Special Advisor on Africa, United Nations
I would like to thank Rahul Verma for ensuring that I am here today. I would also like to thank Mark Tully who is present here. He has been an inspiration for me. When I joined the BBC in 1985, I started with a programme in the French service called Africa at War. Mark Tully was a true mentor and someone to follow in the field of broadcasting.
I was last month in Abuja, the capital of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. My office, which is the office of the special advisor in Africa, had organised a meeting in an attempt to combat violent extremism. During this meeting, an Imam came up to me and told me something that one of the fighters of Boko Haram had told him.
Boko Haram is a terrorist group that operates in north-eastern Nigeria and they are fighting against Western education. The Imam told me that the young man had told him that death will come but he is not concerned. When he dies, he will go to heaven. But something that I also recall on this occasion is that the same sentence was uttered by a great son of this land but from a totally different perspective. I am a film-maker by training and I had to study Indian cinema. The famed Bengali film maker Satyajit Ray had also said, “Death will come but I am not bothered.”
What I want to emphasise is that the same sentence has been used by two different people from two completely different perspectives. One was for justifying evil deeds whereas the other one was for a good cause. Satyajit Ray was a poet, a musician, and a wonderful film-maker.
The Security Council of the United Nation spends almost 70% of its time addressing conflicts in Africa. The whole of the UN spends 70% of the hour-time and resources on the African continent. What is the most important challenge today in Africa? It is not economy or poverty. It is not even governance. In my own personal view, the biggest challenge today in Africa is violent extremism.
Violent extremism is on the rise in Africa and I am bothered because they are willing to kill people. They are taking hostages and forbidding young girls to go to schools. Why is that possible in the continent that is the mother of all continents, the continent that has the most important mineral resources and human resources? Why is there a perpetual shortage of food in this vast continent? Where is spirituality? Why are people misusing religion?
We should start believing that spirituality is not different from religion. If you go deep into the heart and soul of the African people, you will understand that they are the most spiritual people of all. You have to have a lot of spirituality to be a Nelson Mandela. Spirituality makes us one and I would like to suggest that spiritually is really a universal human quality. India is the father of spirituality because each of you is involved in preserving and promoting it.