Liberal International, Moroccan-style

Jonathan Fryer (right) with Hakima El Haité, President of Liberal International

Four of us UK Liberal Democrats were given a brief break from general election campaigning these past few days with a meeting of the Executive Committee of Liberal International (LI) in the Moroccan city of Fez. LI now has a Moroccan President, a former Minister of the Environment, Hakima El Haité, and its Secretary General, Gordon Mackay, was previously a South African MP. So although the organisation’s HQ is still located in the bowels of the National Liberal Club in London, the days when LI was a Eurocentric organisation are long since gone.

It was therefore appropriate that much of the debate in Fez was about placing Fair Trade and Strategic Investment at the heart of Sustainable Development, with a particular focus on the opportunities and challenges in Africa. It’s no secret that the continent has failed to take off in the way that much of Asia has, despite some recent encouraging developments in a country such as Ethiopia. There are too many obstacles, especially for small and medium enterprises, to thrive in states in which there are significant bureaucratic hurdles, exorbitant registration fees and a lack of good governance. But it is encouraging that governments run by parties within the Liberal family, including those in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, are making significant progress.

Fez itself was historically a gateway to the Sahara for overland traders, as well as being an ancient seat of learning, and indeed the home town of Mme El Haité. It was good to have the opportunity to see some of its cultural richness during the social side to the Executive Committee’s proceedings. These days, learning from UK Liberal Democrat conferences, perhaps, LI gatherings also have a fringe programme and I was particularly interested in a workshop on Fighting against Fake News, a project that is being undertaken with the support of the German Liberal foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung.

Phil Bennion MEP and I are currently the two Liberal Democrat representatives on the LI Executive Committee, while Robert Woodthorpe Browne is a member of its governing Bureau, though we are all coming to the end of our current terms. Our British cohort was completed by George Cunningham of Liberal Democrats Overseas, which links LibDem members around the world, many of whom have become increasingly engaged because of concerns relating to Brexit.

* Jonathan Fryer is Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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