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Skepticism over 'Marshall Plan' for Africa

Mark Caldwell Reuters, AFPD
November 14, 2016

German Development Minister Gerd Müller is trying to drum up support for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Little is known about what it will involve, or cost. But critics doubt it is the right road to African renewal.

Gerd Müller
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

German Development Minister Gerd Müller has promised to release details of what he calls a new "Marshall Plan with Africa" in the coming weeks.

Critics begin by taking issue with the name of the planned initiative. "I think a lot of people might have [a] problem with the term 'Marshall Plan' because Africa these days can't really be compared with Germany at the end of World War Two," Ingo Badoreck of the German Africa Foundation told DW.

But even if the label doesn't quite fit, the minister believes that Germany would be acting in its own interests if it were to help African economies to thrive and their people to become prosperous.     

Berlin is anxious to stop a growing number of migrants - many of whom come from Africa - from making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

"If the youth of Africa can't find work or a future in their countries, it won't be hundreds of thousands, but millions that make their way to Europe," the minister told a news conference in November . 

Private sector

Badoreck concedes - on the strength of the recommendations that Müller is making - that Germany is on the the brink of a paradigm shift away from the traditional model of development aid towards "a more coherent cooperation with the private sector."

The Marshall Plan launched by the United States in 1948 to aid the recovery of war-torn Europe had a strong focus on the private sector. Money was transferred to European governments, but they were required to use it for loans for local businesses.   

Frankreich Calais Räumung Flüchtlingslager Dschungel
The International Organization for Migration said nearly 160,000 people had crossed from Africa to Italy in 2016. 4,220 had died while making the attempt. Image: picture-alliance/abaca/Bakounine

But Badoreck says Müller's 'Marshall Plan' in its present form is littered with question marks. Less grandiose schemes could also be effective. "What is Germany's unique selling point in Africa? It is the dual educational system and it is key in this debate because 70 percent of Africa's youth are unemployed," he said.

Under Germany's dual educational system, students combine classroom lessons with on the job training at a company.

Badoreck says any external plan can only be a very small piece in the mosaic in the development of a country and the mere fact that the whole donor community spends $161 billion (150 billion euros) annually without achieving the desired impact "shows that we should be modest."

Japheth Omojuwa, a  political and social commentator based in Abjua, Nigeria, agrees.

"I personally do not think that Africa's problem is development aid. It has not worked over the years and it will not work in the coming years. We need to think about these things differently now," he told DW.

In Niger, one of three African countries recently visited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Yahouza Sadissou praised Germany for backing a Marshall Plan for Africa. "It would be a solution for the migration crisis and poverty, which has spread across Africa like a pandemic, he told DW. 

Europe beware

Visitors to the Facebook page of DW's Portuguese for Africa Service said anybody launching a Marshall Fund for Africa would need to be circumspect. 

"If Europe has such a plan, beware. Ask each country what it needs and where the new infrastructure should be built. And Europeans should come here in person and execute all projects before returning to their counties," said one user.

Another user said "Europe would need to qualify the locals, supervise projects down to the last detail and, most importantly, refrain from financing corrupt governments directly."

"African governments should rather find their own way of developing their countries without waiting for help from outside," was how one visitor to DW's Hausa language Facebook page responded to Gerd Müller's call for a Marshall Plan for Africa.