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An "African Marshall Plan"

CTA Board member Fred Stakelbeck writes in today’s Washington Times about a pressing strategic issue that – given the emphasis placed on all-things Iraq-Terrorism-Iran-North Korea – has received scant attention:

After years of intermittent engagement, China's 50-year relationship with the African continent has accelerated recently, with discussions on issues including energy, security and trade taking center stage. Over the past several years, Beijing's Communist government has invested billions of dollars in African projects, gaining favor with a number of fledgling governments. This change has occurred as Western influence has steadily declined, the result of inconsistent and often times ineffective policies related to important African concerns, such as poverty, disease, corruption and infrastructure development. The disjointed Western response to critical African needs has pushed the continent closer to China, providing a unique opportunity for Chinese President Hu Jintao to become Africa's newest savior.

While the Chinese invest tens of billions in trade, loan forgiveness and infrastructure improvements, they are also cutting lucrative arms and energy deals with oil and gas producing nations to help power the homeland. This includes dealing with troubled and troubling nations like Algeria, Libya and Sudan.

Fred continues:
All of this has occurred as U.S. influence on the continent has diminished, due in part to its involvement in the Middle East. This has allowed China to make substantial progress, nurturing deep economic, political and defense ties. Making matters worse for Washington, Beijing's progress comes as disagreements over China's military modernization, currency revaluation, trade practices and extra-regional aspirations have intensified.

Fred’s argument for an “African Marshall Plan” is a call to action, not simply as a counter to the Chinese as future near-peer competitor, but as a part of a broader approach to both national (energy, counterterrorism) and international (war, humanitarian crises) avoidance. Modest progress can be found in the Administration’s plans for a new Africa Command, though as some reports have indicated, enthusiasm for such an endeavor is lacking.

1 Comment

I shudder at the thought of equating a massive aid program for Africa to something like the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan was created to help a once-vibrant economy get back on its feet after the ravages of two great wars within two generations. Europe had the foundations of the necessary political, economic, and technical infrastructure to succeed once protected from the crushing debt of the war(s). Africa simply does not have these foundations needed for such a program to succeed.

Unfortunately, for most of Africa, providing aid of any form is mostly an exercise in enriching the powerful, entrenching the corrupt, and tossing a few scraps to those truly in need (in those rare cases where the aid recipients actually have to show positive results). Aid projects are poorly thought out, and are often more for show than to provide real and lasting benefit.

Yes, the Chinese are buying influence, but the problem is that they care only for their own benefit (and that includes the benefit of world influence). They are pragmatic to the point of being nearly sociopathic in their execution of aid programs, and seem to care little of problems of dealing with corrupt powers if their own interests are served.

Europe is more pragmatic than the United States, and even they have difficulties in providing limited aid in many African countries. How on earth would it be possible for the US to embark on (or merely be a major participant in) an aid program on the scale of the Marshall Plan, without first attaching strings to try and control the corruption and abuse of the aid.

On this issue, I'm a pessimist... Any massive aid program is doomed to failure, unless all you want to buy is influence.

I fear that Africa is going to be bad news for a very long time.

Just my $.02