It was officially presented as an altruistic program to reduce “hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos” in Western Europe at the end of the Second World War.
Its real raison d’être was to halt the expansion of communism across the continent.
But whatever the motives of then-U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall for launching his now famous aid initiative for Europe in 1947, there is no denying that the $22-billion Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program) helped jumpstart financial recovery and dramatically steered that continent into the powerful economic bloc that it is today.
Now, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is ready to pay it forward by offering her own version of a Marshall Plan for Africa in the form of economic and political support for Africa.
The ambitious proposal, which was presented by German Development Minister Gerd Müller last week to his EU counterparts in a 33-page outline to increase trade and investment, is clearly aimed at helping what many have called the Lost Continent to find social and political stability through economic development.
In addition to economic cooperation, the plan would also include strategies to foster education, empower youth, improve healthcare services, reduce environmental degradation and strengthen the rule of law.
And it provides for better market access for African exports, an end to illicit financial flows and the elimination of tax evasion by multinational companies.
Obviously, the so-called German Marshall Plan’s underlying motive for Germany is to help ebb the tide of African economic and political migrants that are surging into Europe at increasingly unprecedented rates.
(Last year, more than 160,000 Africans crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, and another 4,000 died trying to make the journey.)
The German plan has been hailed as a crucial lifeline that will give impetus to Africa as a precursor to increased economic activities across that continent, including a more balanced trade and better relations with Europe.
But it is not without detractors.
Critics have correctly pointed out that modern-day Africa is not the same as post-war Europe, which was neither torn by internal political strife nor infested with extremist Islamism.
Moreover, every African nation has its own unique problems and priority goals, so the plan risks running into headwinds if it generalizes the continent’s issues.
Certainly, there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to the multitude of woes that Africa is currently facing.
There is also the issue of how resources will be distributed, and the rife government corruption at high levels that has traditionally prevented financial aid from being dispersed adequately.
But for all its potential drawbacks, the plan is a step in the right direction and could set an example for other developed nations to adopt a more realistic and pragmatic approach to dealing with Africa.
It should be remembered that the original Marshall Plan also had its critics and at the end of its four-year implementation, every single recipient had registered at least a 35 percent surge in their GDP.
Most African economies have been moribund for nearly a century, and while the German plan may not be a panacea to all of its afflictions, the scheme could be a much needed shot in the arm for the continent.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.