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Marshall Plan – From Europe to Africa with Love?

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On Jan. 18, 2017, Germany put forth a so-called Marshall Plan with Africa, and I would like to provide my thoughts on the matter.

I will cover this through these subsections:

  1. Messiah Complex
  2. Partnership Hypocrisy
  3. Politics of the Mirror
  4. Subtraction Approach
  5. Will It Work?
  6. The Real Agenda?

Messiah Complex
Europe still suffers from a Messiah complex. Let’s Save Africa. That is why we have poverty porn, why we see white people surrounded by black children. Why we see aid fundraising on television. Why we have a booming African volunteer industry where young westerners travel to African countries to save them. Why there is a need portraying Africa as in need of help, so a white person can see him/herself as a saviour, the knight on the white horse.

A former economist for the World Bank, Klitgaard, wrote in 1990, quoting Steinbeck, said:

[G]iving builds up the ego of the giver, makes him superior and higher and larger than the receiver (p. 13)

Europe has been donors for decades. This has not helped on the Messiah complex developed during the era of colonialism. The transformation from colonial power to donor has just alternated this complex. Europeans still largely view Africa and Africans as hapless, primitive creatures living in a land deprived of everything that is good.

This Marshall Plan is also an expression of our will and of our optimism that we can truly find a path to peace and development in our cooperation between Europe and Africa (Marshall Plan p. 4)

The focus is on “our”, and it can be seen as Europe and Africa working together. But no, which the next section will cover.

Generally speaking, throughout the blue print, it appears, that Europe is in control, and they are the ones who know what Africa (singular) needs. Europe is still the saviour and Africa the one needed to be saved. This path will lead absolutely nowhere, and this thinking has led to some of the darkest paths in our history.

Partnership Hypocrisy
Throughout the paper, we read about our and cooperation, like this:

African ownership must be strengthened and the days of “aid” and of “donors and recipients” put behind us. The EU and its member states want to engage in a partnership between equals” (p4)

This sounds like a total rip-off from the Paris and Accra Declaration. We are all equals. But this is not a partnership between equals. That the same emphasis on partnership has to be repeated more than a decade later tells us, that intentions mean nothing. Documents are still just words put together on paper. To say that donor and recipient countries are equals do not make them equals just by saying it.

But when we read further, all organisations, with the exception of the useless African Union are non-Africans.

Call for better cooperation between international organisations for food and  agriculture (especially FAO, IFAD, WFP, World Bank, CGIAR) (p. 26)”

If Europe really wanted to cooperate, would Europe not invite local actors to the table than rely on old agents, who appear to serve the interest of the Western World?

Would the EU not address the big elephant in the room? Farm subsidies! They do not.
Or how about the huge debt several African countries accumulated during the Cold War?  If Europe wanted a fresh start, debt cancellations would be a great starting point. But not a single word.

The good thing about being a saviour is, that the sword does not point toward yourselves. It is about to address the faulth on the other side of the table.

When talking about power, I usually have a very simple formula, follow the money. On page 16, Europe holds the money. The ones with the money have the power. As long as Europe is the rich giver, it is an illusion to talk about equal partnerships.

And the EU is working on a new Africa strategy. The 28 member states want to redefine the basis for cooperation between the EU and Africa by replacing the Cotonou Agreement with a new partnership agreement. It is time now to new solutions to new challenges. This paper is a living document. It identies where there is potential, where there are problems and what could be the solutions. (p. 4)

Europe is clearly the one leading, and Africa is the one following; Africa is the one who shall uphold the priorities and demands of Europe.

African solutions to African problems, partnerships and whatever buzzwords are meaningless, as long as Europe has the money, and Europe is the one defining the potentials, problems, and solutions. When Germany calls this as a Marshall Plan WITH Africa, in reality, it is a Marshall Plan FOR Africa. Still, Europe believing they know what is best.

Politics of the Mirror
Klitgaard on being the receiver:

To be a receiver, you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well. (p. 13) 

African leaders have been superb in saying what the European countries wanted to hear, and they used the money how they wanted. Africans know the local settings, and they know what the donors want to hear. That provides them with several advantages. Combined with the felt superiority of the giver, a Marshall Plan can end up working as a mean for African leaders to get access to resources benefiting themselves and their friends only.

Europe ends up as feeding the patronage system that strengthens the elite but does not benefit the people. It will make Africa further aid dependent, and stall or deteriorate the current progress made in Africa.

Worse, African leaders have to buy into a worldview determined by others, that means African countries’ job is to please the giver rather than the people they were supposed to serve.

It also halts the process in improving local taxation. I pay taxes because I get services from the state in return. Simultaneously, the state is interested in keeping me satisfied, since they rely on the income from taxpayers like myself. If the state did not deliver, I and other Danes would stop paying taxes, and the state would be in trouble, and they would need to look for an income elsewhere, such as from private companies and/or aid. This plan will destroy the progress in the field of taxation, and keep bad leaders in power by making the state dependent on satisfying private (European) companies.

Subtraction Approach
What does this mean? The subtraction approach is to look at Africa and then wonder, why Africa is not like Europe? Europe looks at African and sees what is missing, and how “we” can fix it.

The easy answer is always that Africa is not Europe, and why shall Africa be like Europe? But even worse, we forget what is present in Africa. Africa remains the negative mirror.

The Marshall Plan does talk about the minerals and potential. But the paper overlooks the progress several African countries have done, and how several African countries have begun developing a self and turning into functioning states. By emphasising on the need to make a fresh and new start, Africa returns to the status of lacking, why Europe has to provide a new beginning.

Will It Work?
Personally, I do not know, but one sentence made me concerned.

The Marshall Plan rests on three pillars, contains more than 100 ideas for reform and is centred round the key issues for development: (p. 12)

So many ideas for a reform won’t work. When you want to solve a complicated issue, you do so by making it more simple, not by making it more complicated. So many ideas for a reform demonstrates a total lack of focus.

The Real Agenda?
To accept the Marshall Plan metaphor, then it was given by the US after World War II in order to make sure Europe stayed allies of the USA. The Marshall Plan was given based on a set of conditions, such as an open market so American products more freely could enter the European market and shut the Soviet Union out.

I am a cynical person. I do not believe the EU will hand out a check without conditions. The recent Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) among African countries and Europe have been dubbed the “Keep-China-Away”-agreement. The first EPA was the Cotonou-Agreement, and this one shall replace it. It sounds like money meant to keep Africa open for business to Europe by keeping China away.

Then this Marshall Plan is meant to serve the interests of Europe first and foremost

Furthermore, a second objective is linked to hinder refugees and illegal immigrants to enter Europe. We have already seen the EU giving funds to Sudan, Libya, and Eritrea in order to prevent people reaching the shores of Europe. The consequences have been disastrous, where EU ends funding local militias committing atrocities. In Sudan, the money might end in the pockets of the Janjaweed militia. The same militia responsible for the genocide in Darfur.

The focus is not to help or cultivate or develop Africa, but to keep Africans away from Europe, and to open Africa for European companies. African leaders shall serve the interests of Europe, not the interests of their people.

Because of the size of the European companies and subsidies, European companies will destroy the African small and medium-sized enterprises, the companies that should create jobs and bring prosperity to Africa.

My Personally Thoughts
I am a cynical person, who does not believe in fluffy words, and in a text based on airy intentions. Nothing will happen if someone breaks the rules, and it appears the only ones who have to change are the African countries. It does not improve, as it appears the document treats Africa as a country where one size fits all.

A reason why the African Union 2063 agenda is nothing but a mirage. Not only is the African Union (AU) as useful as a fork when eating soup, but they have not put anything in place to punish member states violating the articles mentioned, and they actively support members breaking the promises laid out in the 2063 agenda. E.g. the AU is actively supporting the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, despite the fact, he declared war on his own people in order to stay in power for a third term.

So is the really a plan to develop a strong a vibrant Africa? Or to keep Africa in line by preventing China access, and to buy off local leaders to prevent Africans from entering Europe?

I am cynical, so I don’t believe in altruism when it comes to world politics and donating billion of dollars. My opinion is, if African countries want to become the economic power they can become, no one will help them except themselves.

But I would love to hear from Africans and from African economists. Do you think a European Marshall Plan to or with Africa is a good idea? Please explain why.

PS: I am well aware that the last time Germany showed an interest for Africa was the Berlin Conference of 1885. That shall not be used against them.


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