Qathafi Address on Arab -African Cultural
August 5, 2005
Libya's Leader of the revolution, Muammar al-Qathafi,
received the participants in the activities of the "Arab -African Cultural
Relations, Future Vision" symposium "organized by General Union of Arab Writers,
Literary men and Writers Association of Great Jamahiriya, in the presence of
Azeddin al-Mihoubi, chairman of the Arab Writers Union, the Union's Secretary
General, Ali Aqla Ersan, Secretary General of Pan African Writers Association,
Prof Atukwei Okai, assistant secretary of the Literary men and Writers
Association of Great Jamahiriya, Sa'ad Nafu, a throng of researchers, writers
and literary men, as well as university lectures from both African and Arab
countries," JANA reported yesterday.
Here follows is Qathafi's speech in this regard:
In the name of God,
First of all, I welcome you in your country, the Jamahiriya, and I welcome you
particularly in Sert, dubbed, the first bond, or first line of confrontation,
because through out history, Sert was exposed to hostile attacks from overseas,
aimed at the heart of Africa. However, all such onslaughts were always met with
stiff resistance of the City of Sert, or the region of Sert. It is therefore,
the first line of confrontation, not only for Libya but for Africa.
I hail this opportunity and initiative, for the cohesion of African and Arab
writers from outside the continent. I wish success to such attempt, although, it
is taking place in inappropriate environment, we will try to overcome this
As for Africa, we are fully conscious cultured and aware. I mean we know that
Africa originally was one nation. It was one black nation comprising several
tribes. Africa could be the first settlement of man, according to recent
historic discoveries. Particularly so as African population did not come from
outside, but there are exceptions, that is the Arab race settled in Africa
thousands of years ago, and that now centuries have passed since Arab
immigration to this continent. The last Arab immigration was one thousand years
ago. We Arabs in Africa became Africans by the sense of belonging and destiny,
and there is no problem in this respect
We know that the Americans, who are now Americans, and their identity is known,
they were Europeans. The American was a European, however, he does not say
he/she is a European but they say they are Americans. So, the American becomes
an American and the European has become a European.
We say an American, and an European, however, in fact the population of America
with the exception of the original American population and other minorities, the
overwhelming majority are from Europe. They were European but they are now
We Arabs, our origins were in Africa, and become Africans now, and there is no
other refuge to us but in Africa. For us, our land is Africa, and our continent
is Africa, even our color will change by time to the black color. You know that
the black color is the dominant, when two get married a black and white, the
children will be black. The black color is the dominant, this is a sign of God.
After generations our skin will become brown and black.
I am still speaking on African Arabs who were originally Arabs but they are now
Africans, we in north and eastern Africa for instance speak Arabic language,
however, Arabic is not like English or French. I mean it is not a foreign
language, it is the language of Arab Africans. Arab Africans who settled down in
Africa are the people of Africa and the population of Africa since long time.
Therefore, Arabic language in Africa is one of the African languages like the
Hausa and the Swahili. By the way, Swahili is a mix of Arabic language and the
local language of the African continent eastern coast. Swahili is the closest to
Arabic, and most of its vocabulary are Arabic ones. Arabic, Swahili, Hausa and
other African languages Fulani are all our African languages.
I mean the Africans do not speak one language, and Arab Africans speak another.
No, we all in Africa, those who are of Arab origin or from African origin, we
all speak several African languages; Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, Fulani etc. This
does not pose a problem in literature for you. It does not pose a problem to
Arabic, Hausa, Swahili another languages let alone about another one-thousand
language or local dialect existing in Africa. Every tribe speaks its own
dialect, but at the end all of this is within one African pot, producing one
African literature, one African culture, originally Africa is one.
For Arabs who are not Africans and outside the African continent, they are here
with us, there is the problem of [they] being Arab but not Africans, they are in
Asia not in Africa. However, what is the reason behind such cohesion between
Arabs who are not Africans and the Africans, both Arab Africans and Africans?
The African continent is globally isolated, but the race that most in contact
with Africa is the Arab race, I mean the closest human group to Africa, or
geographical proximal to Africa is the Arab countries. When we come to Egypt and
Sinai which is situated in Asia and forms Egypt's borders with Palestine, Jordan
and the Arab peninsula which constitute one soil. The only African soil is this
one, which was inhabited by non-African Arabs, Africa is surrounded by water
from all directions, there is no a protrusion of the African land but through
the Arab territories, Sinai.
The African horn is in fact a crossing bridge for Arabs into Africa, and Yemen
is the closest Arab country to Africa. Therefore, there are bonds links and a
bridge that links Africa, there are demographic bonds that tie Africa with the
Thus, the idea to set up Arab-African space or Arab African Union. Not only
this, two-thirds of Arabs are Africans, and only a third outside Africa. The
two-thirds invite the third who are outside Africa to join Africa, and once this
is materialized the Arab unity would be realized without getting torn apart
demographically according to the new map of the world that comprise new spaces.
This symposium and this meeting is a testimony for what we have said, it is the
correct analysis. The closest nation to the Africans are the Arabs, but on the
other side, Europe comes second, because we are separated from Europe by the
Mediterranean. There is only one point which is too close i.e. Gibraltar strait
which was only used as a crossing point for colonialist convoys into Africa.
You writers have big and serious responsibilities. particularly at this stage in
which there are violent and catastrophic social upheavals that touches the
global social and cultural structure.
We know there are those who say, French Africa and English Africa, Francophone,
means part of Africa colonized by France and an other part colonized by Britain.
This does not mean that this Africa is French and the other is English, I mean
it is a French colony and British colony. This does not mean that this Africa is
French and the other is British.
It is wrong to say that the population of Africa colonized by the French are
French speaking, and those colonized by the English are English speaking, this
is a mistake. Only the intelligentsia speaks the language of the colonialists. I
mean the elite of limited number. However, African tribes and African masses
that inhabit the desert and the bush neither know French nor English, Italian,
or Portuguese, they do not know these languages.
I went to most African countries and I spoke to people, and I was in need for
local translators who understand local African languages in order to understand.
In countries colonized by the French and countries colonized by the English, I
did not find the people of these countries speak French or English, they neither
knew French nor English but they knew African languages.
Obviously, the danger now if we teach our sons English or French, we will create
people who speak French and English. We will create people who speak French and
English, this is if we can guarantee that education would accommodate all the
children and not a limited percentage.
Well, the African intellectual in English and French languages how can he
address the sentiments of Africa's population with this English or French
languages. This is a big problem. If you want to write poetry or prose it must
be in a local dialect in order to understand it and be effected by it. However,
no matter how you master English, French, or Portuguese and wrote poetry or
prose to address the people of Africa, this will not be received.
African writers must write in the African language for the people of Africa. If
you want to enter their hearts, sentiments and feelings and effect them morally,
such literature, art and performance must be in an African language. I mean this
is one of the problems that we put before you.
If you write poetry in English or French and read out to people in Africa they
would not be effected by it. Music must be African, the composition must be
African, and the words must be African be it prose or poetry. I mean we should
be committed to this.
The usurpation and duplication process by the colonialists resulted in the total
destruction of Africa because the intelligentsia which is talked about is the
group which governs in Africa because it is the elite that is educated and
orientated in politics and administration. It uses foreign languages: English,
French and Portuguese because they are fluent in those languages. This
intelligentsia has no interest in African and local heritage. For example the
things which are the subject of objection which link us on the political level
in Africa and of which I brought you examples.
Africa is divided into five provinces: north, south, east, west and central.
These are all names which are in use politically in colonial languages. The only
gathering which is referred to in an African language is the one which we call
CEN-SAD meaning Sahel and Sahara. This is the only referred to in an African
language. It is the Arab-African language. The African Arabs joined the Economic
Community of West Africa States(ECWAS). But ECWAS is not an African term. What
does it mean? It is the acronym of the Economic Community of West Africa.
But by the same token the South African Development Community SADC is not in the
African language. It is an acronym of the name of the group in a foreign
language. This is also the same for the group in the east - IGAD. You all know
about IGAD. Always IGAD though there are only four Arab countries in IGAD. You
know that an agreement was reached between governments so it took its name from
inter-governments which include Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea,
Djibouti and the Comoros. IGAD is also an acronym which is denoting an agreement
between governments. In central Africa they call it COMESA which is in southeast
Africa. The Organization of South East Africa is also coming from English. The
Community of East African States, from which COMESA is derived are all English
terms. But CEN-SAD is in Arabic. This is African.
For Arabs outside Africa the educated must play a role to rectify this
situation. Being in Europe or in America they cannot bring forward African -
Arabic words to name their institutions. Why this dependence? Why this
inferiority which we feel? Either we write in their language or we do not
understand each others languages. You should have your own voice heard in Arab
Every Arab broadcasting station is displaying its logo in English. What is this
inferiority and self deprecation? If you are in an Arab country and you set up
an English language station you give it an English name. Is the BBC giving its
station an Arabic name in order to be understood by the Americans. Never. Is CNN
giving itself an Arabic name? Is their any Italian station broadcasting in the
Italian language with an Arabic logo? Never. But we do that. We are degrading
ourselves. Who set these up? How were they so easily promoted? Let the educated
go to the broadcasting stations and capture ministries and say this must be
brought to an end. Like MBC. Why is it taking its name from the English words?
Write Middle East in Arabic. Give it any Arabic name because it is an Arabic
station. It has to have its name in Arabic. It is not permissible for an Arabic
station to have an English name. This is dependence and ridiculous. This is
Never think that people will say that you have become an educated and
sophisticated man. On the contrary. They would say you are degraded and so
ignorant that you adopted foreign words. Do the official letters of the British,
American and Italian presidents use any Arabic words? Does the prime minister
write his title in Arabic. He would say I have nothing to do with Arabic. I am
not an Arab. I am English, German or Italian. The Arabs are now writing their
names in letters in English. How ridiculous and degrading this is.
This is your responsibility. You are the educated. You should launch a
revolution in objection to this. You have to think with me about other things
which you definitely know about. Arabic newspapers, for example, have their
titles in English. Why? They say for reasons of distribution. Okay. Are the
English papers publishing their titles in Arabic for the sake of distribution.
You would never find a word in Arabic. An Italian or a French paper will it
write its title in Arabic in order to distribute in Arab countries? They are
distributed but they are not writing their titles in Arabic. The Guardian, New
York Times, Washington Post, Courieri Della Sera. They are all known. You too
say Al Ahram, Al Sharq Al Awsat, Al Nahar, Al Misa, Al Akhbar which is thus
known. Rozel Al-Yusef is an old and known paper. Why should you write it in
Then we have sports. Watching Arabic television stations you will have some,
notably Al Jazeera, saying this footballer Korkori or Karakatori whose name you
cannot even pronounce has scored against another club in Holland... the German
team beat the Italian team and the so-called player moved to so and so club. We
Arabs and the audiences are puzzled and dumbfounded and do not know these clubs
and their players. What have we got to do with them? What does it have to do
with us if they beat one another or moved anywhere.
I inquired about Arab clubs - whether their activities are being reported by the
European stations. I was told 'never - they do not know about them'. Have you
ever head Radio London say that Zalamek club has beaten another club or Al Ahli
beat Al Itihad. It is not possible. They do not know you even if you have a
million clubs playing 24 hours a day - they will never give a dam about you.
They will not publish your statements. They do not know your footballers or
players. They are flattering some people who are doing something to appease the
others in a silly way. They are flattering their colonial masters. They think
its progress when you pay attention to these clubs. Does that mean you are
making progress? On the contrary you are degraded because they never publish any
news about Arab clubs. And here the educated Arabs have to stop and think about
this carefully. They have to stage a cultural revolution. Why this degradation?
Why this distortion? I don't know African stations because I can't watch the
broadcasting stations of Nigeria, South Africa or Cameroon. Are they doing these
things or not?
The African presidents are writing their letters in English and French, which is
an embarrassment but I like the people in the Horn of Africa, especially in
Ethiopia or Eritrea. I don't know whether they write in English. But when I
receive a letter from the President of Ethiopia or Eritrea the return address is
in their own local language. Even Eritrea does this but the Arabs write it in
English. And the word president is written on the other side of the letter in
their own language. These are the two which have gained my attention when I
receive their letters. They are written in their local language.
I remember once an Ethiopian president during a summit conference, I think it
was an African conference, delivering his speech in Amharic. There was a
disturbance - in the translation cabin they said this is a language which we do
not have. We have English, French, Arabic and then they added Portuguese to the
official languages in Africa. He told them I am talking in Amharic. This is an
African language and this is an African summit conference and I am not prepared
to speak in English, French, Portuguese or Italian. I am speaking an African
language. And he continued with his speech in Amharic. The summit was obliged to
supply an Amhari interpreter to translate into other languages.
Even in Sirte at the last summit conference, the representative of Tanzania
delivered his speech in Swahili. He was given a standing ovation. He was the
first speaker in Swahili in a summit conference. Unfortunately sometimes an
African Arab speaks in French or English and people are surprised why an Arab is
using a non-Arab language given that Arabic is the official language in Africa,
in the OAU and now in the AU. They are just asking why an Arab could deliver his
speech in French or English. He thought he would be regarded as a modern and
sophisticated individual but on the contrary he would be regarded as wretched
and degraded, unable to express himself in his own language, self deprecating -
one who does not respect his heritage and his people.
Sports, broadcasting stations, papers, letters, apart from writing their titles
in English have become a fact. This did not exist before but it exists now. As
far as the language is concerned whether it involves the broadcasting stations,
writing books or even writing in the papers, if you have a problem you can track
down and know the correct words. But now the book itself is wrong. The book has
been incorrectly printed. You will not be able to recognize whether this word is
correct or incorrect. It is a strange degradation.
Why are you the educated and writers not aware of this degradation? The paper is
incorrectly written. So is the book. And even the bulletin broadcast by radio
and television stations. You cannot rely on them because they are not writing
correctly. If we look at papers we can find articles written in an incorrect
language. This is also the case in books. If you see letters by foreign
ministers we will find that they are incorrectly written. Those who do not
commit errors in Arabic thus far are the Arab Maghreb. When you read a letter
from the King of Morocco or from the Tunisian president or from the Algerian
president it is written in correct Arabic even if the handwriting is difficult.
This is called Maghrebian calligraphy which is correct. It is the calligraphy in
which the character fa has a dot underneath and kaf has one dot above. But apart
from the dotting underneath or above the writing was correct. I can't have a
letter from the Maghrebian royal court or from Algeria or Tunisia which is
incorrect as far as the language is concerned. They are still committed to
writing correct Arabic. I am convinced that in Morocco they are not using French
or English as titles. I have a lot of letters from Algeria and Morocco. I will
go back to them and tell you about them.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this issue. There are
words for every occasion and these are the words appropriate for this occasion.
And at the end of the day I am one of you. I challenge any of those sheikhs who
are sitting in the television stations like peddlers selling things that are not
educational or religious or anything. They are just magazines - one is selling
charcoal, one is selling kerosene and one is selling salt and the other is
selling tobacco. Someone else is selling gold while one is selling silk. But you
cannot expect to find a combination of these things sold together. These
magazines are open for falsification. One is talking about prayer, the other is
talking about alms giving or zakat. The third is talking about terrorism.
Another is talking about Islam and the ummah. They are just magazines, pure and
simple. If we confront them with some real issues they don't have answers.
He who is not confident of himself would not do that. If we bring forward words
from the Qu'ran and ask the sheikh what they mean he will not be able to answer.
Why? Because they are ancient words which we did not give due attention. They
are lost. In the past they were used and known but now they are forsaken. What
is the reason? The reason is abandoning the language. If the current situation
persists many words in the Qu'ran will not be known in future. There is a great
and big challenge. You have to be on solid ground in order to do the job of
interpretation. If you are appearing on television just for money or just to be
famous go and do it in a different way. There are many words in the Qur'an about
which the sheikhs would not give a single answer. They don't know the meaning of
these words and after a while they will not be understood.
These are great challenges, both cultural and geographical. You have to shoulder
the responsibility - you are the educated and writers. These sheikhs, scholars,
interpreters and imams are unable to interpret some words and I look forward to
meeting them and you will see how unable they are to provide an answer for
existing issues which I don't claim to know about.
You have a responsibility to address the issues of culture, writing, heritage
and the future is in your hands. This is a very serious matter. You have to
tackle the issue of these infringements which I spoke about. How could you
permit an Arabic television station to have its logo in English and an Arab
newspaper to have its title in English and an Arab president to write his letter
in a foreign language? How could you tolerate the language mistakes in
bulletins, papers and books and how could you permit the coverage of American
and European sports events via Arab broadcasting stations. Does this promote a
I am very grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. As I
said previously, I am one of you but I am not as competent in writing, arts and
culture as you are. You can be sure of my support and solidarity. Thank you.