Why the Marshall Plan is Not a Model for Africa

There have been appeals for quite some time for a “Marshall Plan” for Africa to help governments on the continent and their populations to advance to a point where poverty is minimized and economic progress on the continent can be achieved. However, whatever the plan to reverse African decline is called, it won’t look like the post-World War II plan for Europe’s recovery, which was created and implemented from 1948-52 in quite different circumstances than we see today.

First of all, Europe was devastated by a destructive war, which although started by the so-called Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), came about because much of the devastation was due to allied bombing. Industrial production had dropped to a third of what it had been in 1936. Nearly a quarter of all housing had been destroyed. There were nine million European refugees in the cold winter of 1946-47, some of them coming to the United States and other Western nations. Food rations at times dropped below 1,000 calories per day.

Consequently, there was at least some responsibility felt by the Western allies to repair what they destroyed to restore the world economy. A massive humanitarian effort was mounted to feed and provide medicine to those in desperate need due to the results of the war. The United States and other Western countries continue to help those impacted by conflict today, including in Africa, although not necessarily out of guilt for complicity in those conflicts. The massive refugee crises in Africa are caused by conflict, but not conflict directed or caused by developed countries. Eritrea and South Sudan are two of the fastest-emptying countries in the world, but misrule and conflict are caused by those countries’ governments and not by foreign invasions forcing their citizens into refugee status. The foreign devastation resulting in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan would cause a guilt reaction by those responsible for helping to destroy infrastructure and livelihoods there, but there is no similar burden of foreign guilt felt to undo in Africa what the war had wrought in those countries and post-war Europe.

A second related point is that Europe was the West’s main market. A destroyed Europe deprived American and other Western countries of their buyers who could not be accessed through destroyed infrastructure serving people without a means to pay for imported goods. After the war, there was an acute shortage of dollars in all European countries that threatened to evaporate Europe’s largest export market — the United States. The Marshall Plan provided funds with the provision that American goods were to be purchased with that money for reconstruction. So the largesse benefited America commercially. Despite its ups and downs, most recently due to Covid-19, the world economy could not have progressed to its current state without the Marshall Plan. Africa is incorrectly viewed by many as not as vital to the global economy now as Europe was then, although that vastly ignores Africa’s potential as an expanding market for American and other Western products.

Third, the post-World War II period issued in the Cold War competition between the Soviet bloc and the West, led by the United States. The Western powers were concerned about Communist encroachment in countries such as Greece and Italy, and rebuilding Europe through Western assistance tied those governments and their people to the West. Meanwhile, the Cold War competition in African countries such as Ethiopia and Angola led only to conflict and misrule by dictatorial regimes, whose supposed loyalty to one side or the other was their main argument for international support. Today, the competition for Africa, even by Marxist governments in China and Russia, is less ideological than it is about a struggle for control of African resources. China already has a global monopoly on rare earth minerals, without which there will be no significant advancement toward employing alternative energy sources.

Furthermore, Africa is the source of strategic minerals and other resources in significant percentages that the modern world cannot do without, such as platinum (75 percent), coltan (68 percent), cobalt (58 percent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone), diamonds (46 percent) and gold (21 percent).
Fourth, the United States contributed about $13.3 billion to 16 nations over a period of less than four years. That was estimated to total $143 billion in 2017 currency. That sum surpasses the amount of development and humanitarian assistance the United States provided from all sources to 212 countries and numerous international development organizations and banks in the four-year period 2013-2016 ($138 billion in 2017 dollars).

Given the negative economic impact of COVID-19, the developed countries themselves are struggling to recover and surely would initially balk at a massive outlay of development funds unless they felt it was absolutely necessary to their well-being and provided in a transparent and efficient manner. Western policymakers know African infrastructure needs to be fully put in place, but they likely would need to be convinced that it is in their interest to do so, if to convince the policymakers, then to persuade their populations (voters) who themselves are struggling economically.

So a plan to reinvigorate African economies is much-needed, but it will have to be designed differently from the Marshall Plan for post-war Europe.

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