Monday, July 05, 2010
One thing that caught my attention during the whaling conference in Morocco last month was the absence of any high authority at the opening of the conference. Normally, the host country is represented at minimum by a Government minister, if not by a member of the Royal family. The host country's opening speech is rarely inspiring to say the truth, but even less so in Agadir where it was read by an almost anonymous bureaucrat who did not even bother to invent an excuse to justify the absence of his boss.
In Agadir, I was expecting the presence of the Moroccan Fisheries Minister, because since his country joined the IWC in the Japanese orbit in 2001, it has been part of the cohort of West African countries who claim (mostly with crocodile tears) that their food security could be at risk because voracious whales are threatening to invade their waters and eat all the fish. In response it's been argued many times that instead West African countries (and everyone else) should be concerned with voracious foreign fishing fleets, excessive fishing effort, wasteful and destructive fishing methods, and non-selective fishing gear (for example, approximately 80% of the cephalopods consumed in Japan come from Moroccan waters, and this is surely more than all the squids the sperm whales in the area can eat). What the Fisheries Minister's absence is telling us is that -- of course -- the "whales are eating our fish" argument is a bluff. If it was so important for the future of his fishermen and his people, surely the minister would have seized the opportunity. The IWC isn't going to meet another time in Morocco in the foreseeable future.
I've been wondering what else was behind what some have interpreted as a lack of courtesy of the Moroccan Minister.
One reason could be that he (or the Prime Minister's office) knows that supporting Japanese whaling might not be so popular among Moroccan voters after all. Like the rest of the world, Moroccan society faces many challenges that are more important than whales for the livelihood of its people of course. But they watch TV stations from France and elsewhere, and are also influenced by the very large Moroccan diaspora that lives and works abroad. Indeed every single Moroccan layperson who spoke with me during my stay there (hotel managers and their staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners and waiters, shop tenants, newspaper salesmen, Maroc Telecom operators, and even Moroccan journalists like the one with me on the photo, etc.) were showing sympathy for whales, and they had no idea that their country was hosting the whaling conference to give a hand to Japan, not to whales.
Another reason could be that the Fisheries Minister thought it was wiser not to show up in the middle of last month's cascade of journalistic stories concerning alleged bribery and "vote buying" affecting (among others) African countries and delegates.
When the conference began, I suggested to a European activist who had come to Agadir with banners and whale costumes to demonstrate outside the conference, that one useful thing he could do was to display a banner in French that would have said something like "Japan gives orders; Morocco obeys them". "Do it if you don't mind spending a few days in the police station", I said. I'm not entirely sure why he desisted; I suppose that was because he had a non-refundable return ticket.
Thank you to Paul Spong, the man who in 1974 brought whales to Greenpeace and Greenpeace to whales, for taking and sending me the photo illustrating this post.