Will investments in Africa, stimulated by financial incentives and a conducive economic framework, really result in economic growth and more employment in the continent?
Photo: Tobias Bexten

Does Africa need a Marshall Plan?

A panel of politicians, academics and NGO representatives voiced their views of the German Government’s Marshall Plan with Africa and looked at what co-operation with the continent really requires in Bonn, Germany, last September.

The German Development Institute (DIE), a leading think for global development and international co-operation, and Germany’s Südwind economics and ecumenism institute, held a panel debate on the Marshall Plan with Africa in Bonn, Germany, in September 2017. The Plan was launched by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) early this year to promote development and peace.

Underlying the Marshall Plan with Africa is the assumption that investment stimulated by financial incentives and a conducive economic framework will result in economic growth, more employment and less migration. Here, DIE Senior Researcher Christine Hackenesch was somewhat sceptical. Hackenesch also noted that European Union efforts to improve migration management should not undermine regional measures. And she stressed that both the EU and Germany should do much more to promote human rights in Africa. On average, Hackenesch pointed out, democracies in Africa demonstrated far higher economic growth rates.

“The choice of the new programme’s name amounts to reducing development in Africa to a post-World War II context,” maintained Boniface Mabanza, Co-ordinator of the Heidelberg-based KASA service and information centre for Southern Africa. “It is always problematic to apply already defined terms to a new concept. The Marshall Plan was inspired by the USA’s interest in new sales markets, and was devised as a pump-priming effort to get Europe’s economy going again with a large amount of money.”

“The BMZ hasn’t really got a Marshall Plan,” Mabanza claimed. “Development Minister Gerd Müller has only started to operationalise individual elements. What this exercise boils down to is a reallocation of already existing funds. It is an insult.” Mabanza proposed that, given the huge differences between Africa’s 54 countries, the BMZ take a closer look at the continent and consult “people who are familiar with its problems”.

Mabanza noted that in terms of capital flows, Africa was losing more money than it was receiving via development co-operation. Development measures harming the continent had to be stopped. Therefore, he argued, it was essential that any well-meant Marshall Plan distance itself from the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreements. But the authors of the BMZ Marshall Plan had chosen not to make any reference to the EPAs.

Claudia Lücking-Michel, then Christian Democrat Member of the German Federal Parliament, explained that the Marshall Plan with Africa represented a broad outline of future policies the many elements of which yet had to be co-ordinated, but she said that it would definitely have a new impact. Lücking-Michel agreed that African experts themselves had to be consulted, and referred to the EPAs as “unsatisfactory”. Realising the Marshall Plan and ensuring that human rights issues were considered required a strong BMZ preventing economics ministers from being the sole determinants of measures.

Inge Höger, then Member of the Federal Parliament for “Die Linke”, claimed that the EPAs had only benefited the industrial nations, with which African countries were not on a par. Höger maintained that the EU’s chief objective was to access natural resources in Africa and market surplus agricultural produce there. She called for a fair trade policy oriented on sustainability and autonomy and also stressed the importance of inner-African trade.

Ulrich Keller, Member of Parliament for the Social Democratic Party, criticised the marginal role of Civil Society groups in the development of the Marshall Plan. Keller maintained that development co-operation with Africa ought to focus on domestic markets and on the manufacturing industry. Regarding the EU’s agricultural policy, he demanded a shift from rewarding production towards addressing issues like water pollution control. And he criticised the asynchronous tariff conditions stipulated by the EPAs.

Gertrud Falk of the FIAN Deutschland Secretariat complained that the Marshall Plan lacked any reference to human rights, and even failed to mention United Nations guidelines in this area. Falk was also critical of the significance the Plan attributes to infrastructure, noting that the latter need not necessarily benefit the poor. Often enough, people in rural areas feared new roads because they heralded the arrival of investors and subsequent land-grabbing, with smallholders being driven off their land. Only few of them were later taken on as poorly paid casual labourers on plantations. Here, binding international standards were required. Falk suspected that the object of the whole Marshall Plan exercise was to offer investors new options in times of negative interest rates. FIAN advocates world-wide for the right to adequate food.

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany