Too often, in the drama of high political tension at the opening of the UN General Assembly, the media focuses on the hot button news such as Russia versus the US on issues including Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine, that naturally drive the headlines. No less important are the substantive calls from regionally important players regarding needed advancements in human and social development.
Such a speech was delivered on behalf of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, who gave his perspectives on several key themes: lessons learned regarding setting ambitious global development goals, the need for large-scale partnerships to effectively improve society; and the need for clarity and purpose on issues such as climate change.
I happen to think that his speeches do not attract the attention of the media and pundits because Morocco is not in crisis; it has a functioning government led by a moderate Islamic party; it has a very effective security apparatus that is quite effective in combating terrorism and radicalism; and Morocco delivers on its promises – in achieving its Millennium Development Goals, countering extremism, and introducing gradual liberalizing reforms, among others.
This year’s speech began with simple rhetorical questions: “Have we managed to change the day-to-day life of the poor? Are the results achieved solid and sustainable enough to withstand tensions, wars and social and economic crises?” Once again, as in Pope Francis’ addresses in the US, the focus was on the poor, those who are underserved and marginalized in their communities.
A review of Morocco’s achievements made under the Millennium Development Goals indicates significant progress between 1990 and 2015. Yet, this is not true globally. The gaps between regions around the world and inside certain countries are a legitimate cause for concern. The King recognized that much has been done, but also believes that if the international community cannot point to actions that deliver measurable and sustainable progress, then “It should induce stakeholders to ponder on the best means to promote development and address the malfunctions affecting international cooperation.”
In addressing the UN’s campaign to develop Sustainable Development Goals, King Mohammed said that the gap between words and actions was not acceptable. “No matter how relevant and promising the sustainable development agenda is, its credibility will hinge on the resources to be raised to finance its implementation.” He noted in particular that too often regional and international obstacles impeded progress. “International cooperation therefore has to adapt to global facts on the ground and not only shake off the legacy of the past, but also avoid geo-political calculations and refrain from imposing near-impossible conditions to access aid.”
The King sounded a clear message about the inadequacy of solutions imposed externally: “Development cannot be achieved through bureaucratic decisions or ready-made technical reports that have no credibility. To fulfill people’s aspirations and to address their real concerns, it is necessary to fully understand the reality of their situation and their characteristic features, make an objective assessment of their living conditions and carry out serious work on the ground.”
As he frequently has since assuming the throne in 2001, he focused on his neighbors in Africa, saying that “These African people’s lives are a never-ending struggle, full of daily challenges. They have to face harsh conditions and can only rely on scant resources. However, they live with dignity, are true patriots and hope for a better tomorrow.”
Morocco is doing its part. Over the past five years, scholarships for students from sub-Saharan Africa have increased, a ground-breaking migrant inclusion program has been initiated, and an array of bilateral agreements covering social, human, and economic development has been signed with many African countries — by a country that has limited financial resources but understands the meaning of community and acts on it.
The King said that “an inclusive, coordinated and multi-dimensional medium-term approach needs to be adopted.” Recognizing that Africa is the fastest growing continent and has water, energy, and agricultural potential to meet its needs if managed effectively, he remarked that “Seen from this perspective, Africa must be at the heart of international cooperation for development in order to help the continent rid itself of its colonial past and unlock its potential.”
While a variety of financial and investment projects have been launched over the past decade to support growth in Africa, there is concern that there is little coordination among donors and recipients to ensure that resources are allocated and managed efficiently for maximum impact. “For this reason,” the King added, “Morocco is calling on the United Nations Organization and on regional and international financial institutions to draw up an action plan for economic transformation in Africa and provide steady resources to finance it.”
There is no question that the King takes challenges to African development seriously. In the past year, he has made at least three major speeches emphasizing that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans and their partners in the global community. He does not underestimate the challenges, given the violence that afflicts all regions of the continent. King Mohammed added, “I also call for making peace and stability top priorities to prevent conflicts, confront extremism and terrorism and address the migration problem using an approach that takes into account the dignity of migrants, preserves their basic rights and tackles the root causes of the migration phenomenon.”
It is this long-term vision for his people, his country, and the continent, and his commitment to actions for progress and results that is the bedrock of King Mohammed’s legacy.