Excellencies, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, Mr President of the Institute, Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by thanking those in charge of the Institute for having honoured me with this invitation to the 15th Rhodes Forum.

I should also like to warmly greet all of the participants that are here with us today. With the utmost respect, I should like to greet all of the members of the panel on which I will speak this morning. My greetings and with my greatest respects to their Excellencies, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Mr Vaclav Klaus, former President of the Czech Republic.

To the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute which organised this event, I should like to give my warmest encouragement and support. This is the 15th Forum and great work has been done since 2002. The Forum’s area of operation is not an easy one – it works in the area of dialogue between peoples, to the great benefit of the entire world. To all of the panellists of my group I should also like to express just how pleased I am to be here this morning. This is a chance for us, in the spirit of this forum, to dialogue together.

During this panel we have the great honour of exchange with people from different places. We are different, we are from different continents, and we are here blind to race, religion, and age, and this bodes very well for the quality of dialogue we will have.

We are here to enter into a dialogue amongst peers, a dialogue amongst countries, amongst continents, and our only objective is to share: to share a world, a place where we will improve the quality of people’s lives.

Now the subject of our discussion this morning is ‘Multipolarity and Dialogue in Regional and Global Developments: Imagining Possible Futures’. This is a broad, tricky, and relevant subject. We will have the great opportunity this morning to embark on a discussion of this topic, but of course we will never be able to exhaust the discussion.

At times perhaps we will utter platitudes, and we may even feel that we are stating the obvious, but no matter. We may consider it an exercise in auto-suggestion, but it is a chance for us to do everything we can possibly do and perhaps we shall have the opportunity to banish ‘the savage’ and re-kindle the humane.

Whatever the case may be, we are not exclusively looking for what is unique. After all, we all know that the lives of billions of men and women offer little in the way of originality. We also need to look to those lives, to collect best experiences and learn from each other.

On the contrary, our approach is a laborious quest for the survival of hundreds of millions of individuals, and it is made up of routine, of short periods of hope, and of course of protracted periods of disarray. There are glaring shortages in some places of the world and lands of plenty elsewhere; bread for some – hunger for others. This amounts to legitimate fears in the face of false assurances and real threats.

And yet we all live in the same world, we are all in this together, and we will not be alone. That is why it is of great importance that the debate on the future of humanity be maintained and broadened. It must be inclusive, it must take place in palaces, offices, factories, in the metros, and in the fields.

It is crucial for people to question themselves, re-evaluate themselves, and to think more about their neighbours, and we might especially meditate on Baudelaire’s anguish, that is to say, that tragic fatality may be seen both at once “the wound and the knife, the executioner and the victim.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I should like this morning to be able to illustrate my point by giving you an example – an example from my country.

For some who observed the situation in my country the conclusion they drew was that this was just a Tuareg problem. Others felt that it was a problem of governance. And still others thought it was a political problem. For the majority, the belief was that it was a security problem. And everyone thought that it was a Malian problem, and that the Malians would therefore need to resolve it themselves, perhaps with financial help from ECOWAS, or in the final instance, from the African Union.

But what they did not understand was that one doesn’t occupy two thirds of the country without background thinking. They didn’t see that there was a greater threat that was affecting our country, in addition to drug trafficking and irredentism.

But what they particularly did not understand was that in Mali, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other ruthless Islamists were just one tentacle of a great monster that in reality aimed not to protect Islam, but to destroy civilisation as we know it and to bring us back 1,500 years in time. They did not understand that this was a global threat financed by a well-known global coalition and could only be successfully opposed by another coalition.

The Islamist objective was to establish a sanctuary in the north of Mali where all of the forces needed to plan for expansion to other countries around the world could be developed, supplied, and trained.

Now, the rescue coalition was only able to be united through dialogue. Dialogue in ECOWAS, dialogue in the AU, and dialogue in the EU. Dialogue in the EU was spearheaded particularly by France and Francois Hollande, and of course then there was dialogue with the UN. Through this dialogue we were able to better understand the fact that through helping Mali everyone was helping themselves, and that they were fighting for and championing the cause of civilisation itself.

A red line was thus defined, and it was clear that in no case should the jihadis cross it. The UN developing and passing the necessary resolutions was especially important here.

The jihadis, however, who had taken control of northern Mali, had done so with surprising ease, which emboldened them and they decided to try to expand their control to the whole country, before aiming to spread terror in the sub-Saharan African region, the rest of Africa, Europe, and the entire world. Mali was but one venue of their action.

They had a target, and that target was democracy; it was the civilisation that we share. It was our freedom that we hold so dear, it was the state as we know it, and it was the respect for human rights.

Their plan was not to showcase enlightened Islam. It was not to showcase the Islam of love, of fellowship. They meant to promote an Islam of darkness, pitting Takfirism against Tanwirism. This satanic ambition was to kill, and to do so by killing themselves to destroy our values and everything we believe, because for them the absurd represents salvation.

Fighting these individuals in Mali, in Niger, in Nigeria, and in Cameroon, is a way to slow their expansion against the Western world. Because Maiduguri, Kidal, Mosul – these are all part of the same plan as Bataclan and Barcelona.

Therefore, my decision as the head of state, with complete understanding of the situation, was to make overtures for international assistance, specifically to Francois Hollande. I would like to pay homage to Francois Hollande here today, he was one of the first to understand the global character of this threat and the true nature of it.

You, Ladies and Gentlemen, know the rest.

The purpose of my comments here this morning is to show how important dialogue is to building shared understanding, to better comprehend the real nature of threats and what we can do to pool our resources to find some way of recovery. What I should like to say is that dialogue is a way to prevent and to spare us from, tragedy – tragedy in this globalised world, a world that is so small, and yet so interconnected.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my dear friends, I should like to put to you, for your wise consideration, the following thoughts – I hope our debate can address the following issue: Jihadi activity, be it via AQMI, Boko Haram, or ISIS, or other retrograde forces that aim to compromise peaceful development, derives a large part of its strength from the perversion of three great universal achievements.

First, the technological revolution that democratised the use of GPS and cell phones. Second, globalisation, which has established a new type of citizen; citizens who are as at ease in LA as they are in Bangkok, and who have an increasing number of rights and a decreasing number of responsibilities – global citizens. And third, the free circulation of goods and peoples, which is the cornerstone of new regional integration. That has meant that people were able to strike in Brussels after Paris, and Ouagadougou after Bamako.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, civilisation will prevail over false truths. However, this will take time. And the amount of time that it takes will depend on the quality of the dialogue of cultures and civilisations that we are going to open up and attend to here.

This dialogue must be uninhibited and it must be authentic, it must be permanent and it must lead to an obligation that pools our means of solidarity and enhances our ability to share.

If we are not able to share now, we will be on a suicide mission for the world. This is because we do not live in a sustainable world. Nothing is being left to future generations because our collective capital has been frittered away through carefree consumerism. Our world is one where ‘the half’ have nothing to eat, no access to schooling or medicine, and where the migrating hordes of ‘have nots’ have no alternative but to jostle for entry at the gates of the ‘haves’ or end their journey in the sea – this is not a sustainable world.

A world in which people retreat in on themselves will never be a world in which we have a future. Now, if you will allow me, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to share a story with you.

One day I was with a group of young students. We had a chance to discuss peace, development, and the fact that peace is a condition for development. We spoke of how peace is neither easy nor natural to establish. I asked them “Do you know what the opposite of white is?” they all said “Sure, black is the opposite of white”. I asked them another question, “Do you know what the opposite of red is?” and they were stuck. Some said yellow, some said green.

And I said, “Well I think each of you is right to a certain extent, so what is the opposite of red?” And I said “What’s not red? It is non-red, it is everything that is not red – it is yellow, and it is green.” I asked them another question, “What is the opposite of me?” And they said “Everything that is not you”, and I said “Very good. Everything that is not me is you, individually, the rest of the universe.”

And I said that it was natural to want to fight what is one’s opposite; our first reflex is to not like what is different and to look at what is different with scorn or even to be violent. The first reflex of man is to fight ‘the other’ man or even the rest of mankind. We are also opposing nature in that way, and destroying it.

What is the solution to this?

The solution is that after this first knee-jerk reaction, once we begin to understand, once we comprehend, once we gain wisdom, we see that our existence, our individual existence, depends on the survival of what is our opposite. Because without an opposite, you cannot survive either, and once you have accepted that then you can begin to accept ‘the other’ and begin to try to understand, love, and live in harmony and peace with one another. This is not something natural but is something built upon knowledge and wisdom.

Wisdom and knowledge are also consequences of dialogue. If we are not able to speak to one another we will never be able to understand each other and we will not be able to live in peace together. Without dialogue there is nothing, and mankind needs to understand the need to speak to one another.

Ladies and gentlemen, the imperative to act with integrity in the governance of resources is non-negotiable, because we need to be able to build infrastructure whereby countries that have less will be empowered in the future.

However, this imperative should not hide the revolting egotism, even the absurdity, of a situation where a dozen rich people, as revealed by an Oxfam report, grab the majority of the wealth of the planet. Again, dialogue around solidarity and sharing is the condition for our survival as a planet.

This dialogue should not be hidden by selfishness or a lack of trust. Once we have understood the importance of this trust we must make sure we continue to build and rebuild it, because it constitutes the majority of our capital, the link that we have between us.

We all have the same red blood coursing through our veins, whether we live in Africa, Europe, Asia, America, or Oceania.

Here in Rhodes, you understand that, we understand that, and therefore we must be cognisant of it, and find a way to facilitate an echo of our work around the world, to make sure that this forum is one that will contribute to that amazing leap forward, to dialogue between our societies for a new, better humanity. Thank you for your attention.


The French language original transcript of the speech is available at this link.