Moroccan King calls for respecting each country’s challenges
At the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA), countries seek to project their vision for the world, appeals are made, agendas offered, and then the work begins. The UN itself is an extra-ordinary organization composed of multiple departments and agencies with missions to achieve and defend important causes and hopefully bring about a more stable, inclusive global community. In the span of a month, delegates grapple with macro-concerns such as climate change, security issues including terrorism, and basic concerns with gender, youth, and equality of opportunity.
In the US, these proceedings attract little attention outside of those constituencies that see the UN as a type of platform for highlighting issues and promoting solutions. It is somewhat of a coincidence that PBS has just shown “The Roosevelts,” which surveyed both the death of the League of Nations and the instrumental role of Eleanor Roosevelt in shaping some of the earliest efforts to promote human rights and dignity. And yet, I don’t think those viewers then turned on their televisions to find out what the UN was doing, even as President Obama was making his address and the US assumed the chair of the Security Council.
Why such limited interest in the UN? Well, one reason is that Americans believe that we are more effective and efficient in carrying out policy. Another is the disrepute the UN earned in the 70s and 80s for mismanagement and contentiousness, which cast a lingering pall on the organization’s image. Lately, when Americans tune into the UN, it seems that its primary role is assembling coalitions to do battle against forces that would undermine stability and security in some part of the world, or to engage in debates on global issues that have little success for resolution (think environmental standards).
Yet, from time to time, the UN’s routine agenda is interrupted by an insightful and challenging message that is both thoughtful and a call to action. When King Mohammed VI sent Morocco’s Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkirane, to deliver the King’s message, most pundits anticipated a focus on the current crises in the region. So there was some surprise when King Mohammed took on the issue of the treatment of developing countries by the West, and then offered viable options for building partnerships for sustainable economic growth.
Challenges “Patronizing” Views of Developing Countries
Sustainable development is the central theme of this year’s 69th UNGA. While there have been many attempts at defining it conceptually and practically, the King’s remarks reflect Morocco’s experiences and continued challenges. More importantly, his speech was built not on a wishful foundation but on the hard-earned lessons that the Kingdom incorporates into its policy deliberations.
I was intrigued that King Mohammed put Morocco’s development strategy within the larger context of the world’s current turmoil and instability at the end of the speech. His words indicated quite clearly that his concern for equitable treatment within the global community preceded much of today’s conflicts.
“The world stands at a crossroads today. Either the international community supports developing countries to help them achieve progress and ensure security and stability, or we shall all face the consequences of more conflicts and greater fanaticism, violence and terrorism – all of which feed on feelings of injustice and exclusion – and no part of the world shall be safe.”
“As the world grows more acutely aware of the cross-border threats posed by the lack of sustainable and human development, and as we realize that ours is ultimately a common destiny, I am sure there will be a global awakening regarding the need to work for a more secure, more equitable and more humane world.”
In this framework, he noted that “Achieving sustainable development is one of the pressing challenges facing mankind. It is particularly important, in this respect, to strike a balance between the requirements for economic and social progress and the protection of the environment, on the one hand, and the safeguard of the rights of future generations, on the other.”
Sounding as progressive as any Western monarch, King Mohammed VI made his case for treating each country based on its particular profile rather than a one-size fits all prescription. “Aware of these critical challenges, I have sought to set up a distinctive development model rooted in the culture and in the specific national values of the Moroccan people – a model which also takes into account the need for positive interaction with international principles and objectives in this area.”
In his remarks, the King focused on the need for a healthier relationship, actually partnership, between developing countries and those who had colonized Africa and Asia; a partnership that recognizes that each country has its own path to follow “…having taken into consideration its historical development, cultural heritage, human and natural resources, specific political circumstances, as well as Its economic choices and the obstacles and challenges facing it.”
Just as he has done on his tours to multiple African countries, he called for respect for each country’s road to development promoting economic and political progress within the context of a country’s defining values and principles. The King singled out the injustice of asking former colonies to adopt Western models in short periods of time and with conditions imposed externally.
Yet King Mohammed did not overlook the responsibility of developing countries to step up to the challenges of authentic, inclusive, equitable development incorporating over time a balanced approach to sustainable growth. Reflecting on the work being done on intangible capital – “factors related to the living conditions of the population, such as security, stability, human resources, institutional development and the quality of life and of the environment…,” the King noted that “the right conditions need to be created, in theory and in practice, to move on to the next stage with regard to promoting both democracy and development, without interference in the internal affairs of states. In return, the latter should commit to good governance.”
King Mohammed challenges both developed and developing countries to redefine their relationships as partnerships reflecting shared interests that will lead to progress in economic and political policies. It is clear that the King believes shortcuts or facile solutions are not sustainable, and he emphasizes approaches rooted in the soil of the countries working to advance. It cannot be said that this King avoids controversy. Whether in dealing with Islamic extremists, the Assad regime, Jerusalem, or North-South relations, Morocco stands clearly in the camp of those who promote coordination, collaboration, and constructive engagement as an instrumental strategy for growth. It is this visionary stance that enables Morocco to “punch above its weight.”