Germany’s “Marshall Plan with Africa”: Tackling the Push Factors of Migration


Since summer 2015, Germany has been in the international spotlight for taking in more than 1 million asylum-seekers. Ever since, the country has become embroiled in domestic debates over which of the newcomers merit asylum under international, EU and German asylum laws and which are economic migrants that should be sent back. With federal elections looming this fall, Chancellor Angela Merkel is under significant pressure to prove to German voters that she can steer to the country to a more orderly and manageable immigration policy. In response, she has increased outreach efforts to countries like Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, which send mostly economic migrants, to encourage them to take back anyone who does not qualify for asylum. In 2016 the approval rate of asylum applications from these countries was lower than 10% in Germany, yet only a fraction of those who were refused asylum could actually be deported.

But Merkel has done more than ramping up deportations; she has also been a staunch advocate for tackling the migration crisis at its roots. As she stated in a press conference in September 2016: "[…] we have to combat the root causes of migration so that people see prospects for staying there, close to their homes." 

Using the platform of its G20 Presidency, the German government recently released a proposal to do just that. The proposed “Marshall Plan with Africa: Africa and Europe – A new partnership for development, peace and a better future” (still in draft form) is part of a broader G20 strategy to substantially invest in the African continent. The plan is based on the Jordan Compact, a joint strategy developed by Jordan and the international community to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis. Released in early 2016, the Jordan Compact calls for a new paradigm of international cooperation and investments, promoting economic development and an improved business and investment environment. The Compact’s focus on increasing employment opportunities for both native Jordanians and newly arrived refugees is a clear-sighted attempt to keep Syrian refugees in the region, and out of Europe. As such, it provides a useful template for the newly developed Africa Plan.

The Marshall Plan for Africa’s direct reference to the U.S.  Marshall Plan adopted under the Economic Cooperation Act in March 1948 to rebuild war-ravaged Western Europe sends a strong message to the German public and the international community. With over $12 billion of funding, the US Marshall Plan sparked industrialization while simultaneously stimulating the American economy by creating new markets.  The implication for Germany is clear: to frame investment in Africa as an economic win for both Germany and the African continent, one that will hopefully stem the tide of economic migrants making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean and allay many Germans’ perception that Merkel’s government failed to anticipate and plan for long-term migration trends.

Who is involved?

The 33-page blueprint is a joint initiative by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). After consultation with African partners, other “donor countries”, and civil society, the proposals will be submitted for decision during the German G20 Summit in July and the EU-Africa Summit in November 2017. 

What is the overarching vision?

With Africa’s population expected to double by 2050, the Marshall Plan calls for a reformed partnership between the European Union and Africa in order to tackle the challenge of producing food, energy and jobs for everyone. It envisions cooperation based on values and interests and addresses pressing issues such as creating 20 million new jobs for young people without destroying the environment.

At the core of Marshall Plan with Africa stands the idea to move away from the donor-recipient mentality that has significantly shaped development policies, and establish a “partnership of equals”. To this end, the plan outlines ten guiding principles that define a set of priorities for the new agreement. For example, the guiding principles highlight the need for a new agreement between Africa and Europe to proactively address future challenges and emphasize the value of African-led solutions. They prioritize job-creation for young people to provide more opportunities to stay in Africa, while also encouraging the development of new European strategies to combat irregular migration. Rather than simply exploiting Africa’s natural resources, they point to the importance of creating value in the continent and identify private investors as a driving force of such employment opportunities. The principles also discourage a blanket partnership approach and remind individual African states to promote inclusive political environments that allow for sustainable development, noting that European leaders will prioritize cooperation with reform-minded partners. Finally, they state that global partners need to focus on equitable global structures and institutions, removing participation barriers for African countries and elevating their voices.

What are the specific goals?

On this basis, the new Marshall Plan aims to achieve a broad set of 16 goals in the three core areas of economic activity, trade and development; peace and security; and democracy and the rule of law. In the area of economic activity, trade and development, the Plan places a strong focus on vocational training, development of the small- and medium enterprises (SME) sector, and economic diversification. Suggestions for involvement from the German side include an alliance for vocational training and business, as well as supporting the private sector in establishing sustainable supply chains. On the international level, the plan proposes to support a renewable energy partnership between the EU and North Africa, further integration into and opening of the EU single market, and promoting legal migration to the EU for specialist training purposes. In the area of peace and security, the plan aims to strengthen the African Union’s security structures and prevent further conflict and forced displacement. Suggested strategies include the implementation of the German government’s “Guidelines on Crisis Engagement and Peacebuilding”, and proposing an “EU-Africa Peace and Security Partnership” for the 2017 EU-Africa Summit. Finally, to promote democracy and the rule of law, the plan prioritizes more inclusive political environments, as well as the fight against corruption and illicit capital flows.  African courts should support the African Court of Human Rights, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda needs to be implemented.  Among other things, the plan suggests that German engagement in this area could consist of tying Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds to progress on the goals of the African Union Agenda 2063, while suggesting that the international focus should be on combating illicit financial flows and tax evasion. 

For these strategies to be effective, the plan also calls for major investments in four fundamental areas of the African economy: food and agriculture, protection of natural resources, energy and infrastructure, and health, education, and social protection. 

The essence of the Marshall Plan. Source: Marshall Plan draft published by BMZ.

How is it funded?

In order to come up with the estimated $ 600 billion needed every year to implement Africa’s development goals, the Marshall plan proposes several measures. Next to the mobilization of African financial assets, it will accelerate private investements, using Official Development Assistance funds for further leverage. For short-term measures, the plan suggests making use of existing structures, such as the EU External Investment Plan and others. During its G20 Presidency, Germany is also planning to launch a private investment initiative with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and regional development banks.

A plan for Africa, or a message to German voters?

Merkel’s new Marshall Plan aims to support the aforementioned African Union Agenda 2063, an African-led development plan which lays out African leaders’ vision for their nations’ futures: a united, self-reliant, peaceful and prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.  Yet this raises questions as to why the German government has developed its own parallel plan, instead of supporting the priorities and actions already laid out in the African Union Agenda.  Particularly given the plan’s stated focus on redefining the donor-recipient relationship and strengthening African self-determination, Germany could easily have committed to helping accomplish the Agenda 2063, and adapting existing initiatives and instruments accordingly.

 A likely motivator for the new Marshall plan is its media value as a signature accomplishment of Germany’s G20 presidency, underscoring Merkel’s competent leadership for the upcoming election campaign. Unlike the African Union Agenda, the Marshall Plan has received considerable praise and media attention in Germany and is seen as a sign of resolute, forward-thinking action against the root causes of migration.

Regardless of the motives, this new effort to redefine the African-European relationship as an equal partnership is a long-overdue step in equalizing relations between the Global North and South. It may well help African leaders gain influence in international forums. Most importantly, if properly implemented, it could in fact go a long way toward strengthening local economies, improving the quality of life and work on the continent, and helping millions of people avoid the often life-threatening migration to Europe.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, African business leaders embraced the Marshall Plan. Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu, for instance, called it a “beautiful development”. African Development Bank President Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina concurred, noting that, “Africa needs a Marshall Plan that addresses youth unemployment […] to alleviate poverty and include more women in main stream global affairs.” At the same time, there are critical voices who doubt the motives of the plan. Diplomatic experts such as Dr. Naseeb Mapund from Tanzania argued that “Germany is acting in its own interests to bring immigration under control”, while some civil society representatives are concerned about the engagement of the private sector and potential exploitation of local labor by foreign firms. 

The Marshall Plan will be open to civil society input and consultation with African and European partners until the G20 Summit in the beginning of July. It remains to be seen whether this new initiative will substantially effect tangible positive change for the situation of African economies in the long term or instead serve as yet another filler proposal to bolster Merkel’s election bid.