The Aga Khan Schools in Tanzania

“Better, always better”: Impact of an Aga Khan Schools education

01 September 2023

Liberata Mulamula, Class of 1975, Aga Khan Mzizima Secondary School, Dar es Salaam, has served her country far and wide for over 35 years, including as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of Parliament, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tanzanian Ambassador to the USA and Mexico. Poised, caring and approachable, she recalls with a deep laugh how AKMSS, Dar es Salaam was her first experience – “finally” – at co-ed schooling. The teachers there inspired her when they remarked how “the girls were equally good or even better than the boys”.

At age 17, Liberata moved to Dar es Salaam from inland Tanzania, where she had completed her O-level studies at Tabora Girls Secondary School. In Dar, she and her twin sister, Illuminata, were not directly admitted to public high schools, but their father – a staunch teaching professional – wasn’t about to leave things to chance.

“There were few high schools to accommodate all students. So, it was very common that some just didn't get admitted despite passing their O-levels and qualifying to continue their studies.”

With limited capacity, government high schools were maxed out, admitting only two-thirds of qualified students. As an education administrator, Mr Rutageruka made up his mind about where his daughters would be assured of quality instruction for their A-Levels.

“When they nationalised most of the private schools, Aga Khan Mzizima remained private. So, when our father decided to take us to that school, he sacrificed a lot as it was not cheap. As a teacher, he wanted the best education for us.”

Liberata was struck by the modern buildings and class size: “We were used to big classes of 50 plus students. And then we came to Mzizima where we were I think 25. The teachers knew every one of us: our weaknesses, our strengths.”

“There was this motto for the school: ‘Better, always better’. So, we were always striving to be better.” But this didn’t just mean performing well on exams. It was about learning, becoming more inquisitive about the world, asking the right questions and applying knowledge in a constructive and interesting way.

“We had an economics teacher, who was giving very real-life examples. He would say: ‘Economics is about what you do every day. When you go shopping, what are you going to buy? How much money do you have, what are your priorities, how much do you want to save?’ He made it very simple and interesting.”

The broad curriculum and diverse set of peers at AKMSS, Dar es Salaam influenced Liberata’s decision to study international relations at the University of Dar es Salaam. “I was able to use my knowledge of world history and geography from high school. For us, it was more global.”

“We respected each other in terms of our religious beliefs. Where I come from, we are dominantly Roman Catholic. So, we would see this other [faith], Muslims – Ismailis – it was something we needed to adjust to, to be able to co-exist and understand them. And of course, for them to understand us.”

She recalls when starting her first job: “Tanzania borders with eight countries, and at the time, most of these countries were at war or conflict. We grew up in our village with refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, so when I joined the foreign service, I took interest in what Tanzania was doing to bring peace to these countries.”

Working on border conflict, Liberata saw women suffer the most. Over the years, as she took on increasingly senior roles, she came to believe that with more women leaders in place peace and security could be more achievable and sustainable.

“Women have a role to play to bring peace, but to also prevent wars. Women are often the eyes and ears on the ground. We follow, we are very curious, we always know or fear something’s going to happen. So say it!

“Whether it's in the family, in society, the community or nation, a leader can make or break a family, society or nation. This is why I decided to teach about leadership and put women at the centre,” she says, referring to her courses about Women and Leadership in Africa at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. “I said, ‘For the younger generation, maybe I could impart a little bit of my experience in leadership.’”

Throughout her career, Liberata made time to groom and mentor junior staff in the foreign ministry – many of whom are ambassadors, directors, members of parliament or deputy ministers today. She feels that her greatest service has been listening to and helping the next generation succeed: to take an interest and love what they do, to be themselves, to “not let anyone steal their confidence”, to strive to be better (“always better”) and extraordinary.

A bit like how her Mzizima economics teacher elevated his students: “He wanted us all to succeed.”

Her humble advice to students and young professionals: “Just be yourself. You can follow in one’s footsteps but never try to fit their shoes. I'm a twin, we are identical twins, but we don't wear the same size shoe! And when you talk of leaders, most people look to iconic leaders, people with big names. But I say, leadership starts with you. Everyone is a leader.”

This profile is part of an alumni profiles series in collaboration with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Read more of our alumni profiles here.

  • Liberata Mulamula, Class of 1975, from the Aga Khan Mzizima Secondary School, Dar es Salaam