- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

The name of former U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall is often taken in vain. Marshall Plans for Russia and for Eastern Europe were advocated throughout the 1990s, and today there is even talk of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and for the Palestinians. Last week, the African continent joined the competition for a Marshall Plan of its own at the meeting of the G-8 countries in Kananaskis, Canada. To put it mildly, it is hard to see how a program designed to help Western industrialized countries rebuild themselves after the devastation of World War II, more than 50 years ago, can possibly be used as a model for solving the very different problems that affect these newer candidates for U.S. aid.
Or could it be that "Marshall Plan" in the minds of its most recent advocates simply means a very large infusion of foreign aid? That may be closer to the truth. African leaders attending the G-8 summit came with truly great expectations. At a previous meeting in June in Durban, South Africa, they not only agreed on the proposal for an ambitious New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), but also calculated its price tag, an additional $64 billion annually.
But that was not to be. Leaders of the industrialized nations praised certain elements of the plan, particularly its emphasis on accountability and conditionality. And Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who is headed into an election, vied with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to express his concern for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. Mr. Chretien's proposed African Action Plan, however, was found short of both funding and specifics by critics among NGOs and human rights groups indeed, by African leaders themselves.
In all, the Africa Action Plan finally adopted by the G-8 would reduce the debt of 22 countries that follow "sound economic principles and good governance" by $19 billion. There was, however, no new commitment to giving half of all new foreign aid to Africa, as proposed by the World Bank. Canada pledged $500 million, Britain some $800 million and the United States $500 million to fight AIDS and $100 million for education. Western leaders promised to help Africans build institutions and fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases, always a good cause to be sure but one that has deep cultural and systemic problems at its center.
Said Mr. Chretien, "There are some people who will say that it's not enough. But it is a departure you could see the reaction of the African leaders. They were excited." Perhaps it is more accurate to say they were doing their best to save face.
The reluctance to commit larger sums is understandable. Africa is a graveyard of international development plans, and some of them have certainly done more harm than good. Between 1980 and 1988, sub-Saharan Africa received $83 billion in international aid, a period during which living standards continued to decline by 1.2 percent per year. One reason was that foreign aid as often as not helps perpetuate military dictatorships in places like Uganda, Zaire and Liberia.
Consider, for example, the United Nations' Program of Action for African Economic Recovery (UN-PAAER) adopted in 1986. This is what U.N. Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar had to say in his 1988 review of the program: "The overall economic condition of Africa has worsened since the adoption of UN-PAAER. The continent's gross domestic product in per capita terms declined by 2.0 percent in 1986 and a further 2.2 percent in 1987, and is today lower than it was in 1980."
As Africa's leaders themselves recognize, what is needed is good governance and access to Western markets, which remain restricted by high tariffs in crucial areas like textiles. And it would indeed be churlish to dismiss the apparently good intentions of the African leaders who have proposed the Nepad plan. The emphasis on accountability and peer review of progress towards economic and political liberalization among African countries themselves earns them a fair hearing. Foreign investors will certainly be interested in how far this evaluation process will go.
The first test, however, has already been flunked by the South African president, Thabo Mbeki himself. South Africa's neighbor Zimbabwe has over the past year declined into outrageous political corruption, election fraud and starvation now threatening 6 million people. The only country with real clout to pressure Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is South Africa, and Mr. Mbeki has chosen to stand by rather than expose another black leader to criticism. Other African leaders hastened to declare Mr. Mugabe's outrageously rigged re-election in March to be legitimate. To help their distressed continent, they will have to do far better in tests to come.


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