Widely circulating in Morocco via YouTube at the moment is the following video of American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition, taken earlier today in Dakhla, the capital of Morocco's southernmost province. He is dancing to a local love song -- the entrancing rhythm unique to the people of the Saharan desert; its lyrics in the distinctively lean, local Arabic dialect known as "Hassani."
Why is he having such a good time?
The setting is the thirtieth anniversary conference of the Crans Montana Forum, a Swiss NGO devoted to conflict resolution, which enjoys the backing of leading global statesmen, from senior U.N. officials and Mikhail Gorbachev to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The group convened in Dakhla, in partnership with the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and under the patronage of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, to signal its support for "South-South cooperation" and the development of Africa.
More than 800 people representing 112 countries participated: senior government officials, representatives of global and regional bodies, and leaders of the private sector, to grow their networks and plan new ventures on the continent -- from charitable works and human development to trade and investment. It seemed fitting to convene in Dakhla, according to a statement by the group: "Even though remote, Dakhla enjoys an exceptional strategic position, and offers an extraordinary model of economic and social development, being the hub of an entire, major region of Africa."
From Jackson's standpoint, both the gathering and the location embodied the values that underpin his life's work: tolerance and understanding among races, ethnicities, cultures, and faiths; equal opportunity for the underprivileged; and the development and empowerment of Africa and its peoples. "Like Al-Quds [the Arabic name for Jerusalem], Morocco is a crossroads of monotheistic religions," he said. Hailing the "leading role of the Kingdom in the areas of economic development, promotion and promotion of human rights, particularly those of African immigrants, and the fight against corruption," he dubbed the kingdom a "stable country in a changing world."
King Mohammed VI, for his part, conveyed support for the summit in the broader context of his concerns and hopes for the future of Africa. In a speech before the group, he noted the heightened security threats from terror groups and militias, as well as the painful legacy of imperialism which some African nations are still struggling to overcome. In addition to the dangers of religious extremism, transnational criminal organizations traffic in people, drugs, and weapons. But it's also a continent brimming with opportunity, with a population expected to reach 2 billion by the year 2050.
The King called for "harness[ing]- this tremendous demographic asset properly -- particularly African youth -- in order to consolidate the continent's standing in the global economy." Part of what Morocco can do to help achieve these goal, he said, was foster multilateral partnerships with countries below the Sahara and Morocco's European, North American, and Asian partners. As a geographical "crossroads," southern Morocco in particular can bring together the kingdom's extensive human network on the continent and goodwill in the globe's most affluent economies, to deliver aid, expertise, and investment. But "such cooperation must be rooted in mutual esteem, be based on balanced approaches, and show that the interests of the various partners concerned are duly taken into account."
Reverend Jesse Jackson, a global leader and a force for good in his own rite, has a special role to play in supporting this endeavor. He can encourage more Americans to explore the exceptional opportunities Africa offers, as well as help the continent meet its most pressing needs. And as a veteran of the struggle for civil rights in his country, he can proffer advice on how to advance other just struggles -- and heal age-old rifts -- all along the Sahara.
From Dakhla in the south to Casablanca to Tangier, while Jackson is dancing, Moroccans are cheering.