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Is Africa's Marshall Plan too ambitious?

Scholz Jan Philipp Kommentarbild App
Jan-Philipp Scholz
January 18, 2017

Germany's development minister wants a "Marshall Plan with Africa" to renew aid and fight the causes of mass migration at the same time. DW's Jan-Philipp Scholz asks whether it's not too ambitious a plan.

Gerd Müller in Afrika
Image: picture alliance/dpa/H. Hans

"Our policy is against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos," said US Secretary of State George Marshall when he presented his aid program for Europe in 1947. Noble objectives - but the main goal of the Marshall Plan was to stop the advance of communism in Europe, the biggest fear circulating in society at the time.

The specter of the economic migrant

Almost exactly 70 years later, German Development Minister Gerd Müller has reworked the famous plan, and it foresees nothing less than a complete restructuring of our economic cooperation with Africa. But really, this new Marshall Plan is designed to combat the biggest specter of our time: that of the economic migrant, arriving in ever-greater numbers in Europe. But if it is to be measured against its historic predecessor, the new African stimulus program can only fall short of expectations.

The plan has many promising aspects. The focus on the economy and employment is both good and right. The plan to have more targeted support of German investment in Africa by having the state share financial risk with companies is also a step in the right direction. Africa urgently needs more private sector investment, in particular also from medium-sized businesses. The minister's focus on unfair conditions ranging from subsidized European food exports to tax avoidance by large corporations is also appropriate, given that these often prove to be the undoing of many development efforts.

Old ideas

But unfortunately, it's not clear what is "completely new" about this revamped Marshall Plan. Instead, there are many generalizations - the kind that led to a collective nodding of heads during development debates in the 1970s.

Scholz Jan Philipp Kommentarbild App
Scholz was DW's West Africa correspondent for many years

It's said to be an "end to the watering can principle." Is that really the way Müller's ministry has been distributing development funds? That would be a scandal! "We should reward a willingness to reform." Is the idea of tying development aid to democratic conditions really new?

But even if large parts of Müller's Marshall Plan with (not for!) Africa were to be implemented, it's still far from clear whether the "more development = fewer migrants" calculation will actually work. It's not the poorest of the poor who are making their way to Europe. These people simply don't have the money to make the journey. In the medium term, experts say the opposite is likely to be the case: that more development will lead to more migration. At least until Africa achieves an acceptable level of prosperity for everyone, and with it, the hope of a better future for the many millions of young Africans.

Homegrown hurdles

All the nice words and ideas aside, Müller's plan will be confronted with the same problems that have led to the failure of so many big development plans: a lack of political will among Africa's elite. There are of course a few notable exceptions. But there are still far too many rulers who despite paying lip service to the contrary, are still much too invested in the political chaos across the continent. Most African politicians simply stand by and watch as their young compatriots leave their country. What's more, they've understood that this is the way to get rid of discontented, potentially troublesome young men. At the same time, they can use the flow of migrants as an effective threat to ensure more development money.

As long as there is a lack of political pressure on these bandits in leadership positions, as long as their stolen riches are still welcome in Europe's luxurious quarters and as long as leaders are not required to bear responsibility for the development of their countries, young Africans will continue to seek their fortune in Europe. And we have yet to find a solution to the migration crisis.

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