Why Does the Aga Khan own a Private Island in the Bahamas?
The Aga Khan’s private activities and investments – which include the horse-breeding business inherited from his family, his prior investments in Sardinia, Meridiana, and Ciga Hotels, and the current investment in the Bahamas Island are funded exclusively by his personal wealth and not by the Ismaili Imamat assets.
The Aga Khan has not said on record the reasons why he purchased a private island in the Bahamas. However, the Aga Khan’s prior history of purchasing and developing his Villa Costa Smeralda in Sardinia was done for very specific reasons – first, the need for the Aga Khan’s privacy, and second, the Aga Khan’s desire to contribute to Italy’s tourism industry through developing land. With respect to privacy, ever since the Aga Khan inherited the position of Imam in 1957, the media and paparazzi have incessantly harassed him and invaded his privacy. In 1964, the Aga Khan described these invasions of his personal privacy to Sports Illustrated:
“I take all sorts of precautions when I go out with friends. I have taught myself not to show any emotion in public places. I never sit next to a woman with whom the press is trying to link me. Here in Gstaad I go often to a bistro outside the village for a fondue because the proprietor will not let anyone take pictures in his establishment. I stopped going to certain Paris theatres because I discovered they were tipping off the press to my presence. I realise that I may seem extreme on the subject, but do not forget that my mail has been stolen and my servants bribed. Close personal friends have taken private snapshots of me in my home and then sold them to magazines. I have been blackmailed on the telephone. All I desire is to have my private life respected. Is that unreasonable?”
– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, Sports Illustrated Interview, August 10, 1964
With respect to his purchase of a Villa in Sardinia and his developing the Costa Smeralda area, the Aga Khan explained that he needed a place to retreat to that was far away from disturbance in order to get his work done and maintain his privacy. He also wanted to help develop Sardinia to contribute the tourism of the country and raise its quality of life:
“But after my grandfather died I found the work so onerous, and there was so much misunderstanding here about the Imam and the Ismailis, that I felt I had to find a place where I could go and not be disturbed. So I joined a small group that had interests in Sardinia and found myself caught in a development that just grew. We found the place so beautiful, and we were so happy, that we decided we had to be very careful, because if not the place would simply become another ugly, over-crowded tourist centre… It has transformed the country. Tourism is the one way you can bring prosperity to a place that has nothing except undeveloped beauty. I’ve been amazed how many political leaders in Africa and the Middle East have said, “Come and do the same thing to us.”
– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
Going by the Aga Khan’s reasons for investing in Sardinia, his purchase of a private island in the Bahamas is most likely for similar reasons – to have a place where the Imam can vacation, relax, and get work done in privacy and free from disturbance. In the last decade, there have been several unauthorized photos of the Aga Khan on a private vacation and this constitutes a violation of his privacy. With the proliferation of unauthorized photos on social media, guaranteeing the privacy and safety of the Aga Khan should be completely understandable.