Germany’s Marshall Plan for Africa

On January 18th, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development unveiled its new Africa policy framework “Marshall Plan with Africa”. The idea was first put forward by global interest groups The Club of Rome and “Senat der Wirtschaft,” who emphasized that in the context of Africa’s demographic trend, Germany will have to mobilize more aid and private investment.

The idea was also floated by Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit to Niger in October 2016. Issoufou called for a US$1 billion package to create jobs, prevent conflict, and reduce migration. Merkel was hesitant to endorse Issoufou’s proposal (it’s unclear why), yet just four months later Germany unveiled its Africa policy using that same title.

There is a long and misleading legacy of Marshall-Plans being called for in different parts of the world across a range of different contexts. In development advocacy, the term has often been instrumentalized by “big-push” theorists such as economist Jeffrey Sachs. These theorists are convinced that a large increase in development assistance will deliver low-income countries from poverty traps.

However, the context in which Germany benefitted from the original Marshall Plan right after World War II was very specific to that moment and place. At that time, Germany had a large pre-existing industrial capacity, while the Marshall Plan’s transfers to European partner countries such as France, Italy, and the United Kingdom increased demand for German exports.

Before scrutinizing the plan in detail, it is useful to think about which political dynamics may have led to the adoption of this ambitious framework. With upcoming federal elections, Merkel has come under growing domestic pressure over her “open” refugee and migrant policy. Reports suggest Merkel has recently been in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to discuss the migrant crisis with aim of managing the flow of migrants.

It is her second Africa trip in six months after having not visited the continent in five years. Germany’s minister for international development, Gerd Müller, will likely not retain his portfolio following this year’s federal election, and aspired to leave a legacy with the Marshall Plan. He is also a member of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party CSU, which has criticized her migrant policy almost as passionately as the right-radical AFD. Similar to his British Tory counterpart Priti Patel, Müller and other German politicians have communicated and legitimized Germany’s aid budget by promising fewer migrants.

Leaving aside the moral argument about instrumentalizing international aid, and normalizing anti-migrant sentiments, evidence suggests that aid might actually increase migration. As the Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens has pointed out, migration from low-income countries increases over the course of a “mobility transition”, (at least) until countries reach upper-middle income status. Instead of promoting fairytales to an increasingly anti-migrant electorate, policymakers are shying away from taking the courage to put things into perspective, while acknowledging the hard truths about global migration:

One, migration will not decrease from its current levels anytime soon and money invested specifically for migrant-deterrence aid is money wasted.

Two, repressive migration regimes actually force people to stay in Europe and disrupt potentially virtuous circular migration patterns. West African immigrants to France frequently moved between France and their country of origin. After the French migration regime was tightened, many feared that they would not be able to comeback, and felt forced to stay.

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By George Kibala Bauer

Credit picture: Odd Andersen/Getty Images.