Can Germany’s New ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa Be Successful in Eritrea?

asmarahutBy Teweldeberhan Gebre

Introduction

On 11 November 2016, Reuters reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel and her officials, out of concern on the influx of migrants to Europe, have announced a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa through “…pushing for increased public and private investment in Africa.” Following the announcement of the ‘Marshal Plan for Africa’ the news went viral across major news agencies. A ‘Marshall Plan’ also known as the European Recovery Program, named after the then US Secretary of State George Marshall, was an American initiative to rebuild Western European economies devastated as a result of the World War II (WWII). About 18 European countries benefited from the Marshall Plan of which the United Kingdom, West Germany and France were the major beneficiaries of the Plan. Despite the offer the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) rejected the Plan and blocked the other members of the Union to access the multi-billion Plan by the Americans. Following the devastating war Western European economies were revitalized due to the US’s initiated Marshal Plan. However, had there not been institutional set ups, developed human capital and political commitments on the part of each aid recipient it would have been impossible to successfully implement the grandiose program across the Western Europe economies.

German leaders call their new Plan for Africa the ‘African Marshall Plan’ may be because they wish to inspire others so that to joint hands to the initiative. Naming an initiative, such as this, sets off hot discussions but the Germans are wise enough and hence they did not want to give it a name that refers to them and only them. Of course, according the news report by Reuters “Germany urged other developed countries…” to join Germany’s new initiative for Africa. Germany’s official focus and interest is to stop migrations from Africa into Europe but unofficially it can be beyond that. Nevertheless, Germany as an economic powerhouse in Europe has the power to leverage its influence in mobilizing other European nations in this initiative.

Who are the countries generating migrants in Africa to Europe?

In my knowledge the main sources of migrants in the African continent to Europe and elsewhere are, among others, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Sudans. These countries have never experienced guiltless leaderships, and peace and stability in their recent history. Beyond interferences from the outside world, these countries’ past and present leaders are responsible for the economic and political messes of their people. The leaders of the above countries and other African states are not only corrupted but lacks political prudence and skills to bring about economic prosperity for their people. The only skill they might have a very high level of perseverance is war and the management of disorders. In doing so, they have to completely control the economy and use the scarce national resources to oppress internal dissents at the expense of economic development and decent livelihoods of their citizens. Not only that but also officially or unofficially each one of the above countries is locked up into a proxy war so that to justify power for lifetime.

Without having a meaningful and autonomous governance structure within, and a meaningful economic integration/cooperation between the countries above and the greater Horn of Africa, who in his/her right mind can think of prosperity and economic development? In my modest opinion, drawing a direct parallel initiative with that of the US Marshal Plan for Western Europe to the African continent is not only wrong but also a wishful initiative.

Can Germany curb the influx of migrants via the post-WWII type ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa?

The Germans are clear in their intention to support Africa through boosting its economies and creating jobs with the ultimate intention of parching the flow of migrants into Europe from the continent. The Germans intend to invest in the public and private sectors in Africa so that to unveil the success stories of the US originated Marshall Plan in post-WWII Western Europe. Germany’s Development Minister, Gerd Müller, will announce the detailed of the ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’ as reported by Reuters “drawing a direct parallel with the huge U.S. investment program that kick-started the ravaged German economy after World War Two.” According to Reuters, Gerd Müller said “[w]e have to invest in these countries and give people perspectives for the future”. The Germans initiative is not humanitarian when the respected minister of development, Gerd Müller says “[i]f the youth of Africa can’t find work or [have] a future in their own countries, it won’t be hundreds of thousands, but millions that make their way to Europe.” From the speeches of Minister Gerd Müller the target countries must be those countries originating migrants although the Plan’s flagship is a “Marshal Plan for Africa”.

I contend the Germans’ initiative will not be realized for the following reasons:

  • First, drawing a blue print/’Marshall Plan’ from one’s luxury office for such a grandiose and continental program without consulting with beneficiary African countries is a wrong start. I believe this sort of initiative requires major economic and political structural changes within the apparently aid recipient African countries. Beyond that, it is not clear whether or not aid recipient African countries will be willing to volunteer and work with the Germans and their allies to realize the would-be Plan.
  • Second, “drawing a direct parallel” for their new Marshal Plan for Africa with that of the US initiated Marshall Plan in post-WWII Europe is not correct. Here is why. Europe had the will, the leadership and institutions when the Americans initiated their Marshall Plan to rebuilt Western Europe. Africa, in particular East Africa which is home to the most inept leaders in the planet earth is unlikely to benefit from the Germans new initiative under the would-be new ‘African Marshall Plan’.
  • Third, in East Africa, we have leaders who master ‘Martial Laws’ not ‘Marshal Plan’ for themselves. Who are the people in leadership in East Africa? Let us take Eritrea as an example. President Isaias Afewerki, a former rebel leader together with his mates of the armed struggle completely controls not only the public sphere but also the private domain too. The ministers, governors, and parastatal business entities are all controlled by present and former army leaders. There is no functioning government in its true meaning, no functional executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The same is in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti. Under this situation, can Germany draw a “direct parallel” between the US initiated Marshall Plan for Europe with its new ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa?

Can Eritrea fully benefit from Germany’s initiative for Africa?

I strongly argue that Eritrea in its present shape and form cannot fully benefit from Germany’s initiative. I am not a pessimistic person but my instinct tells me three things potentially deter Eritrea to make use of the initiative. These are:

  • No political will to open spaces for private investment and jobs;
  • Deliberately weakened public institutions to strengthen the power gravity towards the center; and
  • No formally functioning political and governance structure, a major bottleneck to transform the economy of Eritrea.

Every Eritrean can testify for him/herself that the government of Eritrea is apprehensive about the private sector. The motive of the government is clear from day-one and that is ‘to control the people control the economy’ principle of Marxist-Leninist. I also argue that the government of Eritrea has deliberately weakened the public institutions so that to hold on power for unspecified periods of time. In doing so, the government has abolished the key institutions including the PFDJ’s Central Committee and the National Assembly early on. Weak institutional set ups in Eritrea have created favorable conditions for a handful people in government. The bureaucracy is unnecessarily weakened and most decisions are taken by the president a handful advisors around him. In September, in her written testimony to the US House Subcommittee Hearing on Eritrea Ms. Bronwyn Bruton pointed out that diplomats in that country:

 “…do agree…that the government’s capacity is alarmingly low. The arrest or defection of many senior members of the party over the years has left President Isaias dependent on a very small handful of trusted advisors to run the country. When one of them leaves the country [Mr. Yemane Ghebreab], important affairs are put on hold. Migration has created a terrible problem of “brain drain” in Eritrea- so that there is a near-desperate lack of capacity in the middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy, [emphasis mine]”.

I do not believe any genuine mind Eritrean will disagree with the observations of the resident diplomats in Eritrea. All Eritreans who were inspired by the oral presentation of Ms. Bruton should agree with the remarks above because if she was right in other Eritrean affairs she should be right in this observations by the resident diplomats too. The only reservation I may have on the above remarks is on the “…a near-desperate lack of capacity in the middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy” not because it not true but because this is a scapegoat by the top leadership or the crews. The point is that even if these lower and middle rankers in the bureaucracy have the skills, in the absence of institutions and institutional set ups individual human capital or skills does not mean anything. It is like a situation where we have a skilled computer programmer sitting behind an old typewriter of the 20th century. Hence, weakened private sector, weak institutions, and lack of formally functioning political and economic governance structures are some of the major bottlenecks for economic development in our home country.

Unfortunately, after 25 years in power, there is no sign by the leadership to transfer power and offices, of all levels, to any civilians leave alone to the young generation. Eritreans are hopeless from their leaders long before 2000. The leadership is out of touch with its people and people are forced to hold back their ideas and views on how they want to be governed for possible acts of retributions by the leadership. Can a nation lead by “a very small handful of trusted advisors…” prosper and see development? Eritreans in their right mindset cannot and should accept a government led by “a very small handful” advisors, trusted only by the head of state and who have not real time managing public affairs. At all costs, it is our duty to defend our country from any force on earth. However, defending a leadership that wishes to stay in power by starving its people is not only imprudent but also a crime against humanity. I am saying this to those of us who are keeping hold of sloganeering ‘our leadership is second to none’ instead of questioning the behavior of the office holders in the interest of the people and the country. Nationalism is not about being loyal to a leadership but a commitment for your country and people to the last drop of blood. If we are loyal to the leadership because the leader wants us to be so is not loyalty to our country and people.

Although we should wait and see for the details of the new ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa by the Germans the aim is “…developing joint solutions with African countries, with a big focus on programs for youth, education and training and on strengthening economies and the rule of law” so that to contain migrations from the African countries. In contrast, the policy of the Eritrean leadership, according to the president’s chief political advisor, Yemane Ghebreab, is for the Germans and other nations “[t]o protect and promote the rights and dignity of all migrants and to provide them with opportunities for education, skills, training and jobs, without which they cannot lead a life of dignity” outside their home countries. This sharply contrasting views between the Germans and the Eritrean leadership should be a concern for us Eritreans and Germans and or its allies too if the would-be ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa is going to have meaning.

Conclusion

The Germans offer to help developing our education, skills, economy, and the rule of law must be welcomed. However, no one in his/her right mind should expect the leadership in Eritrea will welcome the Germans’ offer, specifically in the fields of economics and governance not least the rules of law. If the leadership is to choose from the offer it will choose education and training not the development of the private sector or the rule of law which are the engine for economic development. Do you know why? Because the leadership in Eritrea does not want to give up controlling the economy, and does not have interest to govern the people in accordance to the rules of law.

If by any chance the Eritrean leadership accepts the Germans’ offer and sincerely cooperate with the Germans it would be a game changer process towards prosperity of the Eritrean people. However, it is naïve to believe the Eritrean leadership will make structural change in the economy through denationalization of the party’s businesses which are key for the breakdown of the Eritrean economy. Outside the very handful angry voices by the so called oppositions, we also need to admit that we are fearful to constructively criticize the regime and correct its fundamental errors and flaws in governing the State and its citizens. By being hushed and fearful we are not making favour for the handful men and women in government.

Of note is that Germany has expressed its interest to collaborate with Eritrea through its high level delegations to Asmara. Asmara responded through a high level delegation led by its Foreign Minister in the recent past although Asmara’s seriousness on the issue is something to be seen in 2017 and after.