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German minister urges African Marshall Plan

Adrian Kriesch / mc August 12, 2016

On a tour of Senegal, Niger and Rwanda, German Development Minister Gerd Müller repeated his call for a Marshall Plan for Africa. But is a post-World War II-style recovery program realistic or even necessary?

Senegal Entwicklungsminister Gerd Müller in Cayar
Image: DW/A. Kriesch

Gerd Müller makes his way on foot across the arid field in Cayar, a small town in Senegal. After a few steps, he reaches the greener part of the field, which is being irrigated with the help of a solar-powered pump funded by Germany's development ministry. The irrigation has increased the farmer's crop yield and he is understandably delighted. The minister is evidently equally pleased, because he spontaneously grabs the hose and waters the field himself, giving the press a welcome photo opportunity. "We want to see where the money goes," said Müller. "Not one single euro should be lost through corruption; we want to see real progress in development."

There are thousands of German-funded projects in Africa like the Senegalese farmer's solar-powered pump. In 2014, the German government dispatched almost 2.3 billion euros ($2.6 billion) in official development aid to Africa. When the minister is touring the continent, he visits a number of these projects.

New vision for Africa?

Two days after his visit to the farm, Müller is overcome by zeal for grander schemes. "We must get away from all these small-scale projects, away from development policy of previous decades, and strike out in a new direction." He had already told Germany's biggest tabloid Bild what he had in mind before he embarked on his Africa trip. The German development minister wants a Marshall Plan for Africa.

General George C. Marshall
George Marshall was the US Army Chief of Staff during World War II and Secretary of State from 1947 to 1949Image: picture-alliance/Everett Collection

US Secretary of State George Marshall first mooted his plan for post-World War II European economic recovery in 1947, two years after the war had ended. He was motivated by humanitarian considerations, the desire to strengthen western Europe as a counterweight to Soviet-dominated eastern Europe and the desire to create a market for US goods. Loans were disbursed totaling $12 billion, the equivalent today of $120 billion. The Marshall Plan was a success, but would it be an option for Africa in the 21st century?

Big push for Africa?

Development economists have been arguing for years over whether an African Marshall Plan would work. In particular, the notion that one should move away from traditional development aid and focus instead on economic recovery and growth has been hotly debated. Critics say traditional development aid has not delivered to a sufficient degree, and renowned economists, such as Paul Collier, say a big push is needed to lift poorer countries out of the poverty trap.

But there are critics. The idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa harbors all the risks of a scheme imposed from outside, said Fatouma Sy Gueye, who works for Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Senegal. Her job includes helping to promote Senegal's private sector by encouraging it to enter into dialogue with the state. "You can't simply import ideas and then modify them," Gueye said. It's the same problem we have with development aid. Aid does arrive, but the manner in which it arrives is sometimes not to the Africans' liking. She is calling for more debate between donors and recipients over possible changes to development aid.

Symbolbild Deutschland Wiederaufbau Nachkriegszeit Marshallplan
West Germany received $1.4 billion from the Marshall Plan between 1948 and 1951Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Senegal's President Macky Sall would welcome a Marshall Plan for Africa. "We need a push in the form of investment so that our economy can continue to develop." Hardly a week earlier, Sall had told a business delegation Senegal didn't want to be dependent on outside aid for much longer. "The purpose of those remarks was to encourage people to work harder, so that we can achieve more on our own," he told DW after a meeting with the German development minister." But, of course, we will need time to do all this. Investment still needs to be strengthened," he said.

Listening to Sall's words, Müller nodded in agreement. "A whole new dimension in European and global development cooperation with Africa needs to be formulated," he said later and underlined three elements he considered significant: firstly, a program to revitalize the continent's economies with the emphasis on fair trade and the creation of value chains; secondly, massive foreign investment; and thirdly, an overhaul of development policy.

One African economist on the sidelines of Müller's African tour, who asked not to be named, said she laughed out loud when she heard of this scheme. It was unrealistic and hardly surprising that the African elites were in favor of it. They, too, would profit if more money was washing around.

Ruanda Bundesentwicklungsminister Gerd Müller in Kigali
German Development Minister Gerd Müller talking to polytechnic students in Kigali, Rwanda.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Phototek/U. Grabowsky

The refugee crisis in Europe is an opportunity for Müller's ministry in Germany to become more active and acquire more resources. Is this reason for his simplistic, almost brazen language? "Africa is a hundred times bigger than Germany. I use the term Marshall Plan to convey the scale of the problem," he said.

This is not the first time Müller has invoked the name of the late US statesman and soldier. He has spoken repeatedly of Marshall plans for the reconstruction of Iraq, Syria, the Middle East and, of course, Africa.

Does Müller really want a paradigm shift in development policy for Africa? This should become apparent in the autumn when he reveals more of his plans.