-party monitor was theoretically conceived of as a desirable aide to the exchange of credible information between former combatants, and whose monitoring presence would help reduce uncertainty. The monitor was also traditionally intended to serve as a trusted intermediary between mistrustful parties. [5]

But in many of today’s civil-war conflicts, the belligerent parties may well hold more information about the intentions and capacities of their adversaries (with whom they may have once been aligned) than any third parties. Syrian, Yemeni or South Sudanese fighters understand the topography and geography of their countries better than any external actors could ever hope to do, despite the advantage international monitors may now derive from access to satellite imagery or other technologies.

While these trends underline the sometimes problematic investing of agency in outsiders to the conflict, such as the drafters, monitors and enforcers of ceasefire arrangements, is the lower ambition of documenting, and perhaps occasionally deterring, the worst of the violence, the best to which a ceasefire process in an apparently intractable conflict can aspire? My answer is that, while there are no easy solutions, conflict mediators can do better by learning from past experience. And while no single novel approach will overcome all of the problems inherent in ceasefire arrangements, and, more particularly, in the monitoring of such arrangements, monitors can do more to innovate and adapt their practice, so that ceasefire monitoring is fit for purpose in this new era of conflict.

This essay proposes three practical possibilities, relevant to consider at both design and negotiation phases of a peace process, and during its implementation, to reshape, complement and strengthen, existing practice. These are:

  • to apply lessons from the evolution of election observation to ceasefire monitoring;
  • to widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations; and,
  • to better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework.

Learn from the evolution of election observation

Much like ceasefire monitoring, election observation began as a largely internationally led, externally directed process. Increasingly, however, the most effective election observers today are found in domestic networks (e.g. the Church-based coalitions formed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Kenya, or the alliances fostered by secular groups in Nigeria, Afghanistan or Mexico). Domestic observer networks have the scale, personnel and motivation to report comprehensively and deeply on electoral processes, well before and beyond election day. Aided by crowd-sourcing, geolocation technology, quantitative rigour and greater consistency in methodology, domestic election observers cover more ground, and offer findings more statistically authoritative than those of international counterparts, whose sample is comparatively limited.

While there are some examples of broad-based, citizen-led ceasefire monitoring over the years (a recent report cites, as examples, Guatemala and Sierra Leone in 1996 and the Philippines in 2001), the paucity of recent examples suggests the practice has been largely piecemeal, and far from widespread and systematically practised. [6] Except in the most geographically modest of contexts, scale matters: more than a few plucky, courageous observers or forward-thinking local NGOs are needed for a domestic ceasefire monitoring effort to be transformative. Nor has domestic ceasefire monitoring to date usually attained sufficient sophistication, nor applied consistently robust methods (areas in which election observers have developed their methodology considerably) to make a sizeable difference in most conflicts. Often, domestic monitoring efforts have been subsumed into the more generic monitoring of peace agreement accords, as civil society actors attempt to balance multiple priorities and objectives. While the latter may seem a complementary task, the thematic areas are substantially different, and the particularities of security arrangements may necessitate more tailored methodologies.

Certainly, domestic observation of ceasefires is no panacea. The concept presents its own risks and limitations of observer credibility, consistency and investigative methodology. But, as with election observation, a domestic approach boasts the potential for greater reach, both within complex geographies, across conflict lines, and between combatants and non-combatants. The possibility of a response that may be more timely than international monitors can ever hope to achieve is also alluring. Perhaps of equal importance, at scale, there is the possibility for greater innovation in monitoring, which also offers the potential for mobilising a coalition for peace from below.

Effectively widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations

Increasingly, ceasefire monitoring mandates have moved beyond mere determinations of who fired at whom, with what weapons, to broader concerns about international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, and sexual and gender-based violence. But the core of monitoring work remains concerned with what are perceived as first-order violations. Even when other issues are explicitly outlined in a ceasefire agreement, they are often felt to be the purview of human rights investigators, not ceasefire monitors.

While some see dedicating more time, personnel and resources to other ceasefire monitoring priorities as a distraction, such monitoring may not necessarily require more money, equipment and personnel but, more specifically, monitors with more diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills. This is more than a play to political correctness; it could help unlock new paths to conflict resolution. This is because, in some contexts, there may be an opportunity to use a broader understanding of the violation environment to improve relations with the belligerents in a conflict. Conducting an investigation, or building rapport with communities, may not require a sophisticated appreciation of the different forms of arms and ammunition, as important as that knowledge may be. But these are skills that might strengthen the credibility of the mission more broadly.

The point is not to overburden ceasefire monitors with an over-ambitious mandate. Instead, it is to see these additional aspects of the monitoring mandate as both opportunities for confidence-building between the parties and as an additional means to bolster the authority and credibility of monitoring efforts.

Both the parties to an agreement and its monitors must conceptualise that the spectrum of violations is broad. It does not consist only of extremes: at one end, inconsequential technical violations (e.g. 31 rounds of ammunition held by a party instead of the prescribed 30), and, at the other, the most egregious violence and mass atrocities imaginable. In between, there is much space for manoeuvre (in all senses of that word), and therefore opportunity. While it may be impossible for the drafter of an agreement to consider every possible violation at the outset, further elaborating other forms of prohibitive behaviour might reduce the space for future ambiguity.

Beyond punitive measures, better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework

The international community’s options for coercive action in support of a ceasefire agreement are limited. While both unilateral and multilateral sanctions and arms embargoes remain commonly contemplated measures, the likelihood, efficacy and effect of such measures is debatable. In some cases, such measures may be merely symbolic, even when political consensus exists amongst the great powers to impose them. At the same time, most ceasefire agreements leave the messy tasks of corrective and/or disciplinary actions to the parties to the agreement, without much specificity.

Instead, ceasefire brokers could use their formulation and facilitation functions to improve the spectrum of self-enforcement and internal disciplinary mechanisms within the framework of a ceasefire agreement itself. Further, such agreements could better link the activities of monitoring mechanisms with the power to offer appropriate recommendations.

For example, a ceasefire agreement could provide monitors with the power to recommend that identified offenders, whether as units or individuals, be rotated or removed from the theatre of operations, or from command responsibility. Or, that they be restricted to non-combat duties, or be required to perform public works (e.g. road-building or repairs) as reparation for violations. [7]

Such measures would not supersede the conventionally classical punitive measures of trials, courtsmartial and/or dismissal or suspension from the armed party that remain within the internal purview of most armed groups. But they might give a wider menu of more proportionate options to ceasefire supporters and enforcers, to bridge the extremes of total inaction and comprehensive sanctions. Such measures may also help in fragmented conflicts, where outright condemnation or the imposition of heavily punitive measures may well risk further fragmentation of the conflict. [8]

Further, in an environment where participation in a ceasefire agreement is itself a demonstration of signalling a desire to cooperate, creative specificity could identify a window for further positive signalling. A recommendation that suggests Unit A should be redeployed from Province B is a more tangible area for focus than the more conventional refrain of monitors that “it is recommended that the appropriate action be taken”. In such boilerplate formulations, the who, how, when and why of the recommended action is often left unsaid, with predictable consequences for follow-up.

Widening the spectrum of possible measures might help in fostering parties’ compliance. From the point of view of the parties, implementing a specific recommendation emanating from a neutral body may be more politically palatable, if the optics of the burden of the political costs can be partially shifted to the monitoring institution. Given their internal dynamics, the parties may be unable or unwilling to enforce consequences against their own forces on their own initiative.

However, if the parties are more willing to act at ceasefire monitors’ behest, the disadvantages of monitors being painted as the bad guys may be less consequential, even if some monitors might fear being too prescriptive would risk their neutrality, or see such innovation as moving their mandate from ‘technical’ to ‘political’. Providing the party in non-compliance with the political cover to take corrective action it might not otherwise imagine or devise itself could help in future efforts to resolve the underlying conflict.

Conclusion

The suggestions offered here are not exhaustive. They are intended to demonstrate that, even though the templates of ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring remain at the mercy of a given conflict’s internal and external political realities, creative additions to the mediator’s arsenal can be made, and could be developed further. Central to these ideas is to look to the citizens beyond the signatories to an agreement to shift the paradigm of conflict. For this to be effective, citizen-led efforts will need support beyond the conventional models. Perhaps paradoxically, the lack of active examples in the practice of many of these ideas suggests there is much latitude for innovation and creative application. Fundamentally, such strategies should be seen as more than just desirable additions to classical practice; the increasingly complicated nature of conflict demands equally meaningful innovation in response.

Date posted: August 26, 2019.

Last updated: August 28, 2019.

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We are indebted to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue for giving us the permission to reproduce Aly Verjee’s essay on this website. The original PDF version may be read by clicking on Monitoring ceasefires is getting harder.

Verjee’s profile with photo, below, is taken from the website of the United States Institute of Peace ( https://www.usip.org ). 

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Aly Verjee is a researcher specializing in the politics of eastern Africa. He is a visiting expert at the U.S Institute of Peace and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. From 2015-2016, he was deputy and then acting chief of staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, overseeing the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan. From 2014-2015, he was senior advisor to the chief mediator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led peace process for South Sudan.

He lived and worked in Sudan from 2005-2010, and returned in 2011 as chief political analyst for the European Union (EU) observation of the South Sudan independence referendum. He was chief political analyst for the EU election observation missions to Zambia (2016) and Tanzania (2015); directed Free Press Unlimited’s media development initiatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan (2011-12); directed Democracy International’s election observation mission to Djibouti (2011); was deputy director of the Carter Center’s political and electoral observation mission to Sudan (2008-10); helped manage the first-ever election observer network established in the DR Congo (2006), comprising some 7,000 Congolese observers, and managed international election observation missions in Somaliland (2005, 2010 and 2012).  

Mr. Verjee has provided expert testimony before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, the British Parliament and the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the author of The Economics of Elections in Somaliland (2015); New North, Old North: The Republic of Sudan after the split (chapter) in Sudan after Separation: New Approaches to a New Region (2012); Disputed Votes, Deficient Observation: the May 2011 Election in South Kordofan, Sudan (2011) and Race Against Time: Countdown to the Referenda in Southern Sudan and Abyei (2010). 

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EXCERPT FROM STATEMENT ISSUED ON ALY VERJEE BY U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE

The U.S. Institute of Peace congratulates our Aly Verjee on being awarded the 2019 Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize, which recognizes “bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges,” for his essay on addressing the increasing challenges of cease-fire monitoring.

“USIP is delighted to see Aly Verjee receive well-deserved recognition for his innovative ideas and approaches to conflict de-escalation,” said Mike Yaffe, the Institute’s vice president for the Middle East and Africa. “Aly is tireless in applying his ample knowledge of peace mediation together with incisive analysis about the situation on the ground to come up with creative and thoughtful solutions to some of the toughest conflicts in Africa.”

“So much effort is put into reaching an agreement to end violence. But then the hard work begins to ensure that those who are fighting will keep their commitments,” said USIP Director for Africa Programs Susan Stigant. “Aly draws on his rich experience in peace mediation and on elections to offer some new ways to make sure that guns remain silent and citizens remain safe. Most importantly, he challenges all of us to bring evidence, creativity and our best minds to finding solutions.”

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Endnotes

[1] Oliver Richmond, “A genealogy of mediation in international relations: from ‘analogue’ to ‘digital’ forms of global justice or managed war?”, Cooperation and Conflict, January 2018, p.13.

[2] Luc Chounet-Cambas, “Negotiating ceasefires: dilemmas & options for mediators”, Mediation Practice Series 3, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, March 2011, p.10.

[3] Ibid., p.10.

[4] ‘Special monitoring mission to Ukraine’, OSCE, available at: https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine.

[5] Virginia Page Fortna, “Peacetime: ceasefire agreements and the durability of peace”, Princeton University Press, March 2004.

[6] Nick Ross, “Civil society’s role in monitoring and verifying peace agreements: seven lessons from international experiences”, Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, January 2017, pp.11–12.

[7] Aly Verjee, “South Sudan: four steps to a truce that works”, USIP, January 2018, available at: https://www.usip.org/ blog/2018/01/south-sudan-four-steps-truce-works.

[8] Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, “Understanding fragmentation in conflict and its impacts on prospects for peace”, Oslo Forum Background Paper, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, June 2016, pp.9–10.

Wonderful reads about His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee in Lisbon

A  unique catalogue sheet studded with a diamond, 50+ magnificent photos, and Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Darbar stories

PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS

  1. Portugal Postal Service releases Aga Khan Jubilee souvenir embedded with a genuine diamond……MORE by Abdulmalik Merchant
  2. 50+ magnificent photos of the Aga Khan with the President of Portugal…..MORE
  3. A poetic piece on the Jubilee finale in Lisbon……MORE by Jalal Jaffer
  4. Memories of a modern day pilgrimage to Lisbon…...MORE by Rahim Hirji
  5. Darbar narrative (in 2 parts)…….MORE by Zafeera Kassam
  6. Complete Table of Contents

Date posted: August 4, 2018.

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Exclusive: The concluding piece of the Aga Khan’s Darbar in Lisbon

11 July, 2018: The “Highest Point” of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee

My astonishment quickly evaporated into unbridled, quintessential euphoria. Hazar Imam was granting us another audience! Together with the Noorani Family again! Together with the President of Portugal! Unbelievable! What had we done to have the heavens open up and grant us such a unique and invaluable boon? Yet again, Hazar Imam fulfilled a whimsical wish many had nurtured in their hearts  that, once, just once, he chooses to return to his Jamat instead of departing. Alhamdulillah! The salwats picked up fervour, indeed in the presence of a non-Ismaili…..Read more of Zafeera Kassam’s extraordinary account of a unique Darbar in Lisbon on July 11, 2018 – the “highest point” of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee

Please click on image to read Zafeera’s concluding narrative.

Date posted: July 27, 2018.

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Exclusive: The Diamond Jubilee Darbar of His Highness the Aga Khan in Lisbon

So, here I was setting out with the expectation of enduring huge crowds, endless queues and a squashed place to sit, all exacerbated by the heat wave. But my heart was joyous and I was ready to face any and all discomforts because, ultimately, I was fortunate to have been able to come to Lisbon and be a part of history in the making….READ MORE of Part 1 of Zafeera Kassam’s inspiring and moving account of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Darbar in Lisbon on July 11, 2018.

Please click on photo for Zafeera Kassam’s exclusive narrative of the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Lisbon.

Date posted: July 24, 2018.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi: A Personal Reflection

A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..”

By ZAFEERA KASSAM

(This piece originally appeared on Simerg’s sister blog http://www.barakah.com. It is reproduced, with minor layout changes).

aai_0184_-_Mawlana Hazar Imam-Aga Khan-Darbar-Nairobi Diamond Jubilee

Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses the Jamat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Aziz Islamshah.

I don’t think I can ever understand the human capacity to experience two polar opposite emotions simultaneously: indescribable happiness and also deep sadness, a profound sense of soulful quietude and also a rippling feeling of restlessness.

As I sat there in the hall, participating in intezari program, I was a column of conflict: Ecstatic to finally be here, excited over the joy of the possibility of seeing my Imam in all his grandeur. But also concerned that time was going by too quickly, that all of this would end too soon. Time always moves like rapids whenever he is physically present and when he isn’t, time is a meandering snail.

It was endearing listening to the children singing ginans like ‘Eji Anand Anand’ and ‘Kalapat Jalapat’ as well as qasidas like ‘Dam Hamma Dam Ali Ali’, ‘Ya Imami Ya Imami’ and ‘Goyum Ali Joyum Ali’. The ventis, zikr and renditions of ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ were well received. And the Al-Waez who came on periodically to explain the procedures that take place during the Darbar and the significance of these gestures made an emphatic point to revel in the moment, to use the silences that would lapse between one ginan and another to reflect on various facets of the Darbar, including who our beloved Imam is, what he has done for the world at large in the past 60 years and our own relationship with the Imam of the time.

The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.

The gentleman next to me found it curious that I kept checking my watch but how could I explain to him my contention with time – it was moving too swiftly: 7am had become 9am all too soon, and yet it wasn’t moving swiftly at all. When would 11am arrive and bring with it our Lord and Murshid, our beloved Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam?

Aga Khan Mawlana Hazar Imam Nairobi Darbar Stage cropped

The Nairobi Darbar stage.

Amidst the hustle of standing up for the zikr and inching forward to make space to accommodate the large numbers filing in, I was able to glance around at the hall decorated by volunteers who worked day and night to create a simple yet alluring ambience. White festooning hung from the ceiling in circular formations and delicate floral arrangements adorned diamond-shaped hangings. The stage itself was classy too with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s chair appearing majestic in the centre. The Diamond Jubilee motif dominated the hall, reminding us of what the occasion represented – not that we needed the reminder but their striking colour and form captured the eye frequently.

In what felt like no time at all, it was five minutes to 11am. The ginan that was going on ended abruptly as the screens lit up with Mawla’s motorcade rounding the corner at Darkhana. Mawla’s green Audi slowed down at the entrance. The door opened. Breathing halted. Mawla alighted and salwats swelled in the hall. That jovial countenance filled the screen and it felt like he too was in a hurry to enter as he gestured to the Mukhi Kamadia and Mukhiani Kamadiani and swept into the foyer. The screens went blank and the heart started racing. He was here! The Lord of Light and love was but a glance away. It felt like the soul itself was eager to leap out and embrace him as soon as he appeared in sight. All the conflicting emotions converged into one geyser of ardour. And then time slowed to a standstill – waiting, waiting, waiting for him to emerge from the Green Room and step into the hall.

I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap.

The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.

Ishq pe ho gayi meher khuda ki,
Rab ne soon li araz hamari,
Shukrana, shukrana,
Rabba tera lakh lakh shukrana — excerpt of poem by Ravindran Jain

Translation

Lord has shone His mercy on my love
And has fulfilled my yearning
Gratitude to you, O my Lord
Hundreds and thousands of thank you, O my Lord

The only feeling that comes the slightest bit close to this feeling is the one you get when standing at the shore and seeing the sun rise at the brink of the ocean. The Light had appeared before me and finally I saw him dressed in his Diamond Jubilee Khil’at. What I thought I would feel seeing this was nothing like what I truly felt. But the visceral thirst was momentarily quenched and I watched the screen as the camera followed his walk along the red carpet. I saw a lady thrust a letter to the Imam, which he graciously accepted then handed over to the Mukhisaheb.

_zaf4731-2-Mawlana Hazar Imam-Aga Khan-Darbar-Nairobi Diamond Jubilee

Mawlana Hazar Imam walks through the Jamat amid the recitations of the Salwat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali

I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap. A ripple of amusement spread through the jamat at that moment. Hazar Imam continued along the red carpet, showering generous blessings upon individuals, and finally ascended the steps to take his place on the stage.

He gave his permission for the ceremonies to take place. The 49-link gold chain was garlanded around his neck, and from the point where the Tilawat-e-Qur’an was recited along with its translation, the Venti Ginan and Zikr, Hazar Imam’s expression was a serious and sombre one. But when those who recited the prayers went to him to get blessings, his face lit up with beguiling beams. The President of the Council, respected Mr Nawaz Gulam, gave his pledge of allegiance on behalf of the jamats present and that was indeed a solemn moment. I thank him for including the plea for forgiveness of any shortcomings or transgressions.

[Mawlana Hazar Imam] directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”

And then came the moment we were all earnestly awaiting, the moment when Hazar Imam came to the microphone and his enchanting voice resonated throughout the hall. How we thirsted to hear his “My beloved spiritual children” and the warmth that cocooned us with those special words was indescribable. Glee thrummed through my veins to hear him extended his “warmest and best, best, BEST, loving blessings” and the heart swelled to enormity to hear: “I hope this will be a day of happiness in the Jamat as it is a day of happiness for me. That there will be lots of joy. I think you call it Dandia Raas and so there will be plenty of dancing.”

The heart was already dancing. He went on to joke, “I suspect a little bit of biryani from here or there.” And then He shared something that was truly touching and poignant, “And I will participate with you in your rejoicing for it is a day of immense happiness for me.” Imagine that. The Imam rejoicing with you, dancing with you, savouring the yummy biryani with you. Wow.

He went on to thank the government for extending kindnesses and courtesies to him and he mentioned this thrice. The second time round He added, “I am grateful to the government on your behalf and on my behalf”. He instructed the jamat to take back to their countries, families and friends, his best, affectionate blessings.

He said, “tell your Jamat that I am thinking of them, that I send them blessings for mushkil aasaan in their lives, not only here in Kenya but around the world.” He further said he looks forward for strong work, for the unity of the jamat, for the strength of our institutions and for success of our younger generation in their education.

He emphasized on this and directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”

He gave special blessings for the younger generation to succeed in their educational endeavours.

A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..” and it felt like an important reminder that we are all one universal brotherhood and it is high time we put aside our hang-ups with status and position, we dissolve our discriminations and biases, and begin acting in the manner that Mowla sees us: brothers and sisters; one jamat; one family.

He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent!

Hazar Imam further emphasized that our tradition is an intellectual tradition: “Invest in your intellect. Learn. Use learning for the benefit of yourselves, your families and your jamat. Acquire knowledge throughout your lifetime, not just during academic years.” He urged us to keep knowledge part of the way we think and develop our activities, to bring into these activities competence, wisdom and ‘Best Practice’. He specified, “I would be so happy if all my jamat was part of Best Practice worldwide. This is what I hope for my jamat.”

_zaf4782_-_zafrani_mansurali-_Mawlana Hazar Imam-Aga Khan-Darbar-Nairobi Diamond Jubilee

Mawlana Hazar Imam shares a light moment with the Jamat. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali

It was extraordinarily touching when Mawlana Hazar Imam shared a childhood memory. He and his brother, Prince Amyn, used to collect rabbits and every morning, they would go out to say ‘good morning’ to the rabbits. One morning they had a terrible surprise. The rabbits were all gone! He held out his hands and we aww-ed when He said, “they had been eaten.” We were all smiles to hear him end this anecdote with: “Lots of fun, a few heartaches, and, above all, happiness of being here in Kenya.”

Immense, immense happiness and gratitude is what I felt for being part of this Darbar.

He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent! With an Imam like that, whose love knows no bounds and crosses all barriers, who is the epitome of all facets good and positive, what are problems and what tenacity do they even have?

Mawlana Hazar Imam took his seat and the Mukhi Kamadia Sahebs Mukhiani Kamadiani Sahebas of the Kenyan Jurisdiction, Congo Jamat and Malagasy Jamat, respectively, presented mehmanis to the Imam, which were graciously blessed. This was promptly followed by the Imam divinely blessing the Aab-e-Shafa. Next, the Nazranas were humbly offered to the Imam. Earlier, during the intezari programme, these nazranas were shared with the jamat, photographs of which were shown on the screens. The Kenyan jurisdiction’s nazrana was a pair of high back wooden armchairs from Lamu; the Democratic Republic of Congo unearthed a water sprinkler that had six tubes extending from the bottom bowl to the top bowl and it was shared that the six tubes each represent 10 years of Hazar Imam’s Imamat, totalling to 60 glorious years; the Malagasy jamat found a ewer and plate from a rare collection made in France with Islamic engravings on it.

He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.

The nazranas were presented in forms of photo catalogues to the Imam. He showed keen interest in these and when He came to the mic the second time around, he expressed genuine pleasure at having received these nazranas and wished that the gifts be returned to the jamat – each and every individual – a thousand times over. Such a generous Imam, truly!

He confided that Mukhisaheb has reminded him – though he did not need to – that the volunteers had done good work and Mawla gave special blessings for all the hard work they had put in to make this visit a happy one for him. He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.

And then came the moment we didn’t look forward to – Mawlana Hazar Imam descending the stage to leave the hall. Oh, if only we had the capability to make him stay with us longer. But he didn’t leave straight away. He walked along the red carpet and made his way to where the senior citizens were sitting on the chairs, passing by the hospital beds, walking – it seemed – slowly and swiftly (if that is even possible) until he loomed into sight where I was seated. It’s not possible to put into words what kind of transformation takes place when “naino se nain mila” but the ginan ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ captures the essence of deeply coveting this phenomenon. I don’t think it’s meant to be expressed in words as it is a highly personal and ‘anmol’ occurrence.

He turned the corner and reached the exit, pausing briefly to acknowledge, with a smile, some jamati members waving at him.

We were informed that he would spend some time with the leaders of the jamat to discuss important issues, that he had spent 45 minutes in Dubai and 40 minutes in Mumbai doing so, and the jamat was requested to stay put and participate in the post-darbar programme of zikr, ginans and tasbihs.

dsc_0340-1_-_hussein_jiva_1_Mawlana Hazar Imam-Aga Khan-Darbar-Nairobi Diamond Jubilee

Mawlana Hazar Imam waves to young volunteers after departing the Darbar hall. The children held up placards with the words “We love you, Hazar Imam” which are reflected on the car. Photo: The Ismaili/Hussein Jiva.

Mawlana Hazar Imam left after one whole hour (60 minutes) and was sent off by the Ismaili Youth Band and Volunteers Corp who held up placards stating “We love you, Hazar Imam.” That was a touching sight to behold.

But the mixed emotions came flooding back – the same incomprehensible polar-opposite emotions crashing at the shore of my conscious – ecstasy and melancholy; sukoon and tadap. Ecstasy to have seen him and heard his voice; melancholy that the whole event was over and he had physically departed; sukoon at having being invaluably blessed and deeply grateful for it too; tadap because when will such a Divine Deedar happen again?

Naseeb pachha kyare khulse? (When will good fortune strike again?)

It’s just never, ever enough.

The ginans speak of it and I now live it.

Eji Jiska re ma-e-bap gam sadharya re piya
Uska farzand kiyu kar raheve re,
Maherban mere, Saheb mere, dayavant mere maherban
Ya Shah tuj bina so din javega kese piyaji – excerpt of Ginan “Tumko Sadhaare” by Pir Sadardin

Translation

Children whose beloved parent is physically leaving town
How can they stay here happily?
O my Merciful, O my Lord,
How will I stay without you in these times?

Date posted: April 17, 2018.

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Zafeera Kassam

Zafeera Kassam is a high-school teacher of English Language, Literature and Psychology, residing in Nairobi, Kenya. She spends her free time in creative writing and poetry, and has had her short stories and poems published in various media around the world. As a devotee of Mowlana Hazar Imam, her greatest joy is in penning verse and poems in praise of Hazar Imam. Her latest publication, Always and Forever, is a book of 60 poems dedicated especially to Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee (available on Amazon Kindle). She is also an amateur photographer who takes great interest in capturing nature. Currently, she is concentrating on developing her skills in graphic design and digital imagery. Most of all, she hopes to be continuously inspired to keep penning poems in praise of beloved Hazar Imam.

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Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click on Leave a comment.   Your comment may also be submitted to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

 

The Aga Khan University: “A National Innovator and a Powerhouse for Quality”

Firoz Rasul Aga Khan Visit CIME EVENT AKU Karachi

President Firoz Rasul delivering his address in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan during the inauguration ceremony in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 15, 2017 of a new AKU Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), a state-of-the-art facility for technology-based learning for health professionals. Photo: The Ismaili/Rahil Imtiaz Ali.

Message from President Firoz Rasul of the Aga Khan University

January 11, 2018

Dear Friends, Alumni and Supporters,

2018 marks the 35th year since the founding of the Aga Khan University and we begin the year with the unveiling of a study completed last year on the economic impact of AKU in Pakistan.

The landmark study by Centennial Group International, a leading international strategy and policy consulting firm based in Washington DC and comprising former World Bank economists and executives, refers to AKU as “a national innovator and a powerhouse for quality; a nationwide role model for high-quality tertiary education and medical care,” and lauds the University for its role as the premier higher education institution in Pakistan. The study quantified AKU’s contribution as an educator, a pioneering healthcare provider, an employer, a research hub, an international gateway, and a compassionate supporter to those in need.

The report shows that in 2015 (the latest year data was available when Centennial began its work in 2016), the Aga Khan University generated more than US$1 billion or PKRs 103 billion in economic value for Pakistan. It notes that the University generates its economic impact in a variety of ways. By providing high-quality education, it increases the earning power of its alumni. By providing outstanding healthcare to 1.3 million individuals annually, it keeps people healthy and productive. And as a major purchaser of goods and services, it generates revenues for businesses and jobs for people across the country. AKU supports 42,000 jobs – both directly and indirectly – and its spending also has a multiplier effect: for every rupee of its direct value added, it generates 7.3 rupees in economic benefits.

The report clearly demonstrates that beyond the highly qualified graduates, the generation of new knowledge and the delivery of quality healthcare, AKU makes an enormous impact on the economic well-being of Pakistan. This contribution of AKU would not have been possible without the vision and guidance of our Founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the generosity of donors, partners, alumni, supporters and volunteers.

We express our deep gratitude to each of you for your commitment and unwavering support. I am sure you will read the report (available here) with great pride as you see evidence of how your University can not only address the the most vexing problems in our communities, but also add value to the economy.

With my best wishes for the new year,

Firoz Rasul
President.

Date posted: January 15, 2017.

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The Centenial Group’s report on the Aga Khan University can be downloaded by clicking on AKU’s Economic Impacts in Pakistan.

Firoz Rasul PortraitMr. Firoz Rasul has served as President of the Aga Khan University (AKU) since May 1, 2006. Prior to his engagement with AKU, President Rasul was involved in building several business enterprises and the development of social and community institutions. He served as Chief Executive Officer and then Chairman of Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in fuel cell technology from December 1988 until May 2004.

Between 2000 and 2006, he was President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, where he led the development of several large-scale projects for the Aga Khan Development Network, including The Global Centre of Pluralism in Ottawa and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

As a business leader, he was named the 2001 National Transportation Person of the Year by the Government of Canada, and Wilfred Laurier University’s School of Business and Economics recognized him with its Outstanding Business Leader award.

Mr Rasul received a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and an MBA from McGill University in Montreal. Mr Rasul was conferred with the Degree of Doctors of Laws, honoris causa, by Simon Fraser University in 2001. 

In 11 years as AKU’s president, Mr Rasul has been instrumental in developing a rich partnership with the University of Alberta that has created opportunities for exchange and collaboration for students, professors and researchers at both universities. On June 8, 2017, the University conferred on him an honorary Doctorate of Science. 

 

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Hunza: An Eyewitness Account

We convey Salgirah* Mubarak to all Ismailis and friends of the Ismailis on the occasion of the 81st birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is currently visiting Pakistan for his Diamond Jubilee. At the age of 81, His Highness is the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). We are pleased to publish on http://www.barakah.com an account of the Darbar of the Aga Khan that took place on Sunday, December 10, 2017, in Aliabad, Hunza. The piece was specially contributed for Barakah by Faqir Ullah Khan of Hunza.

PLEASE CLICK: His Highness the Aga Khan in Pakistan: Zahiri-u-Noorani didar – A personal reflection of the darbar in Hunza

A panoramic view of the Didargah or the Darbar grounds in Aliabad Hunza where the Aga Khan graced his followers with his Didar (lit. glimpse) on December 10, 2017.

Date posted: December 13, 2017.

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* In Urdu, Salgirah is used for the occasion of someone’s birthday.

 

The Aga Khan: An Icon of Thought, Philosophy and Action – A Tribute by James Wolfensohn

HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

“It is the extraordinary sense of humanity that he has. The great depth of real feeling for real people wherever they find themselves in society. He is a holy man. He is the leader of his faith. He’s a man who represents the very best in Islam.” — READ MORE

PLEASE CLICK: The Aga Khan Stands Out as an Icon of Action
by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (1995-2005)

Photo: Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

“With Our Own Hands” – Nairobi’s Shariffa Keshavjee Reflects on an Astonishingly Beautiful Book About the People, Food and Life in the Pamirs

“In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love…As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.” — Shariffa Keshavjee

“With Our Own Hands” by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider

Front cover

Front cover “With Our Own Hands,” 686 pages. Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales.

REVIEWED BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

I have not visited high mountain regions of the Pamirs bordering Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, but these lands have always fascinated me .

I was fortunate to have laid hands on this beautiful and monumental book in Kenya. Reading and re-reading this tome connected me with the food and life in the Pamir mountains

It is special thrill to open a new book that contains many well annotated pictures. As I open a crisp fresh leaf of the book, I am delighted to see a familiar leaf, a man shielding himself with a rhubarb leaf. Yes, indeed, how hot and bright the sun must be must be up in the land locked mountains. I only knew rhubarb leaves as poisonous for gerbils!

Countries bordering the Pamirs are not that well known and this book is particularly welcome to expose the lands that straddle Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan where the Karakoram Pass snakes its way into the snow. In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love.

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Beyond the peaks of the Pamirs are the cold deserts of Central Asia, China and Afghanistan, all part of the old silk road — the route that was the rich centre of trade and culture. Now that air travel is the norm, technology and curiosity bring us closer to our brothers and sisters in the Pamirs.

It was a delight to read Prince Charles’ forward in ” With Our Own Hands.” He has said it all — the hard seminal work of documentation, preservation and most of all making this work available in English, Dari and Tajik.

I loved the wonderful pictures of the beautiful faces of the people in the Pamir region. I was delighted to have met them when I was in Paris, and to hear the songs and watch the graceful dances of the region.

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo:

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo: “With Our Own Hands.”

The features of the people are such a contrast; the soft features so delicate and fine in the young, the rugged ones in the not so young exposed to the elements. These people show resilience of spirit. Their close connection with the earth on a daily basis is a sense of joy. I can relate this somewhat to us here in Nairobi, where some people are beginning to grow their own vegetables, to avoid pesticides and genetically modified seeds. There is a movement in Kenya taking us back to more organic foods. For the people of the Pamirs, their seeds are sacrosanct, untarnished by greed.

I myself am particularly aware of how fast we are losing many foods that I used to eat, that my grandfather grew on his farm in Muhoroni, near Lake Victoria in the Rift Valley. Now I know why I feel a connection to the Pamirs.

Change is inevitable. My aunt used to make Bursoq, called gulgulia. All over the world similar sweet dishes are a treat — baklava, bursoq, gulab jamuns, the list goes on. How much we share how much in common we have.

In the Pamirs, we have young people, with their hopes and aspirations, their varied languages of English, Russian, Dari, Tajik, Urdu, and Pamiri. One foot steeped in tradition and one in the modern world , a perfect place to balance between the sacred and a world so mesmerised by the material one.

with-our-own-hands-apricots-photos-and-caption

In the changing human environment the people in the Pamirs are balanced between their tradition and outside influence. Perfect time to savour the idea that no visitor is a stranger here in the mountainous terrain. Guests are honoured and feted. They eat food that is in season, a culture lost to us with export of food and refrigeration. We know, however, that the food that is in season is good for us. It was a strong belief of my great-grandfather who worked in our farm in Muhoroni.

Special foods are also a sign of celebration. In Ismaili ginans, special foods are mentioned, “ghee thi nitarta bhojan banavie, una una rotla ne Markhan knavravie…” ‘

Prince Charles aptly says ‘ the march of globalisation ‘, has crushed our traditions under foot. This book is a testimony to the perilous present juxtaposed with the resilient knowledge of the past.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

School Teachers with their own copy of With Our Own Hands

The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.”

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The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.” In this photo, schoolgirls in the Bartang valley are standing with a copy of the book. The authors have noted that they were received time and time again with the warmest hospitality one could ever imagine. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife.

“With Our Own Hands” is a font of knowledge; I learnt so much about mulberries, which grow in my back yard but I did not know they could be dried. I now see them with different eyes. I learnt about the use of apricots, always a rare dish at our table. As siblings we would enjoy cracking the seed so delicately as to obtain a whole nut. We used out brass pestle and mortar.

Water is such a precious commodity that it has angels looking after it. The channels once established widen and give. The people then become so close to their water source. What a beautiful concept for those who turn on the faucet without any reverence.

In the book, I continue to enjoy the sun blessed rugged mountains of the Pamirs, and the beautiful faces of the people. The earth in its longing for human company. As we prepare to celebrate Navroz on March 21, know that we are together in hope, love and celebration. We too are part of the climate change — a colder winter here in Kenya, although our waters do not freeze as does the Panj River. Together our resilience and faith is stronger than the not so clement weather!

Back cover With Our Own Hands

Back cover “With Our Own Hands”

I love the cucumber story in the Wakhan Valley! We too, in Kenya eat the root of the Arrrow Root, (ARVI) and not the leaves. Now as we become multi-cultural, we eat the root and the leaves!!! We make our Qorma with green grams and eat it with chapatis. Yes, culinary art is ever changing and we enjoy foods from far and wide and origins of our foods become seamless. In Kenya the idea of juicing all green vegetables is quite in vogue to fight non-communicable diseases.

As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Thank you brothers and sisters of the Pamirs for preserving, and practicing your resilient knowledge which is is a repository of timeless knowledge. Thank you Frederick and Jamila for bringing the knowledge to us here in Africa where we too invoke Bismillah at the beginning of each event.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg.

Date posted: January 11, 2017.

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Note: Simerg had obtained limited quantities of “With Our Own Hands” from its Canadian distributors, UBC Press. We quickly sold out, and the book is now out of print. However, the book may be purchased from resellers at Amazon at US$80.00 and up! – ed.

Premji Vaghela, Now a Centenarian, Shares Early Memories of Cricket in Dar-es-Salaam and a Rare Historical Photo of His Highness the Aga Khan

Editor’s note: Naren Varambhia, an avid reader of Simerg residing in London, England, recently brought to our attention a piece on cricket which Premji Vaghela had contributed for a “Dar-es-Salaam Jambo Reunion” that took place in Toronto, Canada, on August 9-10, 1997.

Mr. Premji Vaghela is now a hundred years old and lives in Toronto, Canada: Photo: Premji Vaghela Collection. Copyright.

Mr. Premji Vaghela is now a hundred years old and lives in Toronto, Canada: Photo: Premji Vaghela Collection. Copyright.

We are pleased to publish this highly interesting piece after contacting Mr. Vaghela’s sons, Rajnikant and Niranjan of London and Toronto respectively. We learnt from them that their beloved father has been living in Toronto since 1985, and that the family celebrated his 100th birthday last December! We offer our good wishes to Mr. Vaghela and his entire family for this blessing of a long life.

Both Rajni and Niru mentioned that they have stayed in touch with several Dar-es-Salaam cricketers, including Ismaili cricketers Hasnu Kalyan, Mamda Kassam and Badru Bhamji who played for the Aga Khan Club and Tanzanian national cricket squad for many years.

We are indebted to Mr. Vaghela’a family for this memorable and historical piece, which includes a very rare photo of the 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, meeting cricketers Mamda Kassam and Premji Vaghela, among others, at Dar-es-Salaam’s Gymkhana cricket ground.

Mr. Premji Vaghela was awarded the cup on the left for scoring 150 runs in a cricket match. The plaque on the right was given to him for his contribution to the Hindu Sports Club. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

Mr. Premji Vaghela was awarded the cup on the left for scoring 150 runs in a cricket match. The plaque on the right was given to him for his contribution to the Hindu Sports Club. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

My School Days and Cricket

BY PREMJI VAGHELA 

I was born in Dar es Salaam in 1915 when the British were bombing Dar, when it was under German rule, and the people took shelter in the Jangwani Creek.

I started playing cricket bare-footed at the age of seven with a tennis ball and a locally made wooden bat. Dar streets were our  playgrounds and street lamp posts or dust-bins were our wickets. Those days, in the early twenties, the streets were safe to play in as there were no cars — only rickshaws. Few cars were seen after 1931.

I studied in a Gujarati school called Lokmanya Tilak Memorial School, where Arya Sukh Shanti Lodge is presently situated. After 1918, Tanganyika was called British Protected Territory. The Indian Central School (ICS) was built by the Government in 1929. All the teachers were recruited from India. All the students — boys and  girls — from Tilak school were transferred to this new school. The first headmaster of the new school was Mr. N. O. Mody, a very strict disciplinarian He introduced cricket in the school. It was this school that supplied the most cricketers to all the communal teams in Dar-es-Salaam till 1960.

I earned my name as a bowler and batsman. My first century came in 1932 against the Punjebhai Club (later known as the Aga Khan Club). We did well in the League Tournament. In the knockout tournament in 1934, the school came in the final against the British Gymkhana Club. I scored 150 runs and we piled up a huge score of over 300 runs. We won the knock-out Cup.

In 1932, Mr. A.A. M  Isherwood, then the Director of Education, donated a cup called the “Isherwood Cup”* (see note below) for cricket to be competed by the schools in Dar. There were only two schools at that time: the ICS and the Aga Khan School. We won the trophy  in 1932. It was a coincidence that in 1956 — almost after 25 years —  my son Rajni, when he was school captain, brought the same trophy home. I left the school in 1935. The school had a very good reputation in cricket.

Please click on photo for enlargement

His Highness the Aga Khan (1877 - 1957), 48th Imam of Ismailis, meeting with Mamda Kassam, Premji Vaghela and others at the Gymkhana Cricket Ground in Dar-es-Salaam. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan (1877 – 1957), 48th Imam of Ismailis, meeting with Mamda Kassam, Premji Vaghela and others at the Gymkhana Cricket Ground in Dar-es-Salaam. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

In 1936, I joined the Indian Sports Club. At that time there were few teams competing in the League Tournament – the “Sachu Pira Shield”. One of the conditions of League matches was that whichever team won for three consecutive years, would retain the Shield forever. In 1936, 1937 and 1938, the Indian Sports Club were the winners and won the Shield permanently. Today, the Shield is on  display in G.M. Sulemanji’s Hardware shop window on Independence Avenue (then Acacia Avenue).

Many young and promising players were coming out from the school, and there were not sufficient teams to accommodate them.  Consequently, the Indian Sports Club was split into two communal teams: the Hindus and the Bohras. The Goans, the Ithnasharis and the Aga Khan teams were already there. By 1940, many other teams cropped up; Punjab Sports Club, the Maratha Mandal, Sinhalese Sports Club  and Malabar Sports Club were new additions. Customs Sports Club and the P.W.D. also joined the cricket competition. The Khalsas and the Goans were the main hockey rivals.

On match days, the whole Asian population turned out on the Gymkhana and the Government Service cricket grounds which were adjacent to each other. The whole atmosphere was like festivals. Machunga (oranges), makai (corn), madafu (coconut), sekela-bafela jugu  (fried-boiled peanuts) and ndhizi (plantains) were always in demand.

I must also mention names of two Englishmen: Mr. F. H. Woodrow, the Director of P.W.D, and Mr. Hudson, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise. They both took keen interest in promoting cricket. There were not enough cricket grounds in Dar then. Mr. Woodrow gave the P.W.D. ground, and Karimjee donated the Bohra’s ground. I consider it only fair to mention the name of Seth Abdulkarim Y.A. Karimjee, of the wealthy and philanthropic Karimjee Jivanjee family. He always supported the cause of cricket  in Dar. He was a good cricketer himself and a thorough sportsman. He was kind, helpful and unassuming.

I should not also forget the grand old man, Count Kassum Sunderji Samji, who donated trophies to cricket and tennis competitions in Dar. He always supported sports one way or the other.

Cricket was the most popular sport in Dar. The competitors were keen and played in high spirit. Sometimes, the communal tension was high, particularly when the Hindus and the Aga Khan Clubs were playing. At times the police were called to control the overenthusiastic supporters of both sides! However, on and off the field, the personal relationship between the players was always cordial and friendly.

Cricket was also played in Mwanza, Tabora, Dodoma, Moshi and Tanga. Cricket was particularly popular in schools and carried on by kids playing in the streets.

Perhaps the most enjoyable competition, for almost all cricketers, was when Dar and Zanzibar used to visit each other every year in early August. Every alternate year we used to play in Zanzibar and vice versa. Many tourists used to accompany the teams and create considerable excitement and jubilation, just like a big festival!

In order to strengthen their side during the final or critical stage in the competition, it was a practice among certain teams to import players from Zanzibar, Mombasa and other centres, during the weekends. Such practices later on were banned by the Dar-es-Salaam Cricket Association.

Unfortunately, the status of cricket has changed considerably due to various reasons: shortage of cricket grounds, lack of encouragement in schools and the high cost of cricket gear·. Considering all these factors, I think cricket will eventually die out in Dar. This is the unfortunate reality of life.

During my cricket career in Dar-es-Salaam, I scored five centuries and taken a great many wickets. These were, undoubtedly, the happiest years of my life.

Date posted: June 5, 2016.

Copyright: Premji Vaghela.

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*The Isherwood cup was played in Dar for many years until the late 1960’s. The editor of this blog played in the Isherwood cup for Shabaan Robert from 1967-1969, and featured prominently in the school’s victories during the 3 year period. Pranlal Divecha and Tahir along with Ismaili brothers Shiraz and Abdul Sumar were the top ranked players for Shabaan Robert when they shockingly defeated the favourites Aga Khan Secondary in the 1965 semi-finals/finals. All four went on to play for the Tanzanian squad. Prior to 1965, the cup was dominated for several years by Aga Khan School, whose arch rival was Azania School, located near Muhimbili Hospital. All rounder John Solanki was one of the most well-known players for Aga Khan Secondary — the all-rounder went on to play for England’s county team, Glamorgan, during the 1970’s. By 1971, the Isherwood cup became a non-entity, as there wasn’t any competitive spirit or interest left in the game at the school level. We will be happy to receive an update on the state of Tanzanian school cricket today, and whether the Isherwood has been revived– ed. 

Share your cricket memories of Dar-es-Salaam and other parts of East Africa. Click Leave a comment or write/send photos to Simerg@aol.com. All correspondence will be promptly acknowledged.

What is the state of cricket in Dar-es-Salaam today? Has cricket become a mainstream sport? Please submit your feedback at Leave a comment.